Background: The Theory of Change (ToC) approach has been used to develop and evaluate complex health initiatives in a participatory way in high income countries. Little is known about its use to develop mental health care plans in low and middle income countries where mental health services remain inadequate.
Aims: ToC workshops were held as part of formative phase of the Programme for Improving Mental Health Care (PRIME) in order 1) to develop a structured logical and evidence-based ToC map as a basis for a mental health care plan in each district; (2) to contextualise the plans; and (3) to obtain stakeholder buy-in in Ethiopia, India, Nepal, South Africa and Uganda. This study describes the structure and facilitator's experiences of ToC workshops.
Methods: The facilitators of the ToC workshops were interviewed and the interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed together with process documentation from the workshops using a framework analysis approach.
Results: Thirteen workshops were held in the five PRIME countries at different levels of the health system. The ToC workshops achieved their stated goals with the contributions of different stakeholders. District health planners, mental health specialists, and researchers contributed the most to the development of the ToC while service providers provided detailed contextual information. Buy-in was achieved from all stakeholders but valued more from those in control of resources.
Conclusions: ToC workshops are a useful approach for developing ToCs as a basis for mental health care plans because they facilitate logical, evidence based and contextualised plans, while promoting stakeholder buy in. Because of the existing hierarchies within some health systems, strategies such as limiting the types of participants and stratifying the workshops can be used to ensure productive workshops.
Keywords: Health planning; Mental health; Programme design; Programme evaluation; Theory of change.