Implementation Science – Unlocking the ‘middle ground’ between nutrition interventions and outcomes

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There is a growing interest in implementation science (IS). The scope and complexity of this science means that in order to effectively scale-up nutrition, we need to engage key stakeholders to prioritize research questions, select and tailor methods to the local context, and raise awareness of the importance of evidence-based implementation amongst the nutrition community.

That was the take-home message from the Plenary Session on Friday October 28th, 2016 at the Micronutrient Forum Global Conference in Cancun, Mexico. The session entitled “Implementation Science in nutrition: purposes, forms, functions and country examples” saw SISN President, Professor David Pelletier, take to the stage to define IS. He was followed by a series of presenters sharing real-world vignettes and a discussion on how we might start to influence positive change.

The session opened with USAID’s Nutrition Division Chief, Anne Peniston, reminding the audience that historically we have focused on the generation of evidence to establish proof of concept, and while this continues to be important, we also need to better understand how to introduce this evidence in programs within different ‘real-world’ contexts.

“Implementation science is needed to unlock the neglected middle ground between nutrition interventions and nutrition outcomes,” said Professor Pelletier, as he described the broad implementation spectrum.

Four implementers presented case studies as examples of evidence informed implementation at scale. In Guatemala, they used household surveys to track compliance with iodized salt. In Ghana they examined opportunities for utilizing evidence in prioritizing and making decisions in nutrition policies; In India, they developed a formal knowledge brokering system, that offers decision-makers efficient access to evidence and resources on maternal and child nutrition; In Zimbabwe they researched barriers to infant and young child feeding (IYCF) interventions in order to develop a robust pilot study and subsequently used pilot findings to inform actions at scale. These successful initiatives provided some insights into the ‘black box’ of implementation but “there are issues with alignment and collaboration” added Professor Pelletier.

There are many challenges to implementing at scale, but now is the time to bring together scientists, researchers, knowledge brokers, decision makers and front-line implementers to invest in a research strategy. The founding of SISN is a first step to achieving this goal.

Have an idea or a comment on any of the issues discussed above? We welcome your feedback – you can comment on this post on our LinkedIn feed (The Society for Implementation Science in Nutrition) or write to us using the email address below.

If you are interested in finding out more about implementation science (IS) or becoming a member of SISN to help us advance the use of IS in nutrition, you can contact us via our website (www.implementnutrition.org) or can email us at implementnutrition@gmail.com.

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