Introduction Understanding context and how this can be systematically assessed and incorporated is crucial to successful implementation. We describe how context has been assessed (including exploration or evaluation) in Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) implementation research projects focused on improving health in people with or at risk of chronic disease and how contextual lessons were incorporated into the intervention or the implementation process. Methods Using a web-based semi-structured questionnaire, we conducted a cross-sectional survey to collect quantitative and qualitative data across GACD projects (n = 20) focusing on hypertension, diabetes and lung diseases. The use of context-specific data from project planning to evaluation was analyzed using mixed methods and a multi-layered context framework across five levels; 1) individual and family, 2) community, 3) healthcare setting, 4) local or district level, and 5) state or national level. Results Project teams used both qualitative and mixed methods to assess multiple levels of context (avg. = 4). Methodological approaches to assess context were identified as formal and informal assessments, engagement of stakeholders, use of locally adapted resources and materials, and use of diverse data sources. Contextual lessons were incorporated directly into the intervention by informing or adapting the intervention, improving intervention participation or improving communication with participants/stakeholders. Provision of services, equipment or information, continuous engagement with stakeholders, feedback for personnel to address gaps, and promoting institutionalization were themes identified to describe how contextual lessons are incorporated into the implementation process. Conclusions Context is regarded as critical and influenced the design and implementation of the GACD funded chronic disease interventions. There are different approaches to assess and incorporate context as demonstrated by this study and further research is required to systematically evaluate contextual approaches in terms of how they contribute to effectiveness or implementation outcomes.
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