Unravelling mechanisms underlying the action principles of a community-based health promotion programme: a realist evaluation

Marja A.J.G. de Jong, Gerda Wink, Maria A. Koelen, Annemarie Wagemakers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Since 1986, WHO has advised that applying action principles such as citizen participation and intersectoral collaboration leads to better health. However, less is known about the workability of these principles and how they trigger specific outcomes in interaction with the context. A critical realist perspective was applied to get a better understanding of what worked, and why it worked, in the context of a Dutch community-based health promotion programme (CBHPP). The aim of the study was to unravel the mechanisms underlying the action principles and find combinations of contextual factors and mechanisms that trigger outcomes in a CBHPP.
Methods: In this single case study, a critical realist methodology was followed. Qualitative data used in this study originated from multiple sources and methods to ensure validity. They include evaluation sessions with coalition members (n = 6) and individual interviews (n = 6); group sessions with community workers (n = 1), a health broker (n = 1), and citizens (n = 12); and seven semi-annual progress reports and minutes of the coalition meetings. The collected data were then compared with the programme theory through a heuristic process of constructing, exploring, and refining context-mechanism-outcome configurations.
Results: The programme initiated a variety of new activities that differed in content, intensity, duration, and number of participants, organised and implemented together with citizens. The most prominent mechanism underlying both action principles were programme-related, namely, patience, personal contact, contribution of budget, and the programme coordinator’s leadership. Another important mechanism was creating visibility, which resulted in the involvement of the municipality and a budget to sustain the programme.
Conclusion: In this case study, personal contact, patience, perseverance, participatory action research activities, and visibility were found to be the most notable mechanisms underlying the citizen participation and intersectoral collaboration action principles. As the principle-based approach added value to the existing context and introduced most of the mechanisms that triggered the outcomes, it is recommended to include citizen participation and intersectoral collaboration not only as action principles but explicitly as targets in a CBHPP.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9
JournalArchives of Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2023


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