FPG Profile: Will Aldridge, PhD
William Aldridge, PhD, is a senior implementation specialist at UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. His work includes active implementation support and evaluation research on the implementation and scale-up of evidence-based prevention/well-being strategies in communities and state, regional, and national service systems. He is currently principal investigator on the Implementation Capacity for Triple P projects.
What is your role at FPG?
As a senior implementation specialist, I have the privilege of bringing what we know from the science and practice of program/practice implementation to community and state partners as they seek to realize stronger, wider benefits for our children and families. We do this through a process of co-creation, each having something to contribute that might be insufficient alone, but together can be used to engineer context-specific solutions. These solutions are then improved over time through learning, teaming, leadership, and systems change to enable success. From start to finish, community partners must see themselves and their voices in the strategies as they are developed. Moreover, local and state partners must keep working with their community partners to sustain and build on the strategies over time. Our role is to support everyone to get there.
At the heart of this work are relationships. The work we do requires all involved partners, including us, to learn and shift how we approach the necessary tasks over time, because the tasks tend to evolve as we go. This usually requires vulnerability, humility, data, and a growth mindset. While the field of implementation science is learning more about what it takes to be effective, how the work unfolds looks different in every context. So, listening to and following alongside community voices, providers, and system partners is the only way we can fit in the puzzle pieces that we might uniquely contribute to their efforts.
In addition to this amazingly rewarding work, I also have the privilege of supporting a large project team and workgroup within FPG. Through my primary project team, Implementation Capacity for Triple P projects; https://ictp.fpg.unc.edu, and our broader workgroup, The Impact Center at FPG; https://impact.fpg.unc.edu, I get to learn from wonderful professional colleagues that have come to our teams from a variety of unique backgrounds. From public health to social work, psychology, improvement science, health and racial equity, statewide nonprofit services, adult learning, media and communication, evaluation, and state administration, what our team brings to the table makes each of us smarter, especially me, and provides great benefits to our project partners.
What was your path to FPG?
As a triple graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and alum of UNC’s Clinical Psychology graduate program, I was always aware of FPG. But because I was primarily trained as an adult-focused clinician/researcher, mainly in couples, anxiety, and depression, I didn’t have a natural connection to FPG’s work. Then in my early career, I got deeply into implementation science and prevention science, where a lot of the action was with large community and state initiatives to scale-up evidence-based programs. I quickly learned that my training with adults was going to come in handy as I worked with adult community and system partners scaling up child-and-family serving programs; it’s tough for us adults, particularly professionals working in large service system environments, to shift the way we think and the strategies we use. After starting my career at the University of South Carolina’s Parenting and Family Research Center, it was FPG’s booming hub of implementation science and the opportunity to put my knowledge and skills into practice working with community and state partners that drew me to FPG. Plus, I got to come back home to Chapel Hill, which also made my wife happy (she was born and raised in Chapel Hill!).
What excites you about FPG?
While UNC, as a major research University, has developed a leading reputation for implementation science, FPG has carved out a particularly unique niche of that within implementation practice. That is, we don’t just research implementation and scale-up, we focus on taking that knowledge and putting it into action for the benefit of our state and our nation. Other units on campus now send us many of their implementation science students, who usually only get exposed to the research side of implementation science, to learn more about the practice side of the field. We’ve created a summer internship program to enable this more systematically and I keep connections on campus through my adjunct position in Health Policy and Management at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to support graduate students across campus who are interested in our area of the field.
How has your work at FPG supported your own goals and visions?
My vision has always involved supporting large-scale impact for communities and states across the nation. In fact, my dream was always to develop a team of professionals at UNC to enable this work. FPG has provided me a context to do that throughout my early and middle career. For that, I’m grateful and feel very blessed. I’ve always believed in the mission of UNC-Chapel Hill and have been very involved growing up with several alumni in my family, as a fan of Tar Heel athletics, then as a student three times over, and now as a mid-career professional. Few people get to live that life and, somehow, it’s come my way. Suffice it to say, I’ve been very privileged and hold myself responsible to use that privilege each day to invest in similar benefits for my team and for my partners across the state and nation.
What do you look forward to about the future of the work you do?
While there has always been a space for moving research into policy and practice, the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid crisis, Family First Prevention Services Act, and our nation’s renewed focus on health equity and social justice has created more urgency to bring effective child and family supports to scale. Simultaneously, because of the rapid development of implementation science and practice, there is increasing recognition that we must collectively strengthen, if not transform, our state and national service systems to enable this to happen successfully and sustainably. This is leading our team and our colleagues into new conversations and partnerships that will not only reinforce the research field but create greater and more equitable impacts for our nation’s children, families, and communities. It’s an important and exciting time be a part of this hard work, and to do it alongside our community and state partners.