Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Implementation Science and BioMed Central.

Journal App

google play app store
Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A systematic review of the use of theory in the design of guideline dissemination and implementation strategies and interpretation of the results of rigorous evaluations

Philippa Davies1, Anne E Walker1 and Jeremy M Grimshaw2*

Author Affiliations

1 Health Services Research Unit, University of Aberdeen, UK

2 Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Health Research Institute and Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, 1053 Carling Avenue, Administration Building, Room 2-017, Ottawa ON K1Y 4E9, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

Implementation Science 2010, 5:14  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-5-14

Published: 9 February 2010

Abstract

Background

There is growing interest in the use of cognitive, behavioural, and organisational theories in implementation research. However, the extent of use of theory in implementation research is uncertain.

Methods

We conducted a systematic review of use of theory in 235 rigorous evaluations of guideline dissemination and implementation studies published between 1966 and 1998. Use of theory was classified according to type of use (explicitly theory based, some conceptual basis, and theoretical construct used) and stage of use (choice/design of intervention, process/mediators/moderators, and post hoc/explanation).

Results

Fifty-three of 235 studies (22.5%) were judged to have employed theories, including 14 studies that explicitly used theory. The majority of studies (n = 42) used only one theory; the maximum number of theories employed by any study was three. Twenty-five different theories were used. A small number of theories accounted for the majority of theory use including PRECEDE (Predisposing, Reinforcing, and Enabling Constructs in Educational Diagnosis and Evaluation), diffusion of innovations, information overload and social marketing (academic detailing).

Conclusions

There was poor justification of choice of intervention and use of theory in implementation research in the identified studies until at least 1998. Future research should explicitly identify the justification for the interventions. Greater use of explicit theory to understand barriers, design interventions, and explore mediating pathways and moderators is needed to advance the science of implementation research.