Meta-evaluation of a whole systems programme, ActEarly: A study protocol

Liina Mansukoski, Bridget Lockyer, Amy Creaser*, Jessica Sheringham, Laura Sheard, Philip Garnett, Tiffany Yang, Richard Cookson, Alexandra Albert, Shahid Islam, Robert Shore, Aiysha Khan, Simon Twite, Tania Dawson, Halima Iqbal, Ieva Skarda, Aase Villadsen, Miqdad Asaria, Jane West, Trevor SheldonJohn Wright, Maria Bryant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Living in an area with high levels of child poverty predisposes children to poorer mental and physical health. ActEarly is a 5-year research programme that comprises a large number of interventions (>20) with citizen science and co-production embedded. It aims to improve the health and well-being of children and families living in two areas of the UK with high levels of deprivation; Bradford in West Yorkshire, and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. This protocol outlines the meta-evaluation (an evaluation of evaluations) of the ActEarly programme from a systems perspective, where individual interventions are viewed as events in the wider policy system across the two geographical areas. It includes investigating the programme's impact on early life health and well-being outcomes, interdisciplinary prevention research collaboration and capacity building, and local and national decision making.

METHODS: The ActEarly meta-evaluation will follow and adapt the five iterative stages of the 'Evaluation of Programmes in Complex Adaptive Systems' (ENCOMPASS) framework for evaluation of public health programmes in complex adaptive systems. Theory-based and mixed-methods approaches will be used to investigate the fidelity of the ActEarly research programme, and whether, why and how ActEarly contributes to changes in the policy system, and whether alternative explanations can be ruled out. Ripple effects and systems mapping will be used to explore the relationships between interventions and their outcomes, and the degree to which the ActEarly programme encouraged interdisciplinary and prevention research collaboration as intended. A computer simulation model ("LifeSim") will also be used to evaluate the scale of the potential long-term benefits of cross-sectoral action to tackle the financial, educational and health disadvantages faced by children in Bradford and Tower Hamlets. Together, these approaches will be used to evaluate ActEarly's dynamic programme outputs at different system levels and measure the programme's system changes on early life health and well-being.

DISCUSSION: This meta-evaluation protocol presents our plans for using and adapting the ENCOMPASS framework to evaluate the system-wide impact of the early life health and well-being programme, ActEarly. Due to the collaborative and non-linear nature of the work, we reserve the option to change and query some of our evaluation choices based on the feedback we receive from stakeholders to ensure that our evaluation remains relevant and fit for purpose.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0280696
Number of pages19
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

© 2023 Mansukoski et al.


  • Child
  • Humans
  • Computer Simulation
  • Policy
  • Public Health
  • Social Environment
  • London

Cite this