Effectiveness of capacity building interventions relevant to public health practice: a systematic review

30 November, 2018

Dear HIFA colleagues,

(with thanks to Alberto Fernandez, lead moderator of HIFA-Spanish)

CITATION: Effectiveness of capacity building interventions relevant to public health practice: a systematic review

Kara DeCorby-Watson, Gloria Mensah, Kim Bergeron, Samiya Abdi, Benjamin Rempel, and Heather Manson

DeCorby-Watson et al. BMC Public Health (2018) 18:684




Background: This systematic review assessed the effectiveness of capacity building interventions relevant to public health practice. The aim is to inform and improve capacity building interventions.

Methods: Four strategies were used: 1) electronic database searching; 2) reference lists of included papers; 3) key informant consultation; and 4) grey literature searching. Inclusion (e.g., published in English) and exclusion criteria (e.g., non-English language papers published earlier than 2005) are outlined with included papers focusing on capacity building, learning plans, or professional development plans within public health and related settings, such as non-governmental organizations, government, or community-based organizations relating to public health or healthcare. Outcomes of interest included changes in knowledge, skill or confidence (self-efficacy), changes in practice (application or intent), and perceived support or supportive environments, with outcomes reported at the individual, organizational or systems level(s). Quality assessment of all included papers was completed.

Results: Fourteen papers were included in this review. These papers reported on six intervention types: 1) internetbased instruction, 2) training and workshops, 3) technical assistance, 4) education using self-directed learning, 5) communities of practice, and 6) multi-strategy interventions. The available literature showed improvements in one or more capacity-building outcomes of interest, mainly in terms of individual-level outcomes. The available literature was moderate in quality and showed a range of methodological issues.

Conclusions: There is evidence to inform capacity building programming and how interventions can be selected to optimize impact. Organizations should carefully consider methods for analysis of capacity building interventions offered; specifically, through which mechanisms, to whom, and for which purpose. Capacity-building interventions can enhance knowledge, skill, self-efficacy (including confidence), changes in practice or policies, behaviour change, application, and system-level capacity. However in applying available evidence, organizations should consider the outcomes of highest priority, selecting intervention(s) effective for the outcome(s) of interest. Examples are given for selecting intervention(s) to match priorities and context, knowing effectiveness evidence is only one consideration in decision making. Future evaluations should: extend beyond the individual level, assess outcomes at organizational and systems levels, include objective measures of effect, assess baseline conditions, and evaluate features most critical to the success of interventions

Comment (Neil): This paper looked at the role of communities of practice on capacity-building (knowledge, learning, skills, change in practice...) but only found one paper on this subject (a paper on occupational therapy). If anyone on HIFA would like to study the impact of the HIFA forums, please let us know: neil@hifa.org (HIFA had a major external evaluation back in 2011 and it would be interesting to see progress).

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Evaluating the Impact of Healthcare Information


Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 18,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. He also currently chairs the Dgroups Foundation (www.dgroups.info), which supports 800 communities of practice on international development, health and social justice. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG /orcid.org/0000-0001-9557-1487 neil@hifa.org