Can theory be embedded in visual interventions to promote self-management? A proposed model and worked example

Int J Nurs Stud. 2012 Dec;49(12):1598-609. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2012.07.005. Epub 2012 Aug 5.


Nurses are increasingly involved in a range of strategies to encourage patient behaviours that improve self-management. If nurses are to be involved in, or indeed lead, the development of such interventions then processes that enhance the likelihood that they will lead to evidence that is both robust and usable in practice are required. Although behavioural interventions have been predominantly based on written text or the spoken word increasing numbers are now drawing on visual media to communicate their message, despite only a growing evidence base to support it. The use of such media in health interventions is likely to increase due to technological advances enabling easier and cheaper production, and an increasing social preference for visual forms of communication. However, the development of such media is often highly pragmatic and developed intuitively rather than with theory and evidence informing their content and form. Such a process may be at best inefficient and at worst potentially harmful. This paper performs two functions. Firstly, it discusses and argues why visual based interventions may be a powerful media for behaviour change; and secondly, it proposes a model, developed from the MRC Framework for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions, to guide the creation of theory informed visual interventions. It employs a case study of the development of an intervention to motivate involvement in a lifestyle intervention among people with increased cardiovascular risk. In doing this we argue for a step-wise model which includes: (1) the identification of a theoretical basis and associated concepts; (2) the development of visual narrative to establish structure; (3) the visual rendering of narrative and concepts; and (4) the assessment of interpretation and impact among the intended patient group. We go on to discuss the theoretical and methodological limitations of the model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Nursing*
  • Self Care*