Research School Network: Implementation: Every Stage at Every Stage A flexible process, not a linear one


Implementation: Every Stage at Every Stage

A flexible process, not a linear one

by Bradford Research School
on the

The recently updated School’s Guide to Implementation has many new elements, but one familiar aspect is the implementation cycle. You’ll notice that the graphic has a new look, but we still have the sequence of explore, prepare, deliver and sustain:

Figure 2 process cycle explore prepare deliver sustain 1

One important emphasis in the new guidance is that this is a flexible process, rather than a linear one:

Nevertheless, implementation doesn’t occur in a neat and linear fashion: strategies and phases overlap and are revisited over time. As such, implementation is best treated as a process of ongoing learning that adapts to the changing needs of the school.

Instead of seeing it as a series of steps, we recommend thinking about every stage at every stage.


At the explore stage, we are making evidence-informed decisions about what to implement. We ask:

  • Is it right for our setting?
  • Is it feasible to implement?

But these are questions that don’t go away once we have made the implementation decision. We ask at the sustain stage: is it still right for our setting? We ask at the deliver stage: have we encountered any barriers that are making it less feasible to implement?

When we explore the evidence, we are also exploring the core components that we need to come back to at every stage: in PD as we practically prepare; in monitoring as we deliver; in reflection as we decided whether to sustain, scale or de-implement.


The prepare stage is seen as forward looking, about ensuring an effective deliver stage, but there is always an element of explore here too. We might have to revisit the evidence, or revisit our data to refine decisions. Exploring evidence is never done’.

We can see the prepare stage as ensuring readiness for implementation, which involves implementation planning, developing clarity, preparing systems, providing high-quality PD, providing leadership direction and support. But readiness isn’t only to be considered before we start. We need to ask it all the time. The guidance has these questions to reflect on readiness:

  • Have any new barriers to implementation emerged?
  • Are the associated systems and structures still suitable?
  • Are there sufficient people who can enable change?


There’s a new emphasis in the guidance report on the deliver phase as a learning phase: When delivery is framed as a learning process, monitoring implementation becomes an essential tool in identifying, and acting on, implementation problems.” Therefore, throughout the process we are effectively ensuring mini explore and prepare processes all the time.

We should see it as a learning process that will impact not just on the current focus of implementation but every further instance of implementation. Implementation culture (which used to have its own recommendation in the previous guidance report) is developed by learning from implementation. 


We don’t want the sustain stage to be an afterthought, or a surprise.We should know what criteria will be met before we consider sustaining, scaling or de-implementing. If we have practically prepared well, we will have built in effective monitoring strategies that will help us to learn when it is the right time to have these conversations. 

Whatever decision we make, we take into consideration the other stages of the cycle: we ask whether the evidence/​data has changed? Is the PD that we put in place sufficient to repeat? How effective was our monitoring of implementation fidelity?

Further questions from the EEF:

  • As new priorities emerge, is sufficient support in place to protect and maintain the implementation effort?
  • Do leaders continue to acknowledge and support good implementation practices?
  • Are a range of staff involved so that we aren’t over-relying on individuals?
  • Before deciding whether to continue, scale-up, or stop an approach, have we reviewed the previous implementation effort and outcomes achieved so far?

Finally, the diagram below encompasses all of the recommendations from the guidance report. The behaviours and contextual factors should be elements considered at every stage too.

Imp cycle
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Mark Miller

Director of Bradford Research School

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