Prevention Science

, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 671–680 | Cite as

Alternatives to Randomized Control Trial Designs for Community-Based Prevention Evaluation

  • David Henry
  • Patrick TolanEmail author
  • Deborah Gorman-Smith
  • Michael Schoeny


Multiple factors may complicate evaluation of preventive interventions, particularly in situations where the randomized controlled trial (RCT) is impractical, culturally unacceptable, or ethically questionable, as can occur with community-based efforts focused on inner-city neighborhoods or rural American Indian/Alaska Native communities. This paper is based in the premise that all research designs, including RCTs, are constrained by the extent to which they can refute the counterfactual and by which they can meet the challenge of proving the absence of effects due to the intervention—that is, showing what is prevented. Yet, these requirements also provide benchmarks for valuing alternatives to RCTs, those that have shown abilities to estimate preventive effects and refute the counterfactual with limited bias acting in congruence with community values about implementation. In this paper, we describe a number of research designs with attending examples, including regression discontinuity, interrupted time series designs, and roll-out randomization designs. We also set forth procedures and practices that can enhance their utility. Alternative designs, when combined with such design strengths, can provide valid evaluations of community-based interventions as viable alternatives to the RCT.


Research design Community based research 



Grateful acknowledgement is given to the investigators and staff of the Families and Communities Research Group, the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, and the conference, “Advancing Science with Culturally Distinct Samples” held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in August 2011.


The research reported in this article was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Nursing Research, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no potential conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All of the research reported here was conducted with the approval and under the supervision of the Institutional Review Boards of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rush University, the University of Chicago, and/or the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Informed Consent

All of the research reported in this article was conducted with the written informed consent of participants or, in the case of research involving state wards, consent of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Henry
    • 1
  • Patrick Tolan
    • 2
    Email author
  • Deborah Gorman-Smith
    • 3
  • Michael Schoeny
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  3. 3.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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