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Date: 01 Mar 2015

Implementation of a School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Intervention: Understanding Diffusion Processes Within Complex Systems


Sporadic and inconsistent implementation remains a significant challenge for social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions. This may be partly explained by the dearth of flexible, causative models that capture the multifarious determinants of implementation practices within complex systems. This paper draws upon Rogers (2003) Diffusion of Innovations Theory to explain the adoption, implementation and discontinuance of a SEL intervention. A pragmatic, formative process evaluation was conducted in alignment with phase 1 of the UK Medical Research Council’s framework for Developing and Evaluating Complex Interventions. Employing case-study methodology, qualitative data were generated with four socio-economically and academically contrasting secondary schools in Wales implementing the Student Assistance Programme. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 programme stakeholders. Data suggested that variation in implementation activity could be largely attributed to four key intervention reinvention points, which contributed to the transformation of the programme as it interacted with contextual features and individual needs. These reinvention points comprise the following: intervention training, which captures the process through which adopters acquire knowledge about a programme and delivery expertise; intervention assessment, which reflects adopters’ evaluation of an intervention in relation to contextual needs; intervention clarification, which comprises the cascading of knowledge through an organisation in order to secure support in delivery; and intervention responsibility, which refers to the process of assigning accountability for sustainable delivery. Taken together, these points identify opportunities to predict and intervene with potential implementation problems. Further research would benefit from exploring additional reinvention activity.