Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights

Chapter 3: Finding the Needle in the Haystack

Posted On
Tuesday, September 10, 2019


15 years of impact

When you invest in contextualised and nuanced evidence gathering methods, you create insightful programmes.

Global development challenges are persistent. Evolving effective approaches to solving them requires robust evidence. Well designed research can have a wide influence on society, and the importance of good research in achieving positive impact on communities cannot be understated. Research methods should reach hidden and vulnerable populations, mitigate unconscious bias and elicit the most personal answers. To do this, they need to be nuanced, sensitive and distinct.

The bias of social desirability to discuss matters related to sex and sexuality prevents collection of reliable grass-root level data.

Traditional research methods sometimes have limitations in reaching the right participants in the right way, resulting in an inability to gather the most sensitive information and to hear voices that matter. The bias of social desirability relating to sex and sexuality, for instance, prevents the collection of reliable grass-root level data on these issues as potential respondents fear the risk of inadvertent disclosure, uncertain of their place among social power structures. As a result, they stay away from the data collection process making it hard for conventional research methodologies to come up with reliable answers.

The deployment of multi-disciplinary teams of researchers, epidemiologists, government bodies and civil society representatives in a number of countries aimed at addressing this evidence gap has surfaced some effective methods.

Geographical mapping estimates were six to seven times higher and accurate than the conventional mapping estimates for the same territory.

Geographical mapping method: This is a method to estimate the number of hidden populations that work, live and frequent spots (used as a gold standard for estimating risk population like sex workers, for targetted HIV interventions).

Network mapping method: The most vulnerable populations are often hidden and communities have moved out of geographies. This is where network mapping comes in.

Polling booth: In a polling booth, focus groups individually answer sensitive questions in a confidential manner. Much like an election, this methodology has a booth with a ballot box for each respondent. Around 12 to 15 simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions are asked. This is followed by an open discussion with the group of the compiled responses. The method is used for national studies related to sexual health, nutrition and sanitation.

Ethical research methods with children: UNICEF published a toolkit titled Ethical Research Involving Children. A case study was developed using methods that allowed for the most sensitive information to be shared by children.

We would love to explore more methods with you.

Swasti Health Catalyst in partnership with Catalyst Management Services has developed path breaking tools and methodologies for gathering information. Several of these tools became national guidelines recognized by governments and international agencies alike. 

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