Background: The 'Facilitating Implementation of Research Evidence' study found no significant differences between sites that received two types of facilitation support and those that did not on the primary outcome of documented compliance with guideline recommendations. Process evaluation highlighted factors that influenced local, internal facilitators' ability to enact the roles as envisaged. In this paper, the external facilitators responsible for designing and delivering the two types of facilitation intervention analyse why the interventions proved difficult to implement as expected, including the challenge of balancing fidelity and adaptation. Methods: Qualitative data sources included notes from monthly internal-external facilitator teleconference meetings, from closing events for the two facilitation interventions and summary data analyses from repeated interviews with 16 internal facilitators. Deductive and inductive data analysis was led by an independent researcher to evaluate how facilitation in practice compared to the logic pathways designed to guide fidelity in the delivery of the interventions. Results: The planned facilitation interventions did not work as predicted. Difficulties were encountered in each of the five elements of the logic pathway: recruitment and selection of appropriate internal facilitators, preparation for the role, ability to apply facilitation knowledge and skills at a local level, support and mentorship from external facilitators via monthly teleconferences, working collaboratively and enabling colleagues to implement guideline recommendations. Moreover, problems were cumulative and created tensions for the external facilitators in terms of balancing the logic pathway with a more real-world, flexible and iterative approach to facilitation. Conclusion: Evaluating an intervention that is fluid and dynamic within the methodology of a randomised controlled trial is complex and challenging. At a practical level, relational aspects of facilitation are critically important. It is essential to recruit and retain individuals with the appropriate set of skills and characteristics, explicit support from managerial leaders and accessible mentorship from more experienced facilitators. At a methodological level, there is a need for attention to the balance between fidelity and adaptation of interventions. For future studies, we suggest a theoretical approach to fidelity, with a focus on mechanisms, informed by prospective use of process evaluation data and more detailed investigation of the context-facilitation dynamic.
- Internal-external facilitators