Developing a systems perspective for the evaluation of local public health interventions
Developing a systems perspective for the evaluation of local public health interventions: theory, methods and practice
Research Team: Professor Mark Petticrew, Dr Matt Egan, Professor Karen Lock, Professor Steven Cummins, Professor Richard Smith, Elizabeth McGill, Professor Martin White, Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead, Professor Jennie Popay, Professor Martin O'Flaherty, Dr Lois Orton, Dr Frank de Vocht, Professor Russ Jago, Professor Petra Meier, Dr John Holmes, Professor Sarah Salway, Dr Harry Rutter, Dr Cecile Knai, Dr Zaid Chalabi, Lesley Mountford & Monwara Ali
Who's involved: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Cambridge, University of Sheffield, University of Bristol & LiLaC
June 2017 - November 2018
The report for this project is now available to view:
Public health evaluations sometimes seem rather artificial – researchers focus on a single initiative or ‘intervention’ and measure one or two ‘primary outcomes’. From a researcher’s perspective this makes the evaluation simple and clear.
However, local practitioners (e.g. professionals working in the third or public sector) keep telling us that the real world is different. In particular, interventions can have a wide range of impacts, whilst planning and delivery are always shaped in different localities by a network of different people and organisations – as well as by legal frameworks, budgets, politics, and relationships – and these factors change over time.
Furthermore, the idea of a single ‘intervention’ with a clear start and end doesn’t always match people’s experience.
This mismatch between evaluation and practice can lead to uncertainty about how or if research findings can be used to guide decisions. This suggests the need for a new way of researching the kinds of activities that take place in the public and third sector.
This project aims to better understand and give guidance on how research can take account of local ‘systems’ that shape service delivery and impacts (sometimes called a complex systems perspective).
The guidance will show practitioners how to describe complexity, and how to think about its impact on their work – in particular, how it might make interventions more or less feasible and effective.
It will provide advice on how practitioners can evaluate their activities from a complex systems perspective while acknowledging that time and resources are always limited. This will be done through a mixture of literature review, case studies and consultations/workshops with researchers, practitioners and the public.
Researchers conducted a number of linked studies to improve the understanding of how evidence is understood, accessed, used and valued by decision makers working beyond health areas, in sectors that potentially impact upon people’s health and wellbeing.