Using non-participant observation as a method to understand implementation context in evidence-based practice

Ann-Caterine Eldh , Teatske T.J. van der Zijpp , Christel McMullan, Claire Hawkes, Jo Rycroft-Malone

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The uptake of evidence‐based knowledge in practice is influenced by context. Observations are suggested as a valuable but under‐used approach in implementation research for gaining a holistic understanding of contexts.

The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how data from observations can provide insights about context and evidence use in implementation research.

Data were collected over 24 months in a randomised trial with an embedded realist evaluation in 24 nursing homes across four European countries; notes from 183 observations (representing 335 hours) were triangulated with interview transcripts and context survey data (from 357 staff interviews and 725 questionnaire responses, respectively).

Although there were similarities in several elements of context within survey, interview and observation data, the observations provided additional features of the implementation context. In particular, observations demonstrated if and how the resources (staffing and supplies) and leadership (formal and informal, teamwork, and professional autonomy) affected knowledge use and implementation. Further, the observations illuminated the influence of standards and the physical nursing environment on evidence‐based practice, and the dynamic interaction between different aspects of context.

Linking Evidence to Action
Although qualitative observations are resource‐intensive, they add value when used with other data collection methods, further enlightening the understanding of the implementation context and how evidence use and sharing are influenced by context elements. Observations can enhance an understanding of the context, evidence use and knowledge‐sharing triad in implementation research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-192
JournalWorldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing
Issue number3
Early online date19 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jun 2020


  • context
  • evidence
  • implementation science
  • knowledge translation
  • nonparticipant observations
  • nursing
  • triangulation


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