Revisiting concepts of evidence in implementation science

Apr 12, 2022 | Brownson

BACKGROUND: Evidence, in multiple forms, is a foundation of implementation science. For public health and clinical practice, evidence includes the following: type 1 evidence on etiology and burden; type 2 evidence on effectiveness of interventions; and type 3: evidence on dissemination and implementation (D&I) within context. To support a vision for development and use of evidence in D&I science that is more comprehensive and equitable (particularly for type 3 evidence), this article aims to clarify concepts of evidence, summarize ongoing debates about evidence, and provide a set of recommendations and tools/resources for addressing the “how-to” in filling evidence gaps most critical to advancing implementation science.

MAIN TEXT: Because current conceptualizations of evidence have been relatively narrow and insufficiently characterized in our opinion, we identify and discuss challenges and debates about the uses, usefulness, and gaps in evidence for implementation science. A set of questions is proposed to assist in determining when evidence is sufficient for dissemination and implementation. Intersecting gaps include the need to (1) reconsider how the evidence base is determined, (2) improve understanding of contextual effects on implementation, (3) sharpen the focus on health equity in how we approach and build the evidence-base, (4) conduct more policy implementation research and evaluation, and (5) learn from audience and stakeholder perspectives. We offer 15 recommendations to assist in filling these gaps and describe a set of tools for enhancing the evidence most needed in implementation science.

CONCLUSIONS: To address our recommendations, we see capacity as a necessary ingredient to shift the field’s approach to evidence. Capacity includes the “push” for implementation science where researchers are trained to develop and evaluate evidence which should be useful and feasible for implementers and reflect community or stakeholder priorities. Equally important, there has been inadequate training and too little emphasis on the “pull” for implementation science (e.g., training implementers, practice-based research). We suggest that funders and reviewers of research should adopt and support a more robust definition of evidence. By critically examining the evolving nature of evidence, implementation science can better fulfill its vision of facilitating widespread and equitable adoption, delivery, and sustainment of scientific advances.

PubMed Abstract

Brownson, R. C., Shelton, R. C., Geng, E. H., & Glasgow, R. E. (2022). Revisiting concepts of evidence in implementation science. Implement Sci, 17(1), 26. doi:10.1186/s13012-022-01201-y