A cross-country study of mis-implementation in public health practice

Karishma S. Furtado, Elizabeth L. Budd, Rebecca Armstrong, Tahna Pettman, Rodrigo Reis, Pauline Sung-Chan, Zhaoxin Wang, Ross C. Brownson

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Background: Mis-implementation (i.e., the premature termination or inappropriate continuation of public health programs) contributes to the misallocation of limited public health resources and the sub-optimal response to the growing global burden of chronic disease. This study seeks to describe the occurrence of mis-implementation in four countries of differing sizes, wealth, and experience with evidence-based chronic disease prevention (EBCDP). Methods: A cross-sectional study of 400 local public health practitioners in Australia, Brazil, China, and the United States was conducted from November 2015 to April 2016. Online survey questions focused on how often mis-termination and mis-continuation occur and the most common reasons programs end and continue. Results: We found significant differences in knowledge of EBCDP across countries with upwards of 75% of participants from Australia (n = 91/121) and the United States (n = 83/101) reporting being moderately to extremely knowledgeable compared with roughly 60% (n = 47/76) from Brazil and 20% (n = 21/102) from China (p < 0.05). Far greater proportions of participants from China thought effective programs were never mis-terminated (12.2% (n = 12/102) vs. 1% (n = 2/121) in Australia, 2.6% (n = 2/76) in Brazil, and 1.0% (n = 1/101) in the United States; p < 0.05) or were unable to estimate how frequently this happened (45.9% (n = 47/102) vs. 7.1% (n = 7/101) in the United States, 10.5% (n = 8/76) in Brazil, and 1.7% (n = 2/121) in Australia; p < 0.05). The plurality of participants from Australia (58.0%, n = 70/121) and the United States (36.8%, n = 37/101) reported that programs often mis-continued whereas most participants from Brazil (60.5%, n = 46/76) and one third (n = 37/102) of participants from China believed this happened only sometimes (p < 0.05). The availability of funding and support from political authorities, agency leadership, and the general public were common reasons programs continued and ended across all countries. A program's effectiveness or evidence-base-or lack thereof-were rarely reasons for program continuation and termination. Conclusions: Decisions about continuing or ending a program were often seen as a function of program popularity and funding availability as opposed to effectiveness. Policies and practices pertaining to programmatic decision-making should be improved in light of these findings. Future studies are needed to understand and minimize the individual, organizational, and political-level drivers of mis-implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number270
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic disease
  • Dissemination and implementation
  • Evidence-based chronic disease prevention
  • Evidence-based public health
  • Mis-implementation


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