• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Monday 17th October, 2011

Warming up the implementation climate

“Implementation climate” is the phrase adopted by Katherine Klein and Joann Sorra over 15 years ago to refer to the collective influence of the many multiple policies and practices that organisations use to promote the effective use of innovation*. These include training, technical support, incentives, persuasive communication, workflow changes, alterations in staffing levels and mix, new reporting requirements, monitoring, enforcement procedures, and the like. Klein and Sorra described this as “the extent to which intended users perceive that innovation use is expected, supported, and rewarded” and argued that “the stronger the implementation climate, the more consistent high-quality innovation use will be in an organization, provided the innovations fits intended users’ values”.If the effective implementation of innovations depends on the implementation climate it pays to understand what this is and how to influence it. Yet the concept has received less attention than might be expected, with most work focusing on introducing information technology systems to human services organisations.A team of researchers from North Carolina University, US, has explored the wider potential of implementation climate and offers some insights into how to foster a positive implementation climate.The researchers show that the concept has several notable features. First, it focuses explicitly on innovation implementation; it does not concern the general state of affairs in an organisation.Second, it is innovation-specific: it may be strong for one innovation but not for another.A third important observation is that implementation climate concerns both the people expected to use an innovation – in prevention science, frontline staff or the implementers of programs – and the people whose role is to support the innovation, such as supervisors.Fourth, and critically, implementation climate refers to shared perceptions among users and supporters: it is not about individual or idiosyncratic views. This is because program implementation is invariably complex – involving a range of people completing different tasks in varied settings – and, therefore, the benefits depend on collective, not just personal, use of innovation.As already indicated, a range of policies and practices can be used to promote the use of innovations. Staff knowledge and skills can be enhanced through training, technical assistance and relevant documentation. Staff are likely to be more motivated if they are involved in making decisions about innovation design and implementation, if there are incentives for innovation use, and if they get feedback.Staff also need opportunities to use the innovation. This needs to be made easy, for example by giving them time to learn how to use it and even redesigning some work processes to fit innovation use.Aside from policies and practices, however, broader organizational features, such as human resources practices and openness to change, also play a role. Shared perceptions among staff are more likely when staff routinely interact with one another and share information. Common understanding of goals and tasks is more likely when leaders’ messages and actions are consistent. Staff selection procedures can help to increase the similarity in staff backgrounds, values and beliefs.Agreement with the staff group should not be tested and not taken for granted. Staff can vary in their perception of implementation policies and practices. But, as a rule, they will behave more uniformly in situations that provided clear, powerful cues.The research team make two final but important points. One is that there is no magic recipe for creating a positive implementation climate. “Different mixes of policies and practices”, they say, “can generate equivalent implementation climates. The presence of some high-quality policies or practices could compensate for the absence, or low quality, of other policies and practices. For example, high-quality training could substitute for poor-quality program manuals.” As such, it is important to measure shared perceptions – a composite of staff perceptions – and not to expect that specific policies and practices can be linked to implementation success.The other point is that the concept of implementation climate has limits. It lends itself well to complex innovations in health and human services. Conversely, the researchers believe that “implementation climate is not likely to prove useful in studying innovations that individual health and human services providers can adopt, implement, and use on their own with relatively modest training and support and for which they and their patients or clients can realize anticipated benefits regardless of what other providers do”.Unfortunately, no standard instrument exists for measuring implementation climate, but the authors hope that their observations will serve as useful pointers for those interested in developing and applying such instruments.Footnote:* Klein, K. J. & Sorra, J. S. (1996) ‘The challenge of innovation implementation’, Academy of Management Review 21, 1055-1080.Reference:Weiner, B. J., Belden, C. M., Bergmire, D. M. & Johnston, M. (2011) ‘The meaning and measurement of implementation climate’, Implementation Science 6: 78 doi.10.1186/-5908-6-78.

Back to Archives