Background: Facilitation is a mechanism for implementing practice guidelines in nursing. Facilitation aims to prepare clinicians and organisations for implementation and to provide support and help in problem-solving as implementation progresses. However, any evidence supporting its effectiveness is limited due to a lack of empirical testing.
Aim: To examine the presence and role of facilitation in studies included in an existing systematic review of guideline dissemination and implementation in nursing.
Methods: Using a descriptive, exploratory approach, we examined 28 studies for elements of facilitation that were included in a review of the effectiveness of interventions to increase the use of practice guidelines in nursing. We conducted a content analysis of a subset of studies that included facilitation activity to gather descriptions of study interventions, characteristics and skills required, use of theory, and effectiveness. Extracted data were analysed using a previously developed taxonomy containing 53 activities related to facilitation.
Results: Ten of the 28 studies exhibited evidence of facilitation process and activity. Only two of the 10 studies explicitly referred to ‘facilitators,’ with just one indicating that facilitators were a part of the implementation intervention being tested. We identified facilitation processes in the eight remaining studies even though the authors did not report it as such. All studies used facilitation activities in combination with other interventions, the most common being educational meetings or distribution of educational materials. We found evidence related to facilitation for 37 of the 53 facilitation activities (70%) in the taxonomy in at least one study or across studies. An additional three novel facilitation-related activities were identified. Most studies exhibited evidence of external facilitation activity whereby researchers outside of the setting assisted nurses to implement guidelines. Theory informed the development or selection of implementation interventions in 60% (n = 6) of the studies. Drawing conclusions regarding effectiveness of interventions involving facilitation was difficult due to the small number of studies that were included. Furthermore, the included studies varied in the detail provided about the intervention or combination of interventions tested and how interventions were delivered.
Conclusions: Using an existing systematic review for the purpose of gaining insight into additional research questions was valuable. Although facilitation process and activities are used in interventions to enhance guideline uptake in nursing, these were not conceptualized or referred to by researchers as ‘facilitation.’ As such, facilitation may be a broader intervention that includes organizing and delivering other interventions. Further research is required to evaluate the relationship between facilitation and other guideline implementation interventions in nursing. The facilitation uncovered within included studies was located primarily in the context of research as it was the researchers who performed most of the facilitation activities. Future inquiries must explore non-researcher-initiated and delivered facilitation intervention activities by following local groups naturally within clinical contexts.