Mhairi Campbell explains why she hopes TIDieR-PHP will help reduce research waste by facilitating a clearer description of population health and policy interventions
There is a focus on reducing research waste. Included in this is the adequacy of reporting interventions. For interventions to be useful, i.e. provide information to decision makers, be implemented by practitioners, or be incorporated into evidence synthesis, requires a clear, thorough description of the intervention.
TIDieR-PHP is an adaptation of an existing guideline—the Template for Intervention Description and Replication, (TIDieR). While most existing guidelines focus on reporting features of research design, only dealing very briefly with intervention description, TIDieR prompts users to report the important features of interventions. This has been widely used. It was published in 2014 and by early 2018 it had over 1,000 citations.
I am a researcher at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, where the interventions that we develop, evaluate, or review, involve multiple processes or mechanisms with the aim of improving public health and reducing social inequalities in health. It became apparent that population health and policy interventions require clear reporting, however the original TIDieR guideline did not capture important characteristics of these interventions.
Our team to develop TIDieR-PHP included the lead author of the original TIDieR checklist, and experts in conducting, evaluating, or reviewing public health interventions. Using the phrase “population health and policy” (the ‘PHP’ in TIDieR-PHP) to describe the interventions is intentionally broad, to include legal, fiscal, structural, organisational, environmental, and policy interventions. These interventions are often delivered at a population level, rather than on a one-to-one basis. Interventions include health service reorganisation, changes in welfare policy, and neighbourhood improvement schemes. Many of these interventions are complex, or have multiple components. Implementation may involve multiple organisations, incentives, sanctions, or variation in design depending on population or location. For example, with the regulation of unhealthy commodities such as trans fats, the TIDieR-PHP checklist prompts users to report the regulations, government level policy, or legislation that underpins the design of these interventions. The extent of the rules is important to know when considering whether a similar intervention would be applicable and effective in another location or with a different population. For many PHP interventions, effectiveness may vary according to the detail of the intervention. For example, the extent of a smoking ban, whether it covers an entire institution, or whether smoking is restricted to designated areas, can influence the decrease in smoking. 
All of these features lead to the need for a clear description to allow policy makers or other investigators to be able to understand the findings and how the intervention relates to their situation or research. To be able to identify the active ingredients in the interventions, readers require thorough, systematic descriptions. The TIDieR-PHP checklist prompts users to report these features.
When a population health and policy intervention is being reported, particularly in peer-reviewed journals, there is so much information to convey, often within a tight word limit. Sometimes the focus on reporting the findings and the methods leaves less attention on the actual population health or policy intervention. We believe that TIDieR-PHP can help identify the pertinent points of such interventions. A concise description might include references to a protocol, other articles or documents, or online appendices, where the PHP intervention is explained in detail.
Therefore, we hope TIDieR-PHP will contribute towards reducing research waste by facilitating a clearer description of population health and policy interventions. We hope it will help policy makers and practitioners interpret and use evidence, help journal editors and reviewers evaluate the completeness of intervention descriptions, and help evidence synthesisers deal with variance in study characteristics.
Finally, with respect to the possible challenge of “not another reporting guideline!”, here’s a previous BMJ opinion piece explaining why reporting guidelines can be a valuable resource.
Mhairi Campbell is an investigator scientist at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK. Mhairi is supported by the UK Medical Research Council/Chief Scientist Office Informing Healthy Public Policy programme (MC_UU_12017-15 and SPHSU15).
No competing interests.
- Fichtenberg CM, Glantz SA. Effect of smoke-free workplaces on smoking behaviour: systematic review. British Medical Journal 2002;325(7357):188 doi: 10.1136/bmj.325.7357.188.