Implementation research in health
Bridging the gap between evidence and practice to improve children’s health.
Real-world settings are complex, making it difficult for decision makers to account for every factor that influences the success of health interventions: Unexpected human behaviour may prevent programmes and policies from having the intended impact. Challenges in planning and implementation, too, can dampen results.
For this reason, even the most promising health interventions do not always lead to success.
To ensure programmes and policies benefit children equitably, practitioners need tools to understand implementation problems and identify possible solutions.
Linking evidence with practice
Implementation research is one such tool.
Implementation research links evidence with practice to advance public health policies and programmes. It helps identify what, why and how interventions work on the ground, where cultural context and other factors can significantly impact their success. It also monitors and evaluates interventions to improve their outcomes.
When implementation research is embedded in health programming, it enhances equity, efficiency and sustainability, driving results for children and adolescents.
Embedded implementation research has unique benefits:
- It's context-specific, addressing questions on the ground and providing guidance and analysis specific to every situation.
- It's locally led by programme implementers with support from local research experts.
- It provides timely feedback to find solutions much faster than large clinical studies – often in months instead of years.
- It's cost-effective. Embedded implementation research is generally less expensive than large clinical studies.
UNICEF’s implementation research programme
UNICEF works to embed implementation research in health programmes, policies and practices to monitor, maintain and improve their effectiveness.
We support programmes to design and conduct implementation research in specific country contexts. For example, UNICEF successfully revised a communications strategy to reduce vaccine refusals in Nigeria. In Ethiopia, we improved the quality of immunization data through implementation research on community engagement. In Malawi, we introduced adolescent champions to support HIV-positive adolescent mothers. And in Pakistan, UNICEF and partners launched an initiative to assess implementation barriers in a national immunization programme.
Our approach focuses not only on helping practitioners and policymakers improve programmes, but – more importantly – on building real-time programme knowledge.