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Open Access Highly Accessed Correspondence

How to develop a theory-driven evaluation design? Lessons learned from an adolescent sexual and reproductive health programme in West Africa

Sara B Van Belle*, Bruno Marchal, Dominique Dubourg and Guy Kegels

Author Affiliations

Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nationalestraat 155, B-2000 Antwerp, Belgium

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:741  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-741

Published: 30 November 2010

Abstract

Background

This paper presents the development of a study design built on the principles of theory-driven evaluation. The theory-driven evaluation approach was used to evaluate an adolescent sexual and reproductive health intervention in Mali, Burkina Faso and Cameroon to improve continuity of care through the creation of networks of social and health care providers.

Methods/design

Based on our experience and the existing literature, we developed a six-step framework for the design of theory-driven evaluations, which we applied in the ex-post evaluation of the networking component of the intervention. The protocol was drafted with the input of the intervention designer. The programme theory, the central element of theory-driven evaluation, was constructed on the basis of semi-structured interviews with designers, implementers and beneficiaries and an analysis of the intervention's logical framework.

Discussion

The six-step framework proved useful as it allowed for a systematic development of the protocol. We describe the challenges at each step. We found that there is little practical guidance in the existing literature, and also a mix up of terminology of theory-driven evaluation approaches. There is a need for empirical methodological development in order to refine the tools to be used in theory driven evaluation. We conclude that ex-post evaluations of programmes can be based on such an approach if the required information on context and mechanisms is collected during the programme.