University of Hertfordshire

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  • Helen Elizabeth Denise Burchett
  • Laurence Blanchard
  • Dylan Kneale
  • James Thomas
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Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Research, Policy and Systems
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2018


Public health interventions can be complicated, complex and context dependent, making the assessment of applicability challenging. Nevertheless, for them to be of use beyond the original study setting, they need to be generalisable to other settings and, crucially, research users need to be able to identify to which contexts it may be applicable. There are many tools with set criteria for assessing generalisability/applicability, yet few seem to be widely used and there is no consensus on which should be used, or when. This methodological study aimed to test these tools to assess how easy they were to use and how useful they appeared to be.

We identified tools from an existing review and an update of its search. References were screened on pre-specified criteria. Included tools were tested by using them to assess the applicability of a Swedish weight management intervention to the English context. Researcher assessments and reflections on the usability and utility of the tools were gathered using a standard pro-forma.

Eleven tools were included. Their length, content, style and time required to complete varied. No tool was considered ideal for assessing applicability. Their limitations included unrealistic criteria (requiring unavailable information), a focus on implementation to the neglect of transferability (i.e. little focus on potential effectiveness in the new setting), overly broad criteria (associated with low reliability), and a lack of an explicit focus on how interventions worked (i.e. their mechanisms of action).

Tools presenting criteria ready to be used may not be the best method for applicability assessments. They are likely to be either too long or incomplete, too focused on differences and fail to address elements that matter for the specific topic of interest. It is time to progress from developing lists of set criteria that are not widely used in the literature, to creating a new approach to applicability assessment. Focusing on mechanisms of action, rather than solely on characteristics, could be a useful approach, and one that remains underutilised in current tools. New approaches to assessing generalisability that evolve away from checklist style assessments need to be developed, tested, reported and discussed.

ID: 17400142