Organizational theory for dissemination and implementation research

May 14, 2017 | S. A. Birken, A. C. Bunger, B. J. Powell, K. Turner, A. S. Clary, S. L. Klaman, Y. Yu, D. J. Whitaker, S. R. Self, W. L. Rostad, J. R. S. Chatham, M. A. Kirk, C. M. Shea, E. Haines and B. J. Weiner

BACKGROUND: Even under optimal internal organizational conditions, implementation can be undermined by changes in organizations’ external environments, such as fluctuations in funding, adjustments in contracting practices, new technology, new legislation, changes in clinical practice guidelines and recommendations, or other environmental shifts. Internal organizational conditions are increasingly reflected in implementation frameworks, but nuanced explanations of how organizations’ external environments influence implementation success are lacking in implementation research. Organizational theories offer implementation researchers a host of existing, highly relevant, and heretofore largely untapped explanations of the complex interaction between organizations and their environment. In this paper, we demonstrate the utility of organizational theories for implementation research.

DISCUSSION: We applied four well-known organizational theories (institutional theory, transaction cost economics, contingency theories, and resource dependency theory) to published descriptions of efforts to implement SafeCare, an evidence-based practice for preventing child abuse and neglect. Transaction cost economics theory explained how frequent, uncertain processes for contracting for SafeCare may have generated inefficiencies and thus compromised implementation among private child welfare organizations. Institutional theory explained how child welfare systems may have been motivated to implement SafeCare because doing so aligned with expectations of key stakeholders within child welfare systems’ professional communities. Contingency theories explained how efforts such as interagency collaborative teams promoted SafeCare implementation by facilitating adaptation to child welfare agencies’ internal and external contexts. Resource dependency theory (RDT) explained how interagency relationships, supported by contracts, memoranda of understanding, and negotiations, facilitated SafeCare implementation by balancing autonomy and dependence on funding agencies and SafeCare developers. In addition to the retrospective application of organizational theories demonstrated above, we advocate for the proactive use of organizational theories to design implementation research. For example, implementation strategies should be selected to minimize transaction costs, promote and maintain congruence between organizations’ dynamic internal and external contexts over time, and simultaneously attend to organizations’ financial needs while preserving their autonomy. We describe implications of applying organizational theory in implementation research for implementation strategies, the evaluation of implementation efforts, measurement, research design, theory, and practice. We also offer guidance to implementation researchers for applying organizational theory.

PubMed Abstract

Birken SA, Bunger AC, Powell BJ, et al. Organizational theory for dissemination and implementation research. Implementation science : IS. 2017;12(1):62.