MEMBER HIGHLIGHT: Deborah Taub
GIS Member Highlight – Deborah Taub, PhD
This blog is part of an ongoing effort of the Global Implementation Society to directly recognize GIS members for their work in implementation science, impact on their respective communities, and contributions to the Society and the field. GIS’s hope with this effort is not only that we as a professional society are able to put some faces to the many names of GIS, but also that by sharing individual member experiences in implementation science and practice across the Society, GIS members will be able to engage in the development of a more closely connected community of practice in implementation.
Learning from one another’s experiences, we ultimately hope that this effort will facilitate more timely information sharing, point to potential collaborative partnerships, and grow recognition and
appreciation for implementation science beyond the bounds of the society in the years to come.
NOTE: As GIS support staff are currently reaching out to about 4-5 members on a weekly basis to conduct member highlight interviews, it will take quite some time before a significant number
of GIS members are represented in these highlights.
That being the case, if you are interested in participating in this project sooner rather than later, please feel free to reach out to GIS support staff directly! We would love to hear from
you about your current work and experience with GIS, and we welcome the opportunity to have a ~30-minute conversation with you about all of the above. As is true of all member contributions to GIS, you will have a chance to review anything pulled together by support staff prior to this information being shared across the membership.
You can reach out to Zach McElgunn – firstname.lastname@example.org, or Mads McElgunn – email@example.com for additional information and to set up a time for discussion.
Deborah Taub works with The TIES Center (a national technical assistance center focused on building sustainable inclusive practices for students with cognitive disabilities), conducting research, training, and technical assistance activities to advance equitable opportunities for students living with significant and complex needs. She brings her experience in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to this work, as she strives with teams and organizations to make standards-based instruction more accessible and sustainable at the school, district, state, and national levels.
GIS support staff met with Deborah (“Deb”) in March 2022 to have a brief conversation about her professional experience, and how implementation science informs the work she does on a daily basis.
The following are notes, clarifications, and resources relevant to topics that came up during the conversation, not a transcript.
When did you join the Global Implementation Society, and why did you make that decision?
[Deb] joined GIS in 2021 around the time of the 2021 Global Implementation (Virtual) Conference. Work at The TIES Center involves systems-change efforts and sustainability/capacity building – GIS’s members, professional development opportunities, and educational programming align with [Deb’s] work around the sustainable implementation of evidence-based practices in educational settings.
Also, previous knowledge of the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), which operates out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provided Deb an informal introduction to the Society and some of the GIS leadership.
Professional Responsibilities & Implementation
What are you responsible for at work (e.g. what sorts of projects, goals, and missions does your work help advance), and how does implementation science inform your approach to work?
The broad goal is to strengthen inclusive education practices within the field of education, as well as in adjacent sectors. By growing awareness of inclusive education practices, and facilitating the application of these practices in diverse settings, The TIES Center is committed to building sustainable, organization-led systems of educational delivery that provide for the needs and goals of students and educators from all walks of life.
Up until recently, the development and implementation of inclusive education practices has been relatively piecemeal and dependent on the buy-in of individual leaders. In other words, when a charismatic, committed leader leaves an organization, previous efforts to build inclusive education systems often falter and come to a halt. Taking a systems-focused approach, Deb’s work seeks to equip organizations with the in-house expertise to build, monitor, and adapt inclusive practices in an evidence-based, mutually supportive, and sustainable manner.
One of the key insights from implementation science and practice that informs Deb’s work is that though sometimes presented linearly (i.e. implementation steps flow from one to the next
chronologically when described in writing), we know that implementation is an ongoing, cyclical process which requires continual reflection and adjustment in order to reinforce implementation drivers.
Moving between implementation stages depending on individual competency, immediate needs, long-term goals, and organizational realities/constraints/processes, implementation science offers many frameworks and principles to help organizations like The TIES Center engage in complicated change efforts. This framing is especially important in human services work, where the innovations are interaction-based and dependent upon the effectiveness of behaviors and communication between people. What’s more, most evidence-based practices consist of multiple specific behaviors and perspectives, which adds to the complexity and reinforces the need to understand the iterative nature of the work in human services contexts.
Growing Implementation Knowledge while Learning Innovation-Specific Skills
In regard to using knowledge growth (of frontline practitioners and leadership) as a reasonable starting point for implementation – how is this growth accomplished in education, and what
education-specific barriers and facilitators do you perceive when it comes to growing an individual’s knowledge to work more effectively within the education system?
More recently, grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education has been more intentionally focused on the incorporation of implementation skills, knowledge, and experience among applicants, so there is some growing awareness about the need to grow systems capacity and implementation expertise in order to realize intended outcomes. This is one (optimistic) example of an increasingly facilitative tact being taken by those who seek to improve the education system in the U.S. Growing implementation knowledge throughout the process of implementing effective innovations in practice, however, is a difficult task that is met with many obstacles, including time constraints, organizational cultural concerns, and individual capacities/competencies.
With The TIES Center, Deb has adopted an approach that weaves implementation science education into the delivery of technical assistance. This necessitates the continual clarification of needs, priorities, skills, and abilities across a diverse cohort of professionals engaged in change. In order to do this effectively, it is critical to look at change-processes from the vantage point of complex community and organizational systems, so that newly learned behaviors and knowledge are developed in an increasingly facilitative and supportive environment.
