Could it be that the Implementation Science community is becoming a reality in the UK?

UK-IS member Mark Pearson from Hull York Medical School shares his impressions of the 1st King's College London (KCL) Implementation Science Conference - Strengthening partnerships between researchers, health professionals and policy makers, 19th July 2018.

Could it be that the idea of an implementation science community is becoming a reality? This question was nowhere near the front of my mind as I made my way to the 1st KCL Implementation Science conference as I came to the realisation, despite living in London for many years in the 2000s, that the overland train system between King’s Cross and Denmark Hill is now only navigable by those in the know. Londoners, that is. I am no longer one. But I digress.

I made it, sweating a little in the midst of the UK’s heatwave, to the venue at the Institute of Psychiatry just in time to hear Helen Cherry give her perspective as a deaf person on the challenges of delivering person-centred care. Helen’s compelling presentation identified both generic research issues (what happens to the much-vaunted patient & public involvement once ‘non-researchers’ have left the building?) and thorny implementation issues around the commissioning of low unit-cost (but high impact on people’s lives and service use) products such as continence pads. But the standout point made was a lesson for all implementation scientists, and it is worth reiterating here: DROP THE IMPLEMENTATION JARGON. If you think you think this doesn’t apply to you then it more than likely does. Don’t ask your colleagues for their view, ask a service user. Or your Mum.

Parallel sessions were a tightly-run, rapid-fire flurry of 10 minute presentations and pithy 5 minute discussions. A few highlights for me were Clare Coultas on how social psychology approaches can contribute to implementation science; Marie-Therese Schultes on implementation scientists’ sources of expertise (unjustifiably, we largely learn our all-important collaborative skills ‘on the job’); and Beatriz Goulao on how split-pot RCT designs could play an important role in evaluating the sorts of complex interventions we so often find in implementation science.

The lunch break felt all too short, perhaps a casualty of fitting so many presentations into a one-day format. Nevertheless I made the most of the opportunity to talk implementation science careers and international networks with Bianca Albers (Chair of the European Implementation Collaborative), catch up on our boundary objects research with Jo Day, and somewhat bemusingly discuss the pros and cons of ‘implementation tattoos’ with Annette Boaz and Geoff Curran (unanimous verdict: not a good idea).

Back to the plenaries. Kathryn Oliver, describing herself as a “sociologist with friends in weird places” (which neatly encapsulates how it can feel to work in this field) wove together the personal and professional tensions of doing knowledge co-production in a research intensive university. This included shining a (rarely shone) light on how gender plays out in this process. Kathryn’s subtle and incisive take was the highlight of the conference for me.

Topping off the day, Brian Mittman encouraged us all to embrace complexity in implementation research so as to produce “Insights and understanding rather than guidance”. Penny Hawe’s landmark work on achieving fidelity to function rather than form got a well-deserved mention, but not complexity science or realist evaluation/synthesis. Nevertheless, Brian made the direction of travel clear.

I headed back north slightly better informed on London’s overland rail and enthused by the burgeoning implementation science community - there was a real sense of researchers from a range of disciplinary backgrounds coming together with a common goal. Keeping this diverse, and often dispersed, community active is so important. At a national level joining the UK Implementation Society is a great way to do this, but don’t forget that it’s an international community and that the European Implementation Collaborative and Global Implementation Initiative are also valuable ways of networking widely. Thanks to Nick Sevdalis and the team at the Centre for Implementation Science, part of NIHR CLAHRC South London, for setting the right tone for the conference (not to mention the hard graft of organising it). Long may it continue.

Mark Pearson is Senior Lecturer in Implementation Science & Knowledge Mobilisation at Hull York Medical School, where he leads the Implementation Science theme at the Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre. Mark is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary journal Evidence & Policy. He was attending the conference as one of the guest places kindly made available by the organisers to UK Implementation Society members.

Photographs by Jorge Duarte Estavao

For more images of the conference please visit:

© UK Implementation Society, 2018

All views expressed are the author's own and not those of the UK Implementation Society.

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