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Changing behaviour 'more or less'-do theories of behaviour inform strategies for implementation and de-implementation? A critical interpretive synthesis

Patey, A. M., Hurt, C. S. ORCID: 0000-0003-1571-0040, Grimshaw, J. M. & Francis, J. ORCID: 0000-0001-5784-8895 (2018). Changing behaviour 'more or less'-do theories of behaviour inform strategies for implementation and de-implementation? A critical interpretive synthesis. Implementation Science, 13(1), article number 134. doi: 10.1186/s13012-018-0826-6


BACKGROUND: Implementing evidence-based care requires healthcare practitioners to do less of some things (de-implementation) and more of others (implementation). Variations in effectiveness of behaviour change interventions may result from failure to consider a distinction between approaches by which behaviour increases and decreases in frequency. The distinction is not well represented in methods for designing interventions. This review aimed to identify whether there is a theoretical rationale to support this distinction. METHODS: Using Critical Interpretative Synthesis, this conceptual review included papers from a broad range of fields (biology, psychology, education, business) likely to report approaches for increasing or decreasing behaviour. Articles were identified from databases using search terms related to theory and behaviour change. Articles reporting changes in frequency of behaviour and explicit use of theory were included. Data extracted were direction of behaviour change, how theory was operationalised, and theory-based recommendations for behaviour change. Analyses of extracted data were conducted iteratively and involved inductive coding and critical exploration of ideas and purposive sampling of additional papers to explore theoretical concepts in greater detail. RESULTS: Critical analysis of 66 papers and their theoretical sources identified three key findings: (1) 9 of the 15 behavioural theories identified do not distinguish between implementation and de-implementation (5 theories were applied to only implementation or de-implementation, not both); (2) a common strategy for decreasing frequency was substituting one behaviour with another. No theoretical basis for this strategy was articulated, nor were methods proposed for selecting appropriate substitute behaviours; (3) Operant Learning Theory makes an explicit distinction between techniques for increasing and decreasing frequency. DISCUSSION: Behavioural theories provide little insight into the distinction between implementation and de-implementation. Operant Learning Theory identified different strategies for implementation and de-implementation, but these strategies may not be acceptable in health systems. Additionally, if behaviour substitution is an approach for de-implementation, further investigation may inform methods or rationale for selecting the substitute behaviour.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: 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: Implementation, De-implement, Behavioural theory and model, Behaviour change Health professional, Intervention, Implementation research, Critical interpretive synthesis
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
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