Using MCDA to generate and interpret evidence to inform local government investment in public health

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Reddy, Brian P
Thokala, Praveen
Iliff, Alison
Warhurst, Kerry
Chambers, Helen
Bowker, Lynsey
Walters, Stephen J
Duenas, Alejandra
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Smoking is the single biggest cause of preventable death in the Uited Kingdom (UK) and is a major cause of coronary heart disease, some cancers, and respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. At the time of initiating the project, smoking prevalence had not changed across four local government areas in South Yorkshire for some years. Most spending had been focussed on helping people quit, an intervention where there was clear evidence of effectiveness. A number of changes occurred in public health structures and targets, requiring a reappraisal of the range of interventions offered. This was challenging due to a lack of clear evidence for some of the areas' alternative interventions. The aim of this paper is to describe the use of a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) approach to support the health priority setting in local authorities to reduce smoking prevalence. There were three phases to this process: (1) problem structuring; (2) the multiple criteria decision analysis; (3) and using the MCDA results to influence decision making at the local government level. The MCDA approach was used to collate information in a consistent and transparent manner, using expert, stakeholder and public opinion to fill known gaps in evidence. Fifteen interventions (such as stop smoking support services, smoke-free spaces, communication and marketing exercises, and increased investment in enforcement) were ranked across eight criteria (relating to reductions in prevalence across relevant groups, as well as aspects relating to equity and feasibility), allowing a range of relevant concerns to be incorporated. Subsequent steps were taken to translate the results of this stage into workable policy options. The results differed significantly from current practice. Sensitivity analysis showed that the findings were robust to changes in preference weights. These results informed subsequent changes to the interventions offered across the four boroughs. The ability of MCDA techniques to incorporate data and both qualitative and quantitative judgements in a formal manner mean that they are well suited to support public health decision making, where evidence is often only partially available and many policies are value driven. MCDA methods, if used, should be chosen carefully based on their resource/time constraints, scientific validity, and the significance and broader context of the decision problem.