Background: Health education interventions are generally complex. Their outcomes result from both the intervention itself and the context for which they are developed. Thus, when an intervention carried out in one context is reproduced in another, its transferability can be questionable. We performed a literature review to analyze the concept of transferability in the health education field.
Methods: Articles included were published between 2000 and 2010 that addressed the notion of transferability of interventions in health education. Articles were analyzed using a standardized grid based on four items: 1) terminology used; 2) factors that influenced transferability; 3) capacity of the research and evaluation designs to assess transferability; and 4) tools and criteria available to assess transferability.
Results: 43 articles met the inclusion criteria. Only 13 of them used the exact term "transferability" and one article gave an explicit definition: the extent to which the measured effectiveness of an applicable intervention could be achieved in another setting. Moreover, this concept was neither clearly used nor distinguished from others, such as applicability. We highlight the levels of influence of transferability and their associated factors, as well as the limitations of research methods in their ability to produce transferable conclusions.
Conclusions: We have tried to clarify the concept by defining it along three lines that may constitute areas for future research: factors influencing transferability, research methods to produce transferable data, and development of criteria to assess transferability. We conclude this review with three propositions: 1) a conceptual clarification of transferability, especially with reference to other terms used; 2) avenues for developing knowledge on this concept and analyzing the transferability of interventions; and 3) in relation to research, avenues for developing better evaluation methods for assessing the transferability of interventions.