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Q&A with Implementation Division Lead Allison Metz, PhD

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Q&A with Implementation Division Lead Allison Metz, PhD

December 1, 2020

Allison Metz, PhD, is a developmental psychologist and a senior research scientist, and she leads the Implementation Division at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. She is also a research professor at the UNC School of Social Work and an adjunct professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

What is the Implementation Division?

The Implementation Division is a multidisciplinary team of implementation researchers and practitioners who use best practices from implementation science to support the implementation and scaling of evidence-based programs and practices to improve outcomes and advance equity for children, youth, and families and the communities where they live. We focus on advancing equity through the use of equitable implementation methods, we build implementation capacity in community and service settings, and we help professionals working to support implementation efforts develop their skills and competencies. As researchers, we develop rigorous studies that contribute to building the evidence for implementation strategies, frameworks, and models that can support effective translation of research evidence into practice settings. Members of the division also develop formative measures for assessing and improving implementation capacity in communities and service systems.

We’re focused on ensuring sustainable and positive impacts from implementation science to integrate research and practice. Our capacity-building work is relationship-driven, flexible, and tailored to the assets and needs of the population and setting.

What are some of the main projects the division is working on right now?

Our more than 40 division members are working on many, many projects, from a variety of areas. We’re growing all the time, in terms of hiring and in bringing in funding to do more of the work we know makes a difference. The Impact Center at FPG is contributing to the development of state and regional capacities to implement the California Child Welfare Core Practice Model (CPM). In collaboration with the California Department of Social Services and other partners, they are helping collaborators co-design and support counties to implement and sustain the CPM. Our National Implementation Research Network is building the knowledge and capacity of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to use the best of implementation science and related tools and resources to address implementation challenges and support quality implementation of programs, practices, and policies. A major aspect of this work is to amplify and advance equitable implementation in research and practice to achieve better results for children, families, and communities.

How does the Implementation Division serve the greater FPG mission of advancing knowledge to transform children's lives?

This division really supports that mission by creating knowledge through research and improving outcomes for children and families by being the translational arm of that research, making things work in the real world. As an Institute, we have everything from basic research, translational research, implementation, and practice-level work. What I think is amazing about FPG is that we both develop evidence and develop an understanding of what works to improve outcomes for children and families.

The Implementation Division can take that information about what works and figure out how it will work on the ground. So, if there's a particular intervention that research has shown has good outcomes, we have people who are taking that and translating it into real-world practice where it can benefit families.

We have people in the division doing implementation research and also doing implementation practice, working with systems to help them develop implementation plans, bring stakeholders together, and understand how to use data to assess whether implementation is progressing in the way that we would want. If implementation seems to be going well with one service, how can we scale it to three others? How can we work with places to break down silos and create stronger implementation pathways? This work goes on in public health, K-12 education, child welfare systems, the community, and more. I think we have a really strong foundation and strong partnerships, and here at UNC, we partner with the schools of social work, public health, education, and pharmacy. That reach makes an even greater impact.

What is your vision for the division, looking forward?

My vision is to bring together everyone who is doing this work and support our ability to learn from each other, to say, “This is the knowledge and evidence around implementation science, and how do we bring this and the practice of implementation together?” We’re best when we come together to learn from each other and to support each other. We especially need to support one another right now with the pandemic, as many of our members are used to giving on-the-ground support. I think you need a community of practice, and our division has successfully done that. Our division has more than 40 members, and I think we often might not talk to someone we’re not directly working with on a project, but right now, those barriers are really coming down, and we’re learning a lot from it. We're sharing resources, and I think we are elevating the role of implementation practice within the science of implementation.

My role is also to help build more visibility for our division both within FPG and externally, which I think is really important. We started an internship program last summer, and we're coming together across our projects to put resources into mentoring graduate students and building a bench of professionals who can take on these roles in the future and help services, systems, and communities use best-practices to improve outcomes.