Background: Many of society's health problems require research-based knowledge acted on by healthcare practitioners together with implementation of political measures from governmental agencies. However, there has been limited knowledge exchange between implementation science and policy implementation research, which has been conducted since the early 1970s. Based on a narrative review of selective literature on implementation science and policy implementation research, the aim of this paper is to describe the characteristics of policy implementation research, analyze key similarities and differences between this field and implementation science, and discuss how knowledge assembled in policy implementation research could inform implementation science.
Discussion: Following a brief overview of policy implementation research, several aspects of the two fields were described and compared: the purpose and origins of the research; the characteristics of the research; the development and use of theory; determinants of change (independent variables); and the impact of implementation (dependent variables). The comparative analysis showed that there are many similarities between the two fields, yet there are also profound differences. Still, important learning may be derived from several aspects of policy implementation research, including issues related to the influence of the context of implementation and the values and norms of the implementers (the healthcare practitioners) on implementation processes. Relevant research on various associated policy topics, including The Advocacy Coalition Framework, Governance Theory, and Institutional Theory, may also contribute to improved understanding of the difficulties of implementing evidence in healthcare. Implementation science is at a relatively early stage of development, and advancement of the field would benefit from accounting for knowledge beyond the parameters of the immediate implementation science literature.
Summary: There are many common issues in policy implementation research and implementation science. Research in both fields deals with the challenges of translating intentions into desired changes. Important learning may be derived from several aspects of policy implementation research.