DECIPHer Short Courses: Developing and Evaluating Complex Health Interventions – How and Why?

June 2015 saw the DECIPHer-led ‘Developing and Evaluating Complex Public Health Interventions’ courses taking place at Cardiff University. Along with the sunshine and approximately 40 other research enthusiasts from all over Europe, I attended both courses.

The first part of the week focused on developing complex interventions, with keynote speakers Dr. Adam Fletcher and Professor Simon Murphy introducing the socio-ecological model used by DECIPHer, and the related use of complex interventions. This was very much an interactive three days. The course literature that was provided highlighted key frameworks, principles, and considerations when developing complex interventions. An in-depth account of how to develop intervention logic models was also presented, with an emphasis on co-production (collaboration between academics, practitioners and policy makers) and the use of theory. It was particularly useful to hear about worked examples of where ecological models had been applied in research. Rachel Brown, a PhD student at DECIPHer, provided an insightful session on the use of the ecological framework in a case study of alcohol policy and practice within a university. Within this session the complexity of social behaviours and the application of the ecological model became apparent, with a very clear message; levels of the ecological model are intertwined, and therefore we are unable to view them as discreet levels. At the end of this session we were also given the opportunity to consolidate our newly refined knowledge through partaking in a workshop. My group were tasked with developing an intervention targeting mental health in prisons – interesting ideas ensued!


During the second half of the week we turned our attention to evaluating complex interventions, with Dr. Graham Moore. This course highlighted how integral it is to incorporate process evaluation within trials of complex interventions in order to; assess the fidelity and quality of implementation, clarify causal mechanisms and identify contextual factors associated with trial outcomes.  We also learnt about the use of feasibility and pilot studies, and how to relate them to the development of logic models. Listening to Dr. Ruth Kipping of Bristol University speaking about the Active for Life Year 5 trial demonstrated the value of using exploratory trials prior to an ‘effectiveness’ trial which enabled key refinement of the intervention logic model.

Overall both courses were extremely informative and were delivered in a relaxed and friendly environment. Incorporating not only lectures, but break-out sessions, workshops and group discussions, there were invaluable opportunities for networking and developing potential collaboration ideas throughout both courses.   As an epidemiologist, this week provided me with a fundamental basis for future work involving the development and evaluation of complex interventions. Upon reflection, it was really useful to attend both courses consecutively as this helped to consolidate learning and also provided plenty of opportunity to ask questions over the course of the 5 days! I believe this course is instrumental for anyone working within the field of Public Health and wondering how to apply an evidence base to trials in the real world.


About the author: Dr Kelly Morgan is a Research Associate at DECIPHer

Images: Professor Simon Murphy presenting on Day 1. Images courtesy of Britt Hallingberg.


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