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Multi-tiered external facilitation: the role of feedback loops and tailored interventions in supporting change in a stepped-wedge implementation trial.

Penney LS, Damush TM, Rattray NA, Miech EJ, Baird SA, Homoya BJ, Myers LJ, Bravata DM. Multi-tiered external facilitation: the role of feedback loops and tailored interventions in supporting change in a stepped-wedge implementation trial. Implementation science communications. 2021 Jul 27; 2(1):82.

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BACKGROUND: Facilitation is a complex, relational implementation strategy that guides change processes. Facilitators engage in multiple activities and tailor efforts to local contexts. How this work is coordinated and shared among multiple, external actors and the contextual factors that prompt and moderate facilitators to tailor activities have not been well-described. METHODS: We conducted a mixed methods evaluation of a trial to improve the quality of transient ischemic attack care. Six sites in the Veterans Health Administration received external facilitation (EF) before and during a 1-year active implementation period. We examined how EF was employed and activated. Data analysis included prospective logs of facilitator correspondence with sites (160 site-directed episodes), stakeholder interviews (a total of 78 interviews, involving 42 unique individuals), and collaborative call debriefs (n = 22) spanning implementation stages. Logs were descriptively analyzed across facilitators, sites, time periods, and activity types. Interview transcripts were coded for content related to EF and themes were identified. Debriefs were reviewed to identify instances of and utilization of EF during site critical junctures. RESULTS: Multi-tiered EF was supported by two groups (site-facing quality improvement [QI] facilitators and the implementation support team) that were connected by feedback loops. Each site received an average of 24 episodes of site-directed EF; most of the EF was delivered by the QI nurse. For each site, site-directed EF frequently involved networking (45%), preparation and planning (44%), process monitoring (44%), and/or education (36%). EF less commonly involved audit and feedback (20%), brainstorming solutions (16%), and/or stakeholder engagement (5%). However, site-directed EF varied widely across sites and time periods in terms of these facilitation types. Site participants recognized the responsiveness of the QI nurse and valued her problem-solving, feedback, and accountability support. External facilitators used monitoring and dialogue to intervene by facilitating redirection during challenging periods of uncertainty about project direction and feasibility for sites. External facilitators, in collaboration with the implementation support team, successfully used strategies tailored to diverse local contexts, including networking, providing data, and brainstorming solutions. CONCLUSIONS: Multi-tiered facilitation capitalizing on emergent feedback loops allowed for tailored, site-directed facilitation. Critical juncture cases illustrate the complexity of EF and the need to often try multiple strategies in combination to facilitate implementation progress. TRIAL REGISTRATION: The Protocol-guided Rapid Evaluation of Veterans Experiencing New Transient Neurological Symptoms (PREVENT) is a registered trial ( NCT02769338 ), May 11, 2016-prospectively registered.

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