The Person-Based Approach to Optimising Interventions

What do we mean by optimising?

Optimising is the process of using feedback from intended users of our interventions to make sure that all elements of the intervention are as meaningful and useful as possible. It helps us to find out what works well and importantly what needs further work or changes to make sure all elements of the intervention are :

  • Easy to understand and use
  • Informative and motivating
  • Enjoyable and engaging

How do we optimise interventions?

We optimise interventions by sharing current versions of materials with intended users (including PPI contributors, stakeholders and research participants where possible) to get their feedback. This process can start as soon as intervention plans or draft materials are ready to share, and can be carried out with prototype interventions in feasibility trials or with interventions that are being trialled or implemented in practice.

We find the following methods very useful for optimising interventions:

1. Think-aloud interviews

These involve asking users to ‘think aloud’ their reactions to the overall intervention, and every element of the intervention. Think aloud interviews provide very detailed feedback about what people like, don’t like or find difficult about the intervention. Click here to see more information about think-aloud interviews.

2.  Mixed methods process analyses

Qualitative process analyses

These involve collecting qualitative data to understand how people engage (or don’t engage) with the intervention in real life contexts. Often we ask users to try out the intervention in their daily lives and then take part in an interview about their experiences, but other methods can be used such as observing people using the intervention and/or asking them to keep diaries of their experiences. Click here to see more information about using qualitative interviews for optimisation.

Quantitative process analyses

Quantitative measures of intervention usage are valuable for understanding patterns of engagement, especially if they can be linked to quantitative measures of user characteristics (e.g. sociodemographic or clinical measures) and/or outcomes (behavioural or health outcomes). We have developed a Person-Based Approach to quantitative process analysis that examines what kind of engagement is necessary to achieve users’ goals. Click here to see more information about the PBA approach to quantitative process analysis.

3. Table of Changes

The ‘Table of Changes’ is a simple and flexible tool that can help to systematically bring together all the feedback on experiences of the draft intervention obtained from users. The table can then be used by the intervention development team (including PPI and stakeholder members) to decide and record what changes to the intervention are needed and why. Click here to see more information about using a Table of Changes.

An excellent example of how optimisation process can be achieved rapidly:

Morton, K., Ainsworth, B., Miller, S., et al. (2021). Adapting Behavioral Interventions for a Changing Public Health Context: A Worked Example of Implementing a Digital Intervention During a Global Pandemic Using Rapid Optimisation Methods. Frontiers in Public Health, 9, 369,

Click here to find more papers that demonstrate the Person-Based Approach to optimising interventions.