Alternative Research Designs

Mariko Carey and Robert Sanson-Fisher

in Public Health

ISBN: 9780199756797
Published online February 2011 | | DOI:
Alternative Research Designs

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While randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for intervention research, under some circumstances alternative research designs may be considered a practical and robust alternative for quantitative evaluation. Health outcomes and health behavior are influenced by a complex array of factors. These may include individual characteristics and social influences, as well as factors that relate to the environment in which the person lives and operates. Individual characteristics may relate to knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Social influence may include perceptions of normative behaviors, peer pressure, and social support structures. Environmental characteristics may relate to characteristics of the physical environment, laws or regulations, or policies that affect behavior in a given context. Because health behavior can be influenced by factors at all these levels, interventions may need to target all or many of these levels in order to successfully change behavior. As such, public health interventions often need to try to achieve change in whole populations (e.g., schools, communities, workplaces) rather than individual people. Where the unit of intervention is the population rather than the individual, there may be significant cost and logistical problems in accessing a sufficiently large sample to conduct an RCT. This has led to growing acknowledgment of the role of pragmatic research designs in evaluation of public health interventions. Alternative research designs to the RCT that may be useful for the evaluation of public health interventions include interrupted time series, multiple baseline, randomized encouragement, and regression discontinuity designs, among others. Selection of research design should take into account trade-offs between internal validity and external validity, cost, acceptability, and feasibility. The mixed methods approach uses quantitative and qualitative data collection simultaneously and combines them to produce answers to important questions. This is a complementary approach to experimental and quasi-experimental designs, but it constitutes the use of different data collection methodologies, not an alternative research design.

Article.  4130 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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