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'Dark logic' : theorising the harmful consequences of public health interventions

Bonell, Chris and Jamal, Farah and Melendez-Torres, G J and Cummins, Steven (2015) 'Dark logic' : theorising the harmful consequences of public health interventions. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 69 (1). pp. 95-8. ISSN 0143-005X. DOI 10.1136/jech-2014-204671

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Although it might be assumed that most public health programmes involving social or behavioural rather than clinical interventions are unlikely to be iatrogenic, it is well established that they can sometimes cause serious harms. However, the assessment of adverse effects remains a neglected topic in evaluations of public health interventions. In this paper, we first argue for the importance of evaluations of public health interventions not only aiming to examine potential harms but also the mechanisms that might underlie these harms so that they might be avoided in the future. Second, we examine empirically whether protocols for the evaluation of public health interventions do examine harmful outcomes and underlying mechanisms and, if so, how. Third, we suggest a new process by which evaluators might develop 'dark logic models' to guide the evaluation of potential harms and underlying mechanisms, which includes: theorisation of agency-structure interactions; building comparative understanding across similar interventions via reciprocal and refutational translation; and consultation with local actors to identify how mechanisms might be derailed, leading to harmful consequences. We refer to the evaluation of a youth work intervention which unexpectedly appeared to increase the rate of teenage pregnancy it was aiming to reduce, and apply our proposed process retrospectively to see how this might have strengthened the evaluation. We conclude that the theorisation of dark logic models is critical to prevent replication of harms. It is not intended to replace but rather to inform empirical evaluation.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to
Depositing User: Atira Pure
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2015 15:12
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2015 15:12
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