City Research Online

Systematic Techniques to Enhance rEtention in Randomised controlled trials: the STEER study protocol

Gillies, K., Bower, P., Elliott, J. , MacLennan, G., Newlands, R. S. N., Ogden, M., Treweek, S. P., Wells, M., Witham, M. D., Young, B. & Francis, J. ORCID: 0000-0001-5784-8895 (2018). Systematic Techniques to Enhance rEtention in Randomised controlled trials: the STEER study protocol. Trials, 19(1), article number 197. doi: 10.1186/s13063-018-2572-0


Non-retention of participants seriously affects the credibility of clinical trial results and significantly reduces the potential of a trial to influence clinical practice. Non-retention can be defined as instances where participants leave the study prematurely. Examples include withdrawal of consent and loss to follow-up and thus outcome data cannot be obtained. The majority of existing interventions targeting retention fail to describe any theoretical basis for the observed improvement, or lack of improvement. Moreover, most of these interventions lack involvement of participants in their conception and/or design, raising questions about their relevance and acceptability. Many of the causes of non-retention involve people performing a behaviour (e.g. not returning a questionnaire). Behaviour change is difficult, and the importance of a strong theoretical basis for interventions that aim to change behaviour is increasingly recognised. This research aims to develop and pilot theoretically informed, participant-centred, evidence-based behaviour change interventions to improve retention in trials.

This research will generate data through semi-structured interviews on stakeholders’ perspectives of the reasons for trial non-retention. It will identify perceived barriers and enablers to trial retention using the Theoretical Domains Framework. The intervention development work will involve identification of behaviour change techniques, using recognised methodology, and co-production of retention interventions through discussion groups with end-users. An evaluation of intervention acceptability and feasibility will be conducted in focus groups. Finally, a ready-to-use evaluation framework to deploy in Studies Within A Trial as well as an explanatory retention framework will be developed for identifying and tackling modifiable issues to improve trial retention.

We believe this to be one of the first studies to apply a theoretical lens to the development of interventions to improve trial retention that have been informed by, and are embedded within, participants’ experiential accounts. By developing and identifying priority interventions this study will support efforts to reduce research waste.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s). 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Publisher Keywords: Trials, Retention, Non-retention, Dropout, Theory, Intervention, Interviews
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
SWORD Depositor:
[thumbnail of Systematic Techniques to Enhance rEtention in Randomised controlled trials: the STEER study protocol.pdf]
Text - Published Version
Download (636kB) | Preview


Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login