Using a Systems Approach
When met with systems-obstacles to implementation, how do you ensure that the solutions you develop are appropriately situated within the system as a whole, as opposed to being individually mediated by those engaged in a given change process? In other words, systems problems require systems solutions – how do you keep this systems focus when problem solving to facilitate the uptake of effective innovations?
Often it is helpful to look at an organization’s use of resources and staff time as a starting point. From here, you can start considering how staff and resources might be used differently to help build capacity for the use of inclusive education practices. This is similar to building independence as opposed to learned helplessness with students in special education – technical assistance should give the organization the tools and knowledge required to continually build capacity and improve practitioner skills in the use of an innovation. Ultimately, start-up technical assistance and outside support for the organization should have an end date, so transferring implementation knowledge, skills, and perspectives to those working within the organization is imperative.
To extend the metaphor of educational delivery to a student with significant complex needs, sometimes in lieu of a close adult support or education professional, other students and peers are pulled in to offer supports to a student with cognitive disabilities. Similarly, professionals working within an organization should be integrated into a community of practice that reaffirms the knowledge and experience of professional peers working towards shared goals. This sometimes requires significant shifts in perspectives of what should be done. For example, when
a close adult support for a child with cognitive disabilities is not right next to the child, it is viewed as though the close adult support is not fulfilling their obligation to shepherd the child through the education process. However, this may actually be an indicator of success – the child is still participating in classroom activities and advancing their own learning without the need for immediate supervision and guidance. The same is true for organizations – reduced reliance on technical assistance may be an indicator of a growing peer-support system, which ultimately builds the capacity of the organization as a whole in tandem with the growing individual capacity of professionals in the practice setting.
Examples from Practice
Can you give me the “30,000 foot view” of a specific implementation process in which you have been involved? What were your ups and downs, and what did you learn?
A continual hurdle in special education is the divide between general education curriculums and special education curriculums. Bridging these two worlds into a cohesive education system is a goal for many organizations with whom Deb works. One of the ways that Deb goes about this work is by intentionally working to develop a community of practice among professionals.
- Building capacity around understanding the different roles that go into education delivery in a
- Building out processes from a common goal related to student education
- Leveraging unique professional perspectives and expertise to see that goal accomplished
- Emphasizing the centrality of problem-solving among peers and stakeholders
- Developing collective capacity within the system (i.e. people are able to fill one another’s gaps)
Deb put this collective capacity development concisely when she stated, “What’s needed for some is
good for most.”
How You Know You’ve Succeeded
Can you give me an example of when you knew you had succeeded in an implementation effort, or in improving the inclusive education practices at a given organization?
One example of a success indicator exists in the language used to describe the work. For instance, a special education teacher working with an equity coach or general education teacher referring to a student with cognitive disabilities as “our student.” This word choice – our – reflects a mutual investment in the goals of the student across professionals, and acknowledgement that different
professionals bring different expertise and perspectives to bear on educational delivery. Another example exists in the artifacts of culture that present themselves in practice, such as the
recognition of student or professional achievement. When a student with significant complex needs is able to successfully participate in classroom activities (competitions, quizzes, projects, etc.), and be publicly acknowledged for their work alongside the general education students, this works to close the gaps between curriculums, professional perspectives, and education practices across a school.
Advice for Current/Future Professionals in Implementation
If you could give your past self, or anyone implementing evidence-based practices some advice about how they should approach implementation science, what would the advice be?
“When using implementation science it’s not about you doing it, it’s about you building others’ capacity to do it.” It is important to keep in mind that old saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” We should continually ask those with whom we work what they need in order to accomplish some goal
or objective, as opposed to working towards that goal or objective on their behalf. This requires a continual renegotiation of agreed upon goals and priorities, so that shared goals can be reaffirmed through action, environment, and input.
Closing the Gaps – Implementation 2.0
Implementation science is a very nascent field in terms of earnest study and appreciation across industries. What gaps do you see in the literature, or what direction would you hope that
implementation science as a field chooses to investigate more intentionally in the years to come?
Investigating how to effectively illustrate complexities that are currently incompletely articulated should be a goal for the field. Things like the non-linear aspect of work, the iterative nature of skill development, the relationship-based facilitators and impediments to change that exist in any complex human organization. Deb stated that implementation is a “complex structure within complex structures,” and as such we must make processes clear for the implementation of layered practices which must account for a vast diversity of perspectives, cultures, beliefs, and experience.
Deb also noted that she is an anthropologist by training, and has spent a lot of time talking about systems change in unique cultural contexts. In these unique contexts, it’s really interesting what works and what doesn’t due to cultural practice and community belief. Capturing this level of nuance more completely in the implementation science literature should be a goal for future generations of researchers, implementation specialists, and practitioners who use evidence-based innovations.
GIS thanks Deb Taub for her time throughout this insightful, engaging conversation. Her commitment to her professional peers is evident in her work, and it is a privilege to draw upon her experience in implementation as a resource for GIS members. We are grateful to have spent this time with her, and hope that her perspective and voice come to bear for many years to come on the work of the Global Implementation Society.