Multilevel factorial experiments for developing behavioral interventions: power, sample size, and resource considerations

Factorial experimental designs have many potential advantages for behavioral scientists. For example, such designs may be useful in building more potent interventions by helping investigators to screen several candidate intervention components simultaneously and to decide which are likely to offer greater benefit before evaluating the intervention as a whole. However, sample size and power considerations may challenge investigators attempting to apply such designs, especially when the population of interest is multilevel (e.g., when students are nested within schools, or when employees are nested within organizations). In this article, we examine the feasibility of factorial experimental designs with multiple factors in a multilevel, clustered setting (i.e., of multilevel, multifactor experiments). We conduct Monte Carlo simulations to demonstrate how design elements-such as the number of clusters, the number of lower-level units, and the intraclass correlation-affect power. Our results suggest that multilevel, multifactor experiments are feasible for factor-screening purposes because of the economical properties of complete and fractional factorial experimental designs. We also discuss resources for sample size planning and power estimation for multilevel factorial experiments. These results are discussed from a resource management perspective, in which the goal is to choose a design that maximizes the scientific benefit using the resources available for an investigation.