Journal Article

Matching intent with intensity: Implementation research on the intensity of health and nutrition programs with women’s self-help groups in India

In India, a large network of self-help groups (SHGs) implements interventions to improve women’s and children’s health and nutrition. There is growing evidence on the effectiveness of women’s group interventions to improve health but limited information on implementation intensity, including how often groups meet, for how long, and with whom, despite this often being cited as a key factor for success. We aimed to assess the implementation intensity of large SHG-based health and nutrition interventions with rural, low-income women, to inform program design, delivery, and measurement.

We synthesized process data from surveys, meeting observations, and process evaluations across 8 maternal and child health and nutrition interventions in India. We examined the implementation intensity of 3 common intervention delivery channels: group meetings, home visits, and community-level activities.

SHG members spent approximately 30 minutes in monthly meetings discussing health or nutrition. SHG dissolution or limited participation in meetings was a common challenge. Beyond group meetings, home visits reached approximately 1 in 3 households with an SHG member. Pregnant and breastfeeding women’s participation in community events varied across interventions.

Interventions that aim to capitalize on existing networks of financial women’s groups not specifically formed for health and nutrition objectives, such as SHGs, will need to have an implementation intensity that matches the ambition of their health objectives: substantial changes in behavioral or mortality outcomes are unlikely to be achieved with relatively light intensity. Interventions that require sustained interactions with members to achieve health outcomes need to ensure adequate community and individual outreach to supplement group meetings, as well as improved participation through more intensive community mobilization approaches. Evaluations of group-based interventions should report on implementation intensity to support the interpretation of evaluation evidence and to inform further scale-up.