Colliding ideals – an interview study of how intervention researchers address adherence and adaptations in replication studies

May 08, 2018 | U. von Thiele Schwarz, U. Förberg, K. Sundell and H. Hasson

BACKGROUND: For an intervention to be considered evidence-based, findings need to be replicated. When this is done in new contexts (e.g., a new country), adaptations may be needed. Yet, we know little about how researchers approach this. This study aims to explore how researchers reason about adaptations and adherence when conducting replication studies, describe what adaptations they make and how these are reported in scientific journals.

METHODS: This was an interview study conducted in 2014 with principal investigators of Swedish replication studies reporting adaptations to an intervention from another country. Studies (n = 36) were identified through a database of 139 Swedish psychosocial and psychological intervention studies. Twenty of the 21 principal investigators agreed to participate in semi-structured telephone interviews, covering 33 interventions. Manifest content analysis was used to identify types of adaptations, and qualitative content analysis was used to explore reasoning and reporting of adaptations and adherence.

RESULTS: The most common adaptation was adding components and modifying the content to the target population and setting. When reasoning about adaptations and adherence, the researchers were influenced by four main factors: whether their implicit aim was to replicate or improve an intervention; the nature of evidence outlying the intervention such as manuals, theories and core components; the nature of the context, including approaches to cultural adaptations and constraints in delivering the intervention; and the needs of clients and professionals. Reporting of adaptations in scientific journals involved a conflict between transparency and practical concerns such as word count.

CONCLUSION: Researchers responsible for replicating interventions in a new country face colliding ideals when trying to protect the internal validity of the study while considering adaptations to ensure that the intervention fits into the context. Implicit assumptions about the role of replication seemed to influence how this conflict was resolved. Some emphasised direct replications as central in the knowledge accumulation process (stressing adherence). Others assumed that interventions generally need to be improved, giving room for adaptations and reflecting an incremental approach to knowledge accumulation. This has implications for design and reporting of intervention studies as well as for how findings across studies are synthesised.

PubMed Abstract

von Thiele Schwarz, U., Förberg, U., Sundell, K., & Hasson, H. (2018). Colliding ideals–an interview study of how intervention researchers address adherence and adaptations in replication studies. BMC medical research methodology, 18(1), 36.