The ENCOMPASS framework: a practical guide for the evaluation of public health programmes in complex adaptive systems

Angie Luna Pinzon*, Karien Stronks, Coosje Dijkstra, Carry Renders, Teatske Altenburg, Karen den Hertog, Stef P J Kremers, Mai J M Chinapaw, Arnoud P Verhoeff, Wilma Waterlander

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Systems thinking embraces the complexity of public health problems, including childhood overweight and obesity. It aids in understanding how factors are interrelated, and it can be targeted to produce favourable changes in a system. There is a growing call for systems approaches in public health research, yet limited practical guidance is available on how to evaluate public health programmes within complex adaptive systems. The aim of this paper is to present an evaluation framework that supports researchers in designing systems evaluations in a comprehensive and practical way.

METHODS: We searched the literature for existing public health systems evaluation studies. Key characteristics on how to conduct a systems evaluation were extracted and compared across studies. Next, we overlaid the identified characteristics to the context of the Lifestyle Innovations Based on Youth Knowledge and Experience (LIKE) programme evaluation and analyzed which characteristics were essential to carry out the LIKE evaluation. This resulted in the Evaluation of Programmes in Complex Adaptive Systems (ENCOMPASS) framework.

RESULTS: The ENCOMPASS framework includes five iterative stages: (1) adopting a system dynamics perspective on the overall evaluation design; (2) defining the system boundaries; (3) understanding the pre-existing system to inform system changes; (4) monitoring dynamic programme output at different system levels; and (5) measuring programme outcome and impact in terms of system changes.

CONCLUSIONS: The value of ENCOMPASS lies in the integration of key characteristics from existing systems evaluation studies, as well as in its practical, applied focus. It can be employed in evaluating public health programmes in complex adaptive systems. Furthermore, ENCOMPASS provides guidance for the entire evaluation process, all the way from understanding the system to developing actions to change it and to measuring system changes. By the nature of systems thinking, the ENCOMPASS framework will likely evolve further over time, as the field expands with more completed studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2022


  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Obesity/prevention & control
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Health
  • Evaluation
  • Whole-of-systems approaches
  • Practice
  • Systems thinking
  • Complex systems
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Participatory action research
  • Public health


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