What is the Effect of Contextual Fit on Quality of Implementation?

March 3, 2022

Kendra Guinness of the Wing Institute at Morningside provides an excellent summary of the importance of contextual fit and how it can enhance the implementation of evidence-based practices. Practices are often validated under very different conditions than the usual practice settings. In establishing the scientific support for an intervention, researchers often work very closely with the research site providing close supervision and feedback, assuring that all necessary resources are available, and training the implementers of the components of the intervention. In the usual practice settings, the intervention is often implemented without all of the necessary resources, and training and feedback are limited. As a result, the program as developed is not a good fit with the local circumstances within a school or classroom. In this overview, Ms. Guinness defines contextual fit, describes the key features of it, and summarizes the empirical evidence supporting it.  

Briefly, contextual fit is the match between the strategies, procedures, or elements of an intervention and the values, needs, skills, and resources available in the setting. One of the best empirical demonstrations of the importance of contextual fit is research by Benazzi et al. (2006). Behavior support plans were developed in three different ways: (1) behavior support teams without a behavior specialist (2) behavior support teams with a behavior specialist, and (3) behavior specialists alone. The plans were rated for technical adequacy and contextual fit. The plans developed by the behavior specialist alone or teams with a behavior specialist as part of the team were rated highest. When the behavior support plans were rated for contextual fit, plans developed by teams, with or without a behavior specialist, were rated higher than plans developed by behavior specialists alone.

Additional evidence of the importance of context fit comes from research by Monzalve and Horner (2021). They evaluated the effect of the Contextual Fit Enhancement Protocol. First, they had teachers implement a behavior support plan without feedback from researchers and measured fidelity of implementation and the level of student problem behavior. Subsequently, the researchers met with the implementation team and reviewed the goals of the plan, the procedures, identified adaptations to improve the contextual fit, and planned next steps for implementing the revised behavior support plan. Before the team meeting, the intervention plan was implemented with 15% fidelity and student problem behavior occurred during 46% of the observation period. Following the meeting, fidelity of implementation increased to 83% and problem behavior was reduced to 16% of the observation period.

These data clearly suggest that intervention does not occur in a vacuum and there are variables other than the components of the intervention that influence its implementation and student outcomes. Much more needs to be learned about adapting interventions to fit a particular context without reducing the effectiveness of the intervention.


Guinness, K. (2022). Contextual Fit Overview. Original paper for the Wing Institute.


Benazzi, L., Horner, R. H., & Good, R. H. (2006). Effects of behavior support team composition on the technical adequacy and contextual fit of behavior support plans. Journal of Special Education, 40(3), 160–170.
Monzalve, M., & Horner, R. H. (2021). The impact of the contextual fit enhancement protocol on behavior support plan fidelity and student behavior. Behavioral Disorders, 46(4), 267–278. https://doi.org/10.1177/0198742920953497