Process evaluation for complex interventions in health services research: Analysing context, text trajectories and disruptions

Murdoch, Jamie (2016) Process evaluation for complex interventions in health services research: Analysing context, text trajectories and disruptions. BMC Health Services Research, 16. ISSN 1472-6963

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          Background: Process evaluations assess the implementation and sustainability of complex healthcare interventions within clinical trials, with well-established theoretical models available for evaluating intervention delivery within specific contexts. However, there is a need to translate conceptualisations of context into analytical tools which enable the dynamic relationship between context and intervention implementation to be captured and understood. Methods: In this paper I propose an alternative approach to the design, implementation and analysis of process evaluations for complex health interventions through a consideration of trial protocols as textual documents, distributed and enacted at multiple contextual levels. As an example, I conduct retrospective analysis of a sample of field notes and transcripts collected during the ESTEEM study - a cluster randomised controlled trial of primary care telephone triage. I draw on theoretical perspectives associated with Linguistic Ethnography to examine the delivery of ESTEEM through staff orientation to different texts. In doing so I consider what can be learned from examining the flow and enactment of protocols for notions of implementation and theoretical fidelity (i.e. intervention delivered as intended and whether congruent with the intervention theory). Results: Implementation of the triage intervention required staff to integrate essential elements of the protocol within everyday practice, seen through the adoption and use of different texts that were distributed across staff and within specific events. Staff were observed deploying texts in diverse ways (e.g. reinterpreting scripts, deviating from standard operating procedures, difficulty completing decision support software), providing numerous instances of disruption to maintaining intervention fidelity. Such observations exposed tensions between different contextual features in which the trial was implemented, offering theoretical explanations for the main trial findings. Conclusions: The value of following how trial protocols produce new texts is that we can observe the flow of 'the intervention as intended' across a series of events which are enacted to meet specific demands of intervention delivery. Such observations are not solely premised on identifying routines or practices of implementation, but where 'protocols as intended' breaks down. In doing so, I discuss whether it is here where we might expose the 'active ingredients' of interventions in action.

          Item Type: Article
          Additional Information: © The Author(s). 2016 This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
          Uncontrolled Keywords: complex health interventions,context,linguistic ethnography,process evaluation,randomised controlled trials
          Faculty \ School: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Health Sciences
          Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Norwich Medical School
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          Depositing User: Pure Connector
          Date Deposited: 21 Dec 2016 00:01
          Last Modified: 04 May 2019 00:49
          DOI: 10.1186/s12913-016-1651-8

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