The Importance of Mental Models in Implementation Science

Front Public Health. 2021 Jul 6;9:680316. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.680316. eCollection 2021.


Implementation science is concerned with the study of adoption, implementation and maintenance of evidence-based interventions and use of implementation strategies to facilitate translation into practice. Ways to conceptualize and overcome challenges to implementing evidence-based practice may enhance the field of implementation science. The concept of mental models may be one way to view such challenges and to guide selection, use, and adaptation of implementation strategies to deliver evidence-based interventions. A mental model is an interrelated set of beliefs that shape how a person forms expectations for the future and understands the way the world works. Mental models can shape how an individual thinks about or understands how something or someone does, can, or should function in the world. Mental models may be sparse or detailed, may be shared among actors in implementation or not, and may be substantially tacit, that is, of limited accessibility to introspection. Actors' mental models can determine what information they are willing to accept and what changes they are willing to consider. We review the concepts of mental models and illustrate how they pertain to implementation of an example intervention, shared decision making. We then describe and illustrate potential methods for eliciting and analyzing mental models. Understanding the mental models of various actors in implementation can provide crucial information for understanding, anticipating, and overcoming implementation challenges. Successful implementation often requires changing actors' mental models or the way in which interventions or implementation strategies are presented or implemented. Accurate elicitation and understanding can guide strategies for doing so.

Keywords: Implementation strategies; adaptation; assessment methods; barriers; context; mental models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Practice*
  • Humans
  • Implementation Science*
  • Models, Psychological