NIHR ARC West’s Professor Frank De Vocht gave a seminar in April for the Research Design Service East of England, on evaluating natural experiments.
Natural or quasi experiments are appealing for public health research because they enable the evaluation of events or interventions that are difficult or impossible to manipulate experimentally, such as policy and health system reforms. However, there is ambiguity in the literature about their definition and how they differ from randomised controlled trials and from other observational designs.
In this presentation, Professor de Vocht discusses conceptualisations of natural experiments in the context of public health evaluations, and how these can be aligned to the Target Trial Framework to improve the design of such evaluations, inferences that can be made from them, and their reporting. He further describes the methodological work on natural experiments done within the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR), and introduces a new SPHR initiative: the Network for the use of Natural Experiments in Public Health.