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Jodi R. Sandfort

There is a deep paradox within public management scholarship. While there is a fundamental belief about a pragmatist orientation that provides rigorous research to help answer relevant questions for public and nonprofit managers, conventions of social science often pulls scholars away from these commitments. This chapter explores the use of a design-based, intervention approach as an alternative. Applying lessons from complex systems, organizational learning, and public engagement, it moves beyond conventional “translation” exercises and illustrates how a design-based approach leverages contextual knowledge of the setting. It considers a fundamental question: what might be learned from the application of repeated interventions, or ‘probes’ into a complex system to create change? The theoretical foundation for this approach is the strategic action field framework for implementation research which offers an explanation for the variations within implementation systems not explained by predictive social science.