Background: Adoption, adaptation, scale-up, spread, and sustainability are ill-defined, undertheorised, and little-researched implementation science concepts. An instrumental case study will track the adoption and adaptation, or not, of a locally developed innovation about dysphagia as a patient safety issue. The case study will examine a conceptual framework with a continuum of spread comprising hierarchical control or 'making it happen', participatory adaptation or 'help it happen', and facilitated evolution or 'let it happen'.
Methods: This case study is a prospective, longitudinal design using mixed methods. The fifteen-month (October 2012 to December 2013) instrumental case study is set in large, healthcare organisation in England. The innovation refers to introducing a nationally recognised, inter-disciplinary dysphagia competency framework to guide workforce development about fundamental aspects of care. Adoption and adaptation will be examined at an organisational level and along two, contrasting care pathways: stroke and fractured neck of femur. A number of educational interventions will be deployed, including training a cadre of trainers to cascade the essentials of dysphagia management and developing a Dysphagia Toolkit as a learning resource. Mixed methods will be used to investigate scale-up, spread, and sustainability in acute and community settings. A purposive sample of senior managers and clinical leaders will be interviewed to identify path dependency or the context specific particularities of implementation. A pre- and post-evaluation, using mealtime observations and a survey, will investigate the learning effect on staff adherence to patient specific dysphagia recommendations and attitudes towards dysphagia, respectively. Official documents and an ethnographic field journal allow critical junctures, temporal aspects and confounding factors to be explored.
Discussion: Researching spread and sustainability presents methodological and practical challenges. These include fidelity, adaptation latitude, time, and organisational changes. An instrumental case study will allow these confounding factors to be tracked over time and in place. The case study is underpinned by, and will test a conceptual framework about spread, to explore theoretical generalizability.