Mounting a community-randomized trial: sample size, matching, selection, and randomization issues in PRISM Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper discusses some of the processes for establishing a large cluster-randomized trial of a community and primary care intervention in 16 local government areas in Victoria, Australia. The development of the trial in terms of design factors such as sample size estimates and the selection and randomization of communities to intervention or comparison is described. The intervention program to be implemented in Program of Resources, Information and Support for Mothers (PRISM) was conceived as a whole community approach to improving support for all mothers in the first 12 months after birth. A cluster-randomized trial was thus the design of choice from the outset. With a limited number of communities available, a matched-pair design with eight pairs was chosen. Sample size estimates, adjusting for the cluster randomization and the pair-matched design, showed that with eight pairs, on average, 800 women from each community would need to respond to provide sufficient power to determine a 3% reduction in the prevalence of maternal depression 6 months after birth-a reduction deemed to be a worthwhile impact of the intervention to be reliably detected at 80% power. The process of selecting suitable communities and matching them into pairs required careful collection of data on numbers of births, size of the local government areas (LGAs), and an assessment of the capacity of communities to implement the intervention. Ways of dealing with boundary issues associated with potential contamination are discussed. Methods for the selection of feasible configurations of sets of pairs and the ultimate allocation to intervention or comparison are provided in detail. Ultimately, all such studies are a balancing act between selecting the minimum number of communities to detect a meaningful outcome effect of an intervention and the maximum size budget and other resources allow.


  • Watson, Lyndsey
  • Small, Rhonda
  • Brown, Stephanie
  • Dawson, Wendy
  • Lumley, Judith

publication date

  • June 2004

has subject area