Objectives: Formative evaluation is critical in maximising the implementation strategies and processes of interventions. It is also critical to both providing contextual explanations for and maximising the success of such interventions. The purpose of this study was to undertake a comprehensive formative evaluation of the implementation process of a multi-component, sports-based mental health program for adolescent males (“Ahead of the Game”).
Methods: Primary outcomes included program reach, dose, fidelity and cost during initial piloting and two distinct implementation phases. The iterative formative evaluation process provided opportunities to adapt the program and its implementation strategy to optimise reach, dose and fidelity relative to implementation cost.
Results: Formative evaluation data showed that the program failed to achieve optimal reach in the initial pilot phase (Phase I), with low doses of the program received by stakeholders, and moderate fidelity. Bottom up implementation strategies improved dose and club ownership during Phase II but resulted in high costs and lower fidelity and was associated with implementation staff retention and management issues. Phase III with more streamlined staffing and club integrated implementation resulted in high reach, dose, fidelity and club ownership and an associated reduction in implementation cost per participant.
Conclusion: Formative evaluation succeeded in maximising the Ahead of the Game program engagement over three distinct phases. Results are salient for informing cost-effective implementation strategies for sports-based health promotion.