How does facilitation in healthcare work? Using mechanism mapping to illuminate the black box of a meta-implementation strategy

Amy M. Kilbourne, Elvin Geng, Ingrid Eshun-Wilson, Shannon Sweeney, Donna Shelley, Deborah J. Cohen, Jo Ann E. Kirchner, Maria E. Fernandez, Michael L. Parchman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Healthcare facilitation, an implementation strategy designed to improve the uptake of effective clinical innovations in routine practice, has produced promising yet mixed results in randomized implementation trials and has not been fully researched across different contexts. Objective: Using mechanism mapping, which applies directed acyclic graphs that decompose an effect of interest into hypothesized causal steps and mechanisms, we propose a more concrete description of how healthcare facilitation works to inform its further study as a meta-implementation strategy. Methods: Using a modified Delphi consensus process, co-authors developed the mechanistic map based on a three-step process. First, they developed an initial logic model by collectively reviewing the literature and identifying the most relevant studies of healthcare facilitation components and mechanisms to date. Second, they applied the logic model to write vignettes describing how facilitation worked (or did not) based on recent empirical trials that were selected via consensus for inclusion and diversity in contextual settings (US, international sites). Finally, the mechanistic map was created based on the collective findings from the vignettes. Findings: Theory-based healthcare facilitation components informing the mechanistic map included staff engagement, role clarification, coalition-building through peer experiences and identifying champions, capacity-building through problem solving barriers, and organizational ownership of the implementation process. Across the vignettes, engagement of leaders and practitioners led to increased socialization of the facilitator’s role in the organization. This in turn led to clarifying of roles and responsibilities among practitioners and identifying peer experiences led to increased coherence and sense-making of the value of adopting effective innovations. Increased trust develops across leadership and practitioners through expanded capacity in adoption of the effective innovation by identifying opportunities that mitigated barriers to practice change. Finally, these mechanisms led to eventual normalization and ownership of the effective innovation and healthcare facilitation process. Impact: Mapping methodology provides a novel perspective of mechanisms of healthcare facilitation, notably how sensemaking, trust, and normalization contribute to quality improvement. This method may also enable more efficient and impactful hypothesis-testing and application of complex implementation strategies, with high relevance for lower-resourced settings, to inform effective innovation uptake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number53
JournalImplementation Science Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Facilitation
  • Implementation strategies
  • Mechanism mapping
  • Quality improvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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