Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

Implementation science is the study of the process for implementing programs and practices that have some evidence from the research field to suggest that they are worth replicating.[1]Implementation science helps with the move from policy and research to a fully operational program—that is, what it takes to make a program successful in the field.

In the field of implementation science, three categories of drivers or infrastructure support the design and implementation of a program: competency drivers, organization drivers, and leadership drivers. Each driver has a set of associated practices or activities, such as staffing, teams, communications, decisionmaking processes, and leadership actions.

These three drivers should be integrated and should compensate for each other.

  • Integrated means that actions or activities build on—rather than contradict or duplicate—one another. For example, staff training should not include topics in which staff already have expertise.
  • Drivers should also be compensatory, meaning that if an agency has a weakness in one area, other areas should be able to compensate. For example, if an agency has limited funds for training, it may need to be selective when hiring to ensure that new staff already have the skills and expertise needed, rather than relying on training.[2]

When implementing a state program, many staff members at various levels will be involved, including those who set state policy, those from intermediary organizations that play significant roles in supporting and operationalizing the program, and those on the ground who deliver services to children and families. As you review the drivers, bear in mind the implications for staff at each level.


[1] Metz, A., Naoom, S. F., Halle, T., & Bartley, L. (2015). An integrated stage-based framework for implementation of early childhood programs and systems. OPRE research brief 2015­48. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[2] National Implementation Research Network. (n.d.). Implementation components that are integrated and compensatory [Web page]. Retrieved from https://nirn.fpg.unc.edu/learn-implementation/implementation-drivers/integrated-compensatory