Issues in the design and interpretation of studies to evaluate the impact of community-based interventions


Prof. B. R. Kirkwood Maternal and Child Epidemiology Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT, UK


Increasingly, epidemiologists are faced with the need to evaluate the impact of an intervention that is delivered at the level of a community or cluster of individuals, rather than at the individual level. This has profound implications for the design and interpretation of a study to evaluate its impact. We start by discussing the issues arising in the extension of the randomized double-blind controlled trial methodology to the evaluation of interventions delivered to clusters of individuals, or to whole communities, where the unit of randomization is a cluster of individuals rather than an individual. We then consider alternative approaches to design, discuss their relative strengths and weaknesses and present a framework of design options. Finally we propose a pragmatic approach to evaluation design in this setting. We believe that the answer lies in the judicious selection of different design elements, combined in such a way that when the evidence from each is presented together, a clear picture of the impact of the intervention emerges. We illustrate this using an example from the recent literature.