Understanding the Importance of Context

TitleUnderstanding the Importance of Context
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsRobertson J, Jepson R, Macvean A, Gray S
Abstract

Many public health interventions are less effective than expected in ‘real life settings’, yet little work is undertaken to understand the reasons why. The effectiveness of complex public health interventions can often be traced back to a robust programme theory (how and why an intervention brings about a change in outcome(s)) and assumptions that are made about the context in which it is implemented. Understanding whether effectiveness (or lack thereof) is due to the intervention or the context is hugely helpful in decisions about whether to a) modify the intervention; b) modify the context; c) stop providing the intervention. Exergames–also known as Active Video Games or AVGS–are video games which use the player's bodily movements as input and have potential to increase physical activity in children. However, the results of a recent pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a location-based exergame (FitQuest) in a school setting were inconclusive; no significant effect was detected for any of the outcome measures. The aim of this study was to explore whether the programme theory for FitQuest was correct with respect to how and why it would change children’s perceptions of physical activity (PA) and exercise self-efficacy in the school setting. A further aim was to investigate the features of the school setting (context) that may impact on FitQuest’s implementation and effectiveness. Qualitative data (gathered during the RCT) were gathered from interviews with teachers and children, and observation of sessions using FitQuest. Thematic analysis indicated that whilst children enjoyed playing the game, engaged with goal setting within the game context and undertook low to vigorous physical activity, there were significant contextual factors that prevented it from being played as often as intended. These included environmental factors (e.g. size of the playground), school factors (cancellations due to other activities), school technology policy (rules relating to mobile phone usage) and teacher factors (engagement with the intervention). A revised logic model for the FitQuest intervention indicates how both the design of exergame technology (intervention) and features of the school environment (context) could be improved to increase chances of effectiveness in the future.Many public health interventions are less effective than expected in ‘real life settings’, yet little work is undertaken to understand the reasons why. The effectiveness of complex public health interventions can often be traced back to a robust programme theory (how and why an intervention brings about a change in outcome(s)) and assumptions that are made about the context in which it is implemented. Understanding whether effectiveness (or lack thereof) is due to the intervention or the context is hugely helpful in decisions about whether to a) modify the intervention; b) modify the context; c) stop providing the intervention. Exergames–also known as Active Video Games or AVGS–are video games which use the player's bodily movements as input and have potential to increase physical activity in children. However, the results of a recent pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a location-based exergame (FitQuest) in a school setting were inconclusive; no significant effect was detected for any of the outcome measures. The aim of this study was to explore whether the programme theory for FitQuest was correct with respect to how and why it would change children’s perceptions of physical activity (PA) and exercise self-efficacy in the school setting. A further aim was to investigate the features of the school setting (context) that may impact on FitQuest’s implementation and effectiveness. Qualitative data (gathered during the RCT) were gathered from interviews with teachers and children, and observation of sessions using FitQuest. Thematic analysis indicated that whilst children enjoyed playing the game, engaged with goal setting within the game context and undertook low to vigorous physical activity, there were significant contextual factors that prevented it from being played as often as intended. These included environmental factors (e.g. size of the playground), school factors (cancellations due to other activities), school technology policy (rules relating to mobile phone usage) and teacher factors (engagement with the intervention). A revised logic model for the FitQuest intervention indicates how both the design of exergame technology (intervention) and features of the school environment (context) could be improved to increase chances of effectiveness in the future.