Along the way to developing a theory of the program: A re-examination of the conceptual framework as an organizing strategy

Deborah L. Helitzer, Andrew L. Sussman, Richard M. Hoffman, Christina M. Getrich, Teddy D. Warner, Robert L. Rhyne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Purpose: Conceptual frameworks (CF) have historically been used to develop program theory. We re-examine the literature about the role of CF in this context, specifically how they can be used to create descriptive and prescriptive theories, as building blocks for a program theory. Using a case example of colorectal cancer screening intervention development, we describe the process of developing our initial CF, the methods used to explore the constructs in the framework and revise the framework for intervention development. Methods: We present seven steps that guided the development of our CF: (1) assemble the "right" research team, (2) incorporate existing literature into the emerging CF, (3) construct the conceptual framework, (4) diagram the framework, (5) operationalize the framework: develop the research design and measures, (6) conduct the research, and (7) revise the framework. Results: A revised conceptual framework depicted more complicated inter-relationships of the different predisposing, enabling, reinforcing, and system-based factors. The updated framework led us to generate program theory and serves as the basis for designing future intervention studies and outcome evaluations. Conclusions: A CF can build a foundation for program theory. We provide a set of concrete steps and lessons learned to assist practitioners in developing a CF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-163
Number of pages7
JournalEvaluation and Program Planning
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Conceptual framework
  • Evaluation research
  • Formative research
  • Intervention design
  • Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Strategy and Management
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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