Qualitative Methods in Implementation Science


National Cancer Institute (2018) Qualitative Methods in Implementation Science. https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/IS/docs/NCI-DCCPS-ImplementationScience-WhitePaper.pdf


Excerpt from Preface

Despite clear recognition of the value of qualitative research methods within implementation studies, there remains confusion as to which methods to use, how to best use them, and what guidance investigators should follow in their application. The Qualitative Research in Implementation Science (QualRIS) group was formed to reduce this confusion. Our investigators have moved from viewing qualitative research methods as an add-on to the major components of a study (i.e. addition of focus groups to address exploratory work on provider factors affecting implementation outcomes) to a necessary but often underspecified core of a study. In this paper, the QualRIS group explains multiple ways in which qualitative methods can be effectively used to answer a range of high priority implementation science questions, and describes resources that are available to support the community. While the field will continue to progress in its methodologies, this report offers a snapshot of how qualitative methods in implementation science have advanced and where they can go from here. We hope this serves as a helpful resource to investigators and that the report’s recommendations are taken on so that the next generation of implementation science studies include the best qualitative research approaches to fit each question.


Thank you, Melanie Barwick, for tweeting this on August 3, 2020. I assumed it was a recent report but the only reference I could find to it on the NCI website was from October 10, 2018 so I am using 2018 as the year of publication, but who knows….


So why a report about qualitative methods in implementation science in a knowledge mobilization journal club? Well, to me knowledge mobilization and implementation science are closely related – not the same, for sure, but we can learn from scholarship in each space.


Both are concerned with moving evidence into action. I feel that knowledge mobilization is early in the process more concerned with (co)creating evidence and getting evidence ready to be taken up and used. I think that implementation science is further along the pathway being concerned with understanding how evidence is taken up, used and scaled through systems. You will see below how qualitative methods are used in similar ways (i.e. stakeholder engagement) but – in my opinion – at different stages of pathways from evidence creation to uptake and ultimately into sustainable use.


The article focuses first on the uses of qualitative methods for

  1. Stakeholder centered perspectives
  2. Inform and design implementation
  3. Understand context across diverse settings
  4. Provide documentation and encourage reflection
  5. Gain insight into implementation effectiveness
  6. Understand mechanisms of change
  7. Contribute to theoretical development


Knowledge mobilization is also concerned with stakeholder input, understanding contexts to inform evidence creation as implementation science is concerned with stakeholder input and understanding contexts to inform design of the implementation intervention.


Different but similar. I think knowledge mobilizers can learn from implementation practitioners/scientists and vice versa. For a start there are 8 pages of about 25 references per page. That’s 200 (ish) references. Likely a good representation of the implementation science literature.


In addition there are reflections on qualitative methods themselves and how to use qualitative evidence in implementation science including in sampling, timing of data collection, data collection, data analysis and presentation of qualitative findings. There is also a discussion of the rigour of qualitative evidence…numbers clearly aren’t the only way to clearly present evidence.


Questions for brokers:

  1. Compare and contrast implementation science and knowledge mobilization.
  2. Please find the date this was published and let the rest of us know.
  3. Qualitative methods, quantitative methods, mixed methods: where’s your comfort zone and why?


Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create online discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments