Public health evaluation in the twenty-first century: time to see the wood as well as the trees.

Smith, RD; Petticrew, M; (2010) Public health evaluation in the twenty-first century: time to see the wood as well as the trees. Journal of public health (Oxford, England), 32 (1). pp. 2-7. ISSN 1741-3842 DOI:

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This paper argues that concepts, methodologies and practices within public health need further development if they are to be sufficient to allow us to develop, undertake and evaluate interventions in the twenty-first century. The public health profession, and the disciplines that contribute to it, maintains the historical focus upon detailed micro analysis (individual and health sector) and not broader macro analysis (societal and system). This brief paper suggests why this is and outlines three challenges it poses: specifying and evaluating outcomes; specifying and understanding complex causal pathways in social interventions and the development of multisector evaluation, to meet information demands from multiple stakeholders. While there is general agreement that public health evaluation needs development, this paper argues that the focus needs to be more upon a broader evaluative space than is currently practiced. There is a need to move beyond primary and secondary health-related effects upon individuals, and focus more on evaluation of the wider range and distribution of direct and indirect effects upon individuals, communities and populations. That is, those involved in public health evaluation need to step back and first consider the wood before focusing in on specific trees.

Item Type: Article
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy
Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Social and Environmental Health Research
Research Centre: Centre for Global Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
PubMed ID: 20181759
Web of Science ID: 276156600002


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