Operationalizing Primary Outcomes to Achieve Reach, Effectiveness, and Equity in Multilevel Interventions

Kate Guastaferro, R. Christopher Sheldrick, Jillian C. Strayhorn, Emily Feinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When intervention scientists plan a clinical trial of an intervention, they select an outcome metric that operationalizes their definition of intervention success. The outcome metric that is selected has important implications for which interventions are eventually supported for implementation at scale and, therefore, what health benefits (including how much benefit and for whom) are experienced in a population. Particularly when an intervention is to be implemented in a population that experiences a health disparity, the outcome metric that is selected can also have implications for equity. Some outcome metrics risk exacerbating an existing health disparity, while others may decrease disparities for some but have less effect for the larger population. In this study, we use a computer to simulate implementation of a hypothetical multilevel, multicomponent intervention to highlight the tradeoffs that can occur between outcome metrics that reflect different operationalizations of intervention success. In particular, we highlight tradeoffs between overall mean population benefit and the distribution of health benefits in the population, which has direct implications for equity. We suggest that simulations like the one we present can be useful in the planning of a clinical trial for a multilevel and/or multicomponent intervention, since simulated implementation at scale can illustrate potential consequences of candidate operationalization of intervention success, such that unintended consequences for equity can be avoided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPrevention Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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