HIV in Canada: A primer for service providers


Program Science

Key Points

  • Program science is the systematic application of scientific knowledge to improve programs.

Program science describes the systematic application of scientific knowledge to improve the design, implementation and evaluation of programs. It is ideally suited to advance integrated approaches to HIV programming.

Program science extends beyond implementation research to also consider entire programs involving combinations of interventions for a particular population in a specific context. The critical steps in program science and related questions are:

  • Strategic planning, which requires an understanding of local epidemiology – On the basis of the particular context of the program, who should be targeted? When? For how long?
  • Program implementation, which can include specific intervention components – What is the optimal mix of interventions? How can synergy across interventions be maximized? Which interventions are effective and for whom?
  • Program management and evaluation, which includes the on-going and iterative process of monitoring programs – How can effective interventions be sustained? How should the program be modified as new knowledge emerges during implementation? What quality improvement processes are important?

Program science typically involves an ongoing process of engagement between researchers, policy makers, program planners, frontline workers and communities through which research is embedded into the design, implementation and continuous improvement of the overall program. Because the focus is on how an entire program impacts a population, program science typically involves consideration of overall health systems. Development and linkage of population-level databases (such as electronic health records) that provide information on testing and diagnosis of health problems, treatments prescribed, health-related outcomes and health-service usage can be important tools in program science.


Program Science 101 REACH 2.0, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network

Program Science in Practice – REACH 2.0, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network


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  2. Parkhurst J, Weller I, Kemp J. Getting research into policy, or out of practice, in HIV? Lancet. 2010 Apr 24;375:1414–1415.
  3. Becker M, Mishra A, Aral S, et al. The contributions and future direction of Program Science in HIV/STI prevention. Emerging Themes in Epidemiology, 2018 May 28;15:7. Available from: