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Program implementation is about operationalizing a program. Implementing includes the specifics of who, what, where, and how a program is established and run. The context that early childhood initiatives operate within is complex, fragmented, and often vulnerable to changes in political and economic climates—all things that can work against or in tandem with a program’s ability to achieve results. Effective implementation is more than a contributing factor in setting initiatives up for success. Research has demonstrated that quality of implementation contributes significantly to outcomes.[1] If a program is poorly or even moderately well implemented, it is likely that its goals will not be achieved or that the results will be less significant.

When implementation is high quality, success is more likely. Programs that are effectively implemented stand a better chance of achieving intended outcomes and producing positive results for children.

There are numerous frameworks that can be used to guide implementation. Two of the most widely recognized in the human service and education fields are Plan-Do-Check-Act[2] (also referred to as Plan-Do-Study-Act or the Deming Cycle) and the National Implementation Research Network’s implementation stages.[3] Cross-cutting themes unifying these frameworks include the following:

  • Determine the desired result
  • Plan, plan, plan
  • Use feedback loops, monitor and learn continuously and at all levels
  • Recognize that work occurs simultaneously; implementation is not a linear process
  • Collect and use data
  • Be flexible and adaptive
  • Collaborate with those internal and external to the agency or organization

This guide uses Plan-Do-Check-Act to frame program design and planning, and also discusses additional insights and information from implementation science.



[1] Durlak, J. A. (2011). The Importance of implementation for research, practice, and policy. Child Trends research brief. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2011-34DurlakImportanceofImplementation.pdf.

[2] W. Edwards Deming Institute. The Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) Cycle [Web page]. Retrieved from https://www.deming.org/theman/theories/pdsacycle.

[3] National Implementation Research Network. (n.d.). Module 4: Implementation stages [Web page]. In Active Implementation Module Series. Retrieved from http://implementation.fpg.unc.edu/module-4.