Taxonomy of approaches to developing interventions to improve health: a systematic methods overview

Alicia O'Cathain*, Liz Croot, Katie Sworn, Edward Duncan, Nikki Rousseau, Katrina Turner, Lucy Yardley, Pat Hoddinott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

197 Citations (Scopus)
358 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Interventions need to be developed prior to the feasibility and piloting phase of a study. There are a variety of published approaches to developing interventions, programmes or innovations to improve health. Identifying different types of approach, and synthesising the range of actions taken within this endeavour, can inform future intervention development.

Methods: This study is a systematic methods overview of approaches to intervention development. Approaches were considered for inclusion if they described how to develop or adapt an intervention in a book, website or journal article published after 2007, or were cited in a primary research study reporting the development of a specific intervention published in 2015 or 2016. Approaches were read, a taxonomy of approaches was developed and the range of actions taken across different approaches were synthesised.

Results: Eight categories of approach to intervention development were identified. (1) Partnership, where people who will use the intervention participate equally with the research team in decision-making about the intervention throughout the development process. (2) Target population-centred, where the intervention is based on the views and actions of the people who will use it. (3) Evidence and theory-based, where the intervention is based on published research evidence and existing theories. (4) Implementation-based, where the intervention is developed with attention to ensuring it will be used in the real world. (5) Efficiency-based, where components of an intervention are tested using experimental designs to select components which will optimise efficiency. (6) Stepped or phased, where interventions are developed with an emphasis on following a systematic set of processes. (7) Intervention-specific, where an approach is constructed for a specific type of intervention. (8) Combination, where existing approaches to intervention development are formally combined. The actions from approaches in all eight categories were synthesised to identify 18 actions to consider when developing interventions.

Conclusions: This overview of approaches to intervention development can help researchers to understand the variety of existing approaches, and to understand the range of possible actions involved in intervention development, prior to assessing feasibility or piloting the intervention. Findings from this overview will contribute to future guidance on intervention development.

Trial registration: PROSPERO CRD42017080553.

Original languageEnglish
Article number41
Number of pages27
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2019

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health


  • Intervention development
  • Review
  • Methodology
  • guidance
  • health


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