Prevention Science, Vol. 6, No. 3, September 2005 (
Ecological Theory in Practice: Illustrations From
a Community-Based Intervention to Promote
the Health of Recent Mothers
and Therese Riley
Published online: 26 July 2005
We present a qualitative case study where we used four principles of ecological theory from
community psychology as a template to assess the dynamics about how a preventive commu-
nity intervention was transacted in eight communities in Victoria, Australia. The principles
were cycling of resources, interdependence, adaptation, and succession. Ecological thinking
focuses on key resources in communities. That is, the people, events, and settings that are
the foundations of thinking about communities as systems. The data set consists of ﬁeld di-
aries kept by and serial interviews with nine community development workers over a 2-year
period. We found that the analysis highlighted a process-oriented way of representing the
intervention, one that sees beyond the intervention’s technical components (or packaged
elements) to the complexities of the cultural and political change processes occurring be-
neath. The value of this is the attention focussed on likely project sustainability.
KEY WORDS: ecological theory; sustainability; qualitative research; community intervention.
Theory and practice in health promotion has
been advanced signiﬁcantly by planning and inter-
vention models, such as those developed and re-
ﬁned by Green and Kreuter (1999) and Green and
Ottoson (1999). Synthesis texts have also allowed
practitioners to appreciate the range of theories
available for different levels of analysis, such as indi-
vidual, group, organizational (Glanz et al., 1990) and
these texts have also allowed practitioners to better
appreciate opportunities to devise interventions for
different types of settings (Green et al., 2000). Many
CIHR Centre for the Study of Social and Physical Environments
and Health, University of Calgary, Canada.
School of Public Health, LaTrobe University, Australia.
Centre for the Study of Mothers’ and Children’s Health, La-
Trobe University, Australia.
Present address: Centre for the Study of Health and Society,
School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Correspondence should be directed to Penelope Hawe, Univer-
sity of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta,
T2N 4N1, Canada; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
of these foundation texts in our ﬁeld encourage prac-
titioners to systematically appraise the range of fac-
tors in their local contexts that might be seen as en-
ablers or barriers to action (Green & Kreuter, 1999).
This was also the primary purpose of Stokols’ (1996)
contribution which set out a set of principles from so-
cial ecology that could be used to adapt an interven-
tion to local context, to improve “ﬁt,” and enhance
potential for sustainability.
Our interest is to take the analysis of
intervention–context interaction further, more
speciﬁcally to see if we can use ecological theorizing
to understand the local dynamic of the intervention
and to identify instances of how interventions “cou-
ple” or “clash” with the local environment. For this
we return to the roots of ecological theory within
community psychology (Kelly, 1966, 1967, 1979).
Ecological theory within community psychology
focuses on the dynamics of local systems and key
resources in communities—people, settings, and
events—and draws attention to how an intervention
conserves and manages those resources. (Trickett
et al., 1972, 1985; Trickett & Birman, 1989).
2005 Society for Prevention Research