Research Report

Taking account of context in population health intervention research: guidance for producers, users and funders of research



Craig P, Di Ruggiero E, Frolich KL, Mykhalovskiy E, White M, Campbell R, Cummins S, Edwards N, Hunt K, Kee F, Loppie C, Moore L, Ogilvie D, Petticrew M & Poland B (2018) Taking account of context in population health intervention research: guidance for producers, users and funders of research. Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)–National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Context Guidance Authors Group. Southampton: National Institute for Health Research.

Population health intervention research (PHIR) seeks to develop and evaluate policies, programmes and other types of interventions that may affect population health and health equity. Such interventions are strongly influenced by context – taken to refer to any feature of the circumstances in which an intervention is conceived, developed, implemented and evaluated. Understanding how interventions relate to context is critical to understanding how they work; why they sometimes fail; whether they can be successfully adapted, scaled up or translated from one context to another; why their impacts vary; and how far effects observed in one context can be generalised to others.  Concerns that context has been neglected in research to develop and evaluate population health interventions have been expressed for at least 20 years. Over this period, an increasingly comprehensive body of guidance has been developed to help with the design, conduct, reporting and appraisal of PHIR. References to context have become more frequent in recent years, as interest has grown in complex and upstream interventions, systems thinking and realist approaches to evaluation, but there remains a lack of systematic guidance for producers, users and funders of PHIR on how context should be taken into account.  This document draws together recent thinking and practical experience of addressing context within PHIR. It provides a broad, working definition of context and explains why and how context is important to PHIR. It identifies the dimensions of context that are likely to shape how interventions are conceptualised, the impacts that they have and how they can be implemented, translated and scaled up. It suggests how context should be taken into account throughout the PHIR process, from priority setting and intervention development to the design and conduct of evaluations and reporting, synthesis and knowledge exchange. It concludes by summarising the key messages for producers, users and funders of PHIR and suggesting priorities for future research. The document is meant to be used alongside existing guidance for the development, evaluation and reporting of population health interventions. We expect the guidance to evolve over time, as practice changes in the light of the guidance and experience accumulates on useful approaches.

Additional co-authors: Blake Poland, Valéry Ridde, Jeannie Shoveller, Sarah Viehbeck,and Daniel Wight

Publication date30/04/2018
Publication date online30/04/2018
PublisherNational Institute for Health Research
Place of publicationSouthampton

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Professor Kate Hunt

Professor Kate Hunt

Professor, Institute for Social Marketing