Background: A gap continues to exist between what is known to be effective and what is actually delivered in the usual course of medical care. The goal of implementation research is to reduce this gap. However, a tension exists between the need to obtain generalizeable knowledge through implementation trials, and the inherent differences between healthcare organizations that make standard interventional approaches less likely to succeed. The purpose of this paper is to explore the integration of participatory action research and randomized controlled trial (RCT) study designs to suggest a new approach for studying interventions in healthcare settings.
Discussion: We summarize key elements of participatory action research, with particular attention to its collaborative, reflective approach. Elements of participatory action research and RCT study designs are discussed and contrasted, with a complex adaptive systems approach used to frame their integration.
Summary: The integration of participatory action research and RCT design results in a new approach that reflects not only the complex nature of healthcare organizations, but also the need to obtain generalizeable knowledge regarding the implementation process.