Blog post author: Lena Harris
Note from author: I would like to extend many thanks to Cassie Koester for her contributions in the early content planning for this blog. Though she was unavailable this month to join me in writing this post, I have tried to do justice to our conversations throughout this shared experience.
There is a well-known African Proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This applies to several situations, and the field of implementation science is no exception. Implementation practice is a marathon not a sprint, and often the “who” of this work plays as critical a role as the “what.” We encourage partnership in our work with human service agencies and community partners, but as Implementation Specialists we also stand to gain from collaborating with colleagues across projects.
As members of the Impact Center work group, in August we had an opportunity to work with the National Implementation Research Network’s (NIRN) State Implementation and Scaling-up of Evidenced-based Practices (SISEP) project on the Active Implementation (AI) Hub redesign and saw firsthand all that cross-project collaboration has to offer. Below, you’ll find the most memorable lessons our work group learned about cross-project collaboration and how they serve to advance our development as individual practitioners and, when used well, how they may enhance the landscape of the field overall.
1. Cross-project collaboration facilitates connection
One of the most foundational lessons we identified during our time collaborating with NIRN’s SISEP project is the value of connection and network building. The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has done a stellar job finding ways to support connectivity in this hybrid environment, but the experience of meeting colleagues and building your network virtually, especially as a newcomer, can be challenging. FPG supports a very diverse portfolio of projects, and our collaborative experience gave us exposure to NIRN’s project array and the team members (affectionately self-referred to as NIRNians) that support them. Implementation specialists, project managers, and members of the data team each brought their own unique perspective that informs their work, and this was reflected in the robust discussions that took place during team meetings and peer learning opportunities.
As I am writing, I am reminded of a particular scenario in which we found ourselves discussing articles that were selected for the meeting and our particular group had the very mix of people mentioned above. After a quick laugh about how there were fewer implementation specialists in our discussion group than in others, we soon found ourselves deep in conversation about scaling up usable innovations. Each of us referenced content we’d read or watched in other contexts and connected our personal experiences as well. In connecting this way over the material, rich discussion about an implementation science hot topic also provided some great grounding in the relevance of the field and applicability of the concepts and strategies. This experience serves as an ever-present reminder that when we bring ourselves to our work, the authenticity we bring builds on the knowledge we share in unique ways.
This experience serves as an ever-present reminder that when we bring ourselves to our work, the authenticity we bring builds on the knowledge we share in unique ways.
2. Cross-project collaboration creates opportunities to nurture budding professional interests
Building on the benefits of foundational connection and network building, it has been our experience that cross-project collaboration creates opportunities for additional professional development, leading to greater career growth. During one of the project meetings we attended, there was mention of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research (DEIR) certificate program, which was to begin soon. Because there was a member of the group who participated in the pilot, we spoke about her experience, which ultimately convinced me to enroll in the current cohort. There are many professional development opportunities available at UNC and at times it can be challenging to balance project responsibilities and professional development interests. Ultimately, having someone answer questions and provide their personal reflections made the difference in my decision to enroll.
3. Cross-project collaboration encourages implementation skill building
During our time working on the AI Hub redesign, we had the chance to grow our familiarity and comfort with NIRN’s AI frameworks and the associated resources. Because the projects we were able to shadow focus on the school setting, we were able to see what application of the Implementation Support Professional core competencies looked like in a different setting. More specifically, we were able to observe a meeting where a focal point of the conversation was the role that communication played and would continue to play as early adopters were identified and the intervention was installed in those classrooms. It was evident that the relationships that had been built up to that point gave rise to the ways in which conversation flowed around realistic goal setting, with each partner contributing contextual knowledge that supported decision making and future planning. It was encouraging to see the various critical perspectives on the call displaying comfort with the implementation science principles they’d learned. This was made clear by their willingness to drive the work, whether in identifying tools and other aspects they felt would best support attendees in an upcoming training or by brainstorming how to increase outreach success to a school within a transformation zone.
In addition to the skill building that took place through shadowing external meetings, we also found that our small group hub debriefs provided time to dig into conversations about the AI frameworks, discussing everything from how the structure of linked implementation teams might evolve based on setting, to creating our own individual analogies to capture how each of the frameworks relates to the others.
4. Cross-project collaboration promotes knowledge sharing
Lastly, if networking and relationships, professional development, and implementation skill building weren’t enough, we found that our time spent with the SISEP team allowed us the opportunity to share multiple technical resources and some internal processes that (we hope) were beneficial to everyone involved. We are already heavily involved in our project’s media and networking efforts and working with the NIRN team exposed us to some content creation platforms that could add value and variety to the ways that we currently share information with our partners and the implementation science community at large.
On the flip side, one of the things our project has begun to prioritize is accessibility. We’ve set targets for the readability of our newer materials and are tending to aspects of accessibility, such as typeface (and its size and weight), color contrast, and alternate text. A conversation about the goals for the AI hub redesign led to us share the internal accessibility checklist we use for our materials, to supplement the efforts of our NIRN colleagues as they continue in their resource revision work.
Call-to-Action: Look for Opportunities!
Collaboration across projects can contribute to your personal and professional growth, spark creativity in your own work while contributing to the work of others, and ultimately give birth to new ideas. Truth be told, creating these connections can take effort―but it’s worth it. Going forward, consider taking these actions:
- Engage in spaces that allow you to meet people outside of your project, be they affinity groups, division meetings, or even informal community gatherings. Spaces like these allow opportunities to discover common interests that may grow into collaborative opportunities.
- Express your interest in collaborative opportunities to your leadership. Making this known to others on your project can help create linkages.