Program Adaptation


Program Adaptation

When choosing an evidence-based program (EBP), it is important to consider how a program will fit with the cultural values of your target population, as well as how it will fit with the setting and resources available for implementation. If a program does not make cultural sense to your target audience, then it is unlikely to be effective. For this reason, a program developed and empirically supported in one community simply may not work in another. Additionally, a program needs to be feasible and practical in your specific setting to be implemented effectively.

However, it is possible that no one EBP is a perfect match for your situation. When this happens, it is often necessary to modify an existing program to better fit your needs.

  • Adaptation refers to any change a prevention program undergoes to meet specific needs. Adaptation can include two types of changes to programs:
  • Content: Making changes or additions to program manuals, tasks, and tools so that the content is more relevant to the target population. In order to be effective, these changes should reflect the use of both culturally-relevant names, terms, and examples (surface structure) and culturally-relevant concepts, themes, and issues (deep structure).
  • Delivery: Making changes to the way programs are carried out (e.g., methods, online, or in the classroom)

 Most programs are characterized by a set of "key ingredients" which are thought to be the main catalysts of program effectiveness. The rest of the program surrounds and supports these key ingredients. When making modifications to a program it is important to identify and keep the "key ingredients" in order to maintain program effectiveness. However, often other facets of the program can be changed without significantly diminishing program effectiveness. When changes are made to a program it is critical that they are recorded and monitored so that you can later understand if they had some major effect on the intended outcomes. Well-designed adaptations can actually increase the effectiveness of your program.



Castro, F., Barrera, M., and Martinez, C. (2004). The cultural adaptation of prevention interventions: resolving tension between fidelity and fit. Prevention Science, 5(1), 41-45.
Resnicow, K., Baranowski, T., Ahluwalia, J.S., and Braithwaite, R.L. (1999). Cultural sensitivity in public health: defined and demystified. Ethnicity and Disease, 9 (1), 10-21.
SAMHSA. (2015, September 25). Cultural Competence. Retrieved from