Promoting rigor and sustainment in implementation science capacity building programs: A multi-method study

Amy G. Huebschmann, Shelly Johnston, Rachel Davis, Bethany M. Kwan, Elvin Geng, Debra Haire-Joshu, Brittney Sandler, Demetria M. McNeal, Ross C. Brownson, Borsika A. Rabin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: The field of Implementation science (IS) continues to evolve, and the number and type of IS capacity building Programs (ISCBPs) are in flux. These changes push the field to revisit the accepted IS competencies and to guide sustainment of ISCBPs. Our objectives were: (1) compare characteristics of current ISCBPs; (2) identify recommendations to support ISCBP sustainment; (3) measure how often ISCBPs address IS competencies; (4) identify novel and important IS competencies for the field. Method: This multi-method study included ISCBPs delivering structured, longitudinal IS training, excluding single courses and brief workshops. We used three complementary methods to meet our objectives. First, we identified ISCBPs via an internet search and snowball sampling methods. Second, we surveyed these ISCBPs to identify areas of program focus, types of trainees, IS competencies addressed, and recommendations to sustain ISCBPs. Third, we conducted a modified Delphi process with IS researchers/leaders to reach consensus on the IS competencies that were both important and novel as compared to the IS competencies published to date. Results: Among 74 eligible ISCBPs identified, 46 responded (62% response rate). Respondent ISCBPs represented diverse areas of focus (e.g., global health, cardiopulmonary disease) and trainee stages (e.g., graduate students, mid-career faculty). While most respondent ISCBPs addressed core IS methods, targeting IS competencies was less consistent (33% for nongraduate/non-fellowship ISCBPs; >90% for graduate/national ISCBPs). Our modified Delphi process identified eight novel and important IS competencies related to increasing health equity or the speed of translation. Recommendations to sustain ISCBPs included securing financial administrative support. Conclusions: Current ISCBPs train learners across varying career stages in diverse focus areas. To promote rigor, we recommend ISCBPs address specific IS competencies, with consideration of these eight novel/emerging competencies. We also recommend ISCBPs report on their IS competencies, focus area(s), and trainee characteristics. ISCBP programs need administrative financial support. Plain Language Summary: There is a limited workforce capacity to conduct implementation science (IS) research. To address this gap, the number and type of IS capacity building Programs (ISCBPs) focusing on training researchers and practitioners in IS methods continue to increase. Our efforts to comprehensively identify and describe ISCBPs for researchers and practitioners highlighted four implications for leaders of ISCBPs related to program sustainment and rigor. First, we identified a range of contextual characteristics of ISCBPs, including the research topics, methods, and IS competencies addressed, and the types of trainees accepted. Second, given the variability of trainee types and research, rigorous ISCBP programs should tailor the IS competencies and methods addressed to the skills needed by the types of trainees in their program. Third, the field of IS needs to periodically revisit the competencies needed with attention to the skills needed in the field. We used a consensus-building process with ISCBP leaders and other IS experts to expand existing IS competencies and identified eight important, novel IS competencies that broadly relate to promoting health equity and speeding the translation of research to practice. Finally, as more institutions consider developing ISCBPs, we identified factors needed to support ISCBP sustainment, including ongoing financial support. In addition to these implications for ISCBP leaders, there are also policy implications. For example, IS journals may enact policies to require manuscripts evaluating ISCBP performance to report on certain contextual characteristics, such as the IS competencies addressed and types of trainees accepted. The field may also consider developing an accreditation body to evaluate the rigor of ISCBP curricula.

Original languageEnglish
JournalImplementation Research and Practice
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • building
  • curriculum
  • equity
  • implementation
  • research competency
  • training


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