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NIRN releases Research & Evaluation Agenda

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NIRN releases Research & Evaluation Agenda

March 20, 2024

The National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) helps lead the way in best practices and science of implementation, organizational change, and system reinvention, with the goal of improving outcomes across the human services spectrum. To strengthen this commitment, NIRN developed a new research and evaluation agenda designed to advance implementation research. The agenda, released in August, focuses on integrating implementation science research and practice.
While NIRN has long been known as a leader in implementation practice, the center recognizes the value of being more consistent with its implementation research and evaluation agenda. With the extensive amount of data generated through its projects, NIRN’s leaders can contribute innovative practice-based research insights, demonstrate the value of implementation practice, improve the rigor of evidence generated through practice-based research, and increase scholarship and policy outputs. With the agenda, NIRN is responding to calls from the implementation science community for an increased focus on practice-based and community-defined evidence. The agenda supports NIRN in creating a more systematic approach to compile and disseminate practice-based findings to advance implementation science, thereby expanding NIRN’s footprint as a leader in implementation science.

The agenda details principles that should be incorporated into research and evaluation efforts: a commitment to engaging critical perspectives in relevant aspects of the research; a focus on using data to refine and improve practices for participating communities and populations; the use of rigorous yet pragmatic evaluation and/or research methodologies that minimize biases and maximize equity; a commitment to flexibility in approach; and the integration of multidisciplinary expertise.

Aligned with the missions of NIRN and FPG, the research and evaluation agenda intends to “advance the field of implementation science by contributing actionable yet rigorous evidence to expand knowledge of implementation best practices within complex real-world environments.” Through this agenda, NIRN looks to “strengthen its role as a national player in implementation research for education, early childhood, child welfare, public health, healthcare, and other human services fields.”

Senior Research Scientist Melanie Livet, PhD, led the creation of the agenda, with the assistance of a special committee of which Senior Research Scientist Ximena Franco-Jenkins, PhD, was a member. Livet and Franco-Jenkins, along with Implementation Specialist Sophia Farmer, MT, have recently been named co-directors of NIRN. With nearly 30 years of combined experience at NIRN, including active roles on the leadership team, the three women are well seated to guide the NIRN team. Their complementary roles on the leadership team—Livet served as both implementation research lead and public health/healthcare lead, Farmer was K-12 education portfolio lead, and Franco-Jenkins, PhD, acted as childhood portfolio lead—enable them to bring their varied skills and knowledge to the work.

“As we learn more through research and about the work we are doing," says Farmer, "there is a chance for us to branch out and be creative in how we want to approach the field and expand to address complex needs in an ever-changing context.”

With extensive experience in grades K–12 education—as a special education teacher, district leader, regional technical assistance provider for school and district teams and founding member and director of the MTSS Center in Virginia —Farmer brings real-world experience to her role at FPG. Her work in improvement science and implementation science explores entry points for systems change so she can have an impact on students and families similar to the ones she worked with in the classroom.

Franco-Jenkins has more than 17 years of experience in applied research, primarily with ethnically diverse children and families, dual language learners, and multilingual learners within school and community settings. Her work integrates children's socio-emotional development and educational and family environments and aims to develop culturally robust assessments and support the implementation of evidence-based practices.

Livet has more than 20 years of experience in applied research, with a focus on implementation science, program evaluation, and technology validation. Her areas of interest include application and evaluation of implementation science practices and tools through use of mixed methods, capacity building and organizational readiness strategies, adaptation and sustainability of evidence-based interventions, implementation research methodologies, and web-based technologies to support effective transfer of evidence-based practices into service settings.

Franco-Jenkins notes that, “As co-directors, we are proud to lead a diverse team at NIRN. Our expertise spans various areas, including scholarship and working with diverse populations” she says. “We approached our work with an equity lens, which is integral to NIRN’s mission.” She says that being named co-director alongside Livet and Farmer provides NIRN with an opportunity to further enhance capacity within the organization.

“This is also an opportunity for us to branch out in practice,” says Farmer. “As we learn more through research and about the work we are doing, there is a chance for us to branch out and be creative in how we want to approach the field and expand to address complex needs in an ever-changing context.”

Livet also sees the new leadership structure and research and evaluation agenda as an opportunity, saying it’s a favorable time for NIRN to “learn and think about our role within the field, making sure that we bridge implementation research and implementation practice within one center. Based on its focus on practical implementation, NIRN is well positioned to make significant contributions to continue advancing the field of implementation science.”