Can programme theory be used as a 'translational tool’ to optimise health service delivery in a national early years’ initiative in Scotland: a case study
- Equal contributors
1 Department of Public Health, NHS Fife, Cameron Hospital, Cameron Bridge, Leven, Fife KY8 5RG, UK
2 Community Oral Health Section, Faculty of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow Dental School, 378 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3JZ, UK
Citation and License
BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:425 doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-425Published: 20 October 2013
Theory-based evaluation (TBE) approaches are heralded as supporting formative evaluation by facilitating increased use of evaluative findings to guide programme improvement. It is essential that learning from programme implementation is better used to improve delivery and to inform other initiatives, if interventions are to be as effective as they have the potential to be. Nonetheless, few studies describe formative feedback methods, or report direct instrumental use of findings resulting from TBE. This paper uses the case of Scotland’s, National Health Service, early years’, oral health improvement initiative (Childsmile) to describe the use of TBE as a framework for providing feedback on delivery to programme staff and to assess its impact on programmatic action.
In-depth, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders explored perceived deviations between the Childsmile programme 'as delivered’ and its Programme Theory (PT). The data was thematically analysed using constant comparative methods. Findings were shared with key programme stakeholders and discussions around likely impact and necessary actions were facilitated by the authors. Documentary review and ongoing observations of programme meetings were undertaken to assess the extent to which learning was acted upon.
On the whole, the activities documented in Childsmile’s PT were implemented as intended. This paper purposefully focuses on those activities where variation in delivery was evident. Differences resulted from the stage of roll-out reached and the flexibility given to individual NHS boards to tailor local implementation. Some adaptations were thought to have diverged from the central features of Childsmile’s PT, to the extent that there was a risk to achieving outcomes. The methods employed prompted national service improvement action, and proposals for local action by individual NHS boards to address this.
The TBE approach provided a platform, to direct attention to areas of risk within a national health initiative, and to agree which intervention components were 'core’ to its hypothesised success. The study demonstrates that PT can be used as a 'translational tool’ to facilitate instrumental use of evaluative findings to optimise implementation within a complex health improvement programme.