What can we change? Five key challenges in adapting intimate partner violence prevention programs to new contexts

Written by Vandana Sharma, Jennifer Scott and Katherine Belen

Over the last few decades, the evidence base on effective strategies to prevent and reduce intimate partner violence (IPV) has grown. More and more program implementers and organizations are interested in adapting these proven IPV programs to their own contexts.

As part of a collaboration between Equality Insights Lab and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, our team is developing the IPV-ADAPT+ framework, a practical, evidence-based guidance and tools on conducting ethical and effective IPV prevention program adaptations. We are documenting learning and best practices from different contexts, and engaging a diverse group of experts and practitioners to inform the content.

During this process, we will be sharing learning through several blog posts. This first blog post highlights five key challenges that program implementers, researchers and partners often face when adapting IPV programs. These challenges emerged from our key informant interviews and literature review.

1. Lack of overarching guidance on how to adapt IPV prevention programs in a systematic way

Without evidence-informed guidance there is great variation in how adaptations are conducted and in the expectations of different stakeholders (such as organizations, communities, governments, and donors) on how much time and resources are required for a successful adaptation. This lack of clarity has also contributed to, in some cases, adaptations that were incomplete and ineffective. This outcome can occur when the program’s core components – those elements that are fundamental for the impacts of the program – are altered or removed as part of the adaptation process. The IPV-ADAPT+ framework will describe a step-by-step process for conducting a successful adaptation of an IPV prevention program.

2. Selecting an appropriate IPV prevention program to adapt for a specific context

Often decisions about which evidence-based IPV prevention program to adapt are not made using a systematic approach. Perhaps a colleague heard about a program that worked elsewhere or a donor has a specific preference for adapting an intervention they have already invested in in another context. Despite some of these realities, it is important to be able to identify an IPV prevention program that is a good match for the new cultural and/or implementation context and the specific goals of the implementing partners and community needs. This can be challenging without knowledge of the range of existing, effective interventions and tools to assess the match for a specific context.

3. Engaging the right stakeholders in the adaptation process in a meaningful way

Ensuring the ethical and effective adaptation of an IPV prevention program requires meaningful engagement with community members and local organisations most knowledgeable about the socio-cultural context, language, and norms in the communities where the adapted programme will be implemented. At the same time, people with technical expertise in gender transformative social norms change and IPV prevention, as well as the original developers of the selected IPV prevention programme should also be consulted in the process.

4. Determining what program modifications are needed

This step can be one of the most challenging of an adaptation. Which parts of the IPV prevention program can change and how should they change to ensure that it fits the new context and needs of the community, without losing key content or elements important to achieve the intended outcomes? Without a fidelity guide or brief, it can be difficult to identify the core components of an effective IPV program and to identify mismatches between the original program and new context. To ensure that the adapted IPV prevention program best fits the new context and the needs of the communities, it is important to conduct a careful review of the original IPV prevention programme, a thorough situational analysis of the new context, and consultations to inform what needs to be changed in the original program to produce similar results once adapted.

5. Ensuring fidelity to the core components of the original program, while making adaptations to fit in the new context

Striking the right balance between fit and fidelity during the adaptation can be a great challenge. Fidelity is the degree to which the program is implemented as intended by the original developers. Fit refers to how closely the intervention is tailored for the new context. Fidelity and fit have often been described as being on a continuum – wherein as we increase the fit, we decrease the fidelity. However, this relationship is often more complex. The IPV-ADAPT+ guidance will help stakeholders navigate this issue.

More information about the IPV-ADAPT+ Framework and this project can be found here.

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Vandana Sharma, MD, MPH is a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and co-founder of Equality Insights Lab.

Jennifer Scott, MD, MPH is a physician-researcher based at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, and is a co-founder of Equality Insights Lab.

Katherine Belen, PhD is a global development consultant working with over twelve UN WOMEN country offices on research and programme design for gender-based violence prevention. She also co-founded Connective Paths Foundation to support community-led development in the global south.

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