STUDY OBJECTIVES: (1) To evaluate the development of clinical governance within public health departments. (2) To assess two models for examining clinical governance in public health departments. DESIGN: Semi-structured interviews carried out during the annual visits of the regional director of public health to the health authority public health departments. SETTING: West Midland Region, England. PARTICIPANTS: Directors of public health plus other members of public health departments. Main results: These visits demonstrated that there is already a substantial amount of clinical governance activity taking place in the region's public health departments. There was also a need to reclassify many routinely occurring activities and include them under the clinical governance heading. CONCLUSIONS: The two models both proved useful for examining clinical governance in public health departments, however combining them into a matrix provided the best results. This matrix will still be useful after the reorganisation of the NHS and could be used to assess any public health department in the world. The West Midland public health departments find the visits valuable as they provide a source of external peer review of their activities. The public health departments have ownership of the process.