Introduction: SITLESS is a randomised controlled trial determining whether exercise referral schemes can be enhanced by self-management strategies to reduce sedentary behaviour and increase physical activity in the long term, in community-dwelling older citizens. The intervention is complex and requires a process evaluation to understand how implementation, causal mechanisms and context shape outcomes. The specific aims are to assess fidelity and reach of the implementation, understand the contextual aspects of each intervention site, evaluate the mechanisms of impact, and explore perceived effects. Methods and analysis: Following the Medical Research Council guidance on complex interventions, a combination of qualitative and quantitative procedures is applied, including observational checklists and attendance registries, standardised scales (ie, Marcus's Self-Efficacy Questionnaire, Physical Activity Self-Regulation Scale and the Lubben Social Network Scale) at baseline, postintervention and follow-up assessments, semistructured questionnaires gathering contextual characteristics, and participant observations of the sessions. Semistructured interviews and focus groups with the participants and trainers are conducted at postintervention and during the follow-up to explore their experiences. Outcomes from the standardised scales are analysed as moderators within the impact evaluation. Descriptive results on context and perceived effects complement results on impact. The qualitative and quantitative findings will help to refine the logic model to finally support the interpretation of the results on the effectiveness of the intervention. Ethics and dissemination: The study design was approved by the respective Ethical Committee of Ramon Llull University, Southern Denmark, Northern Ireland and Ulm University. Participation is voluntary, and all participants are asked to sign informed consent before starting the study. A dissemination plan operationalises how to achieve a social impact by reaching academic and non-academic stakeholders. A data management plan describes the specific data sets and regulates its deposition and curation. All publications will be open access.