By Pedro Goicochea, MSc, MA, Investigator, Communications & Community Relations, the PrEP Initiative, Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, San Francisco, CA
Formative research conducted by social scientists can provide important information that can help study teams plan for better communications. An environmental scan can incorporate information gathered through these systematic studies of the community.
At Impacta—a Peruvian nongovernmental organization that conducts clinical trials about HIV and STIs—formative research is written into all of our study protocols. We do interviews with key informants and conduct focus groups with members of the trial community to find out in-depth information about the people we will be working with.
In planning for a study in a community of men who have sex with men, we started going to the places where these men congregate. We conducted interviews in bars, clubs, and even saunas.
The results of this formative research will help us plan for communications about the trial. Our interviews might demonstrate the need to involve certain civil society groups, or it might point to the importance of sharing information at small community forums. We write these considerations into our communications strategy and our dissemination plan for every study (see Appendix 6.2 for the dissemination plan for the HPTN 039 study).
Formative research also helps us develop and test key messages. Our interviews tell us what information the community wants and where the knowledge gaps are. After developing messages, we have them assessed by clinicians and scientists on our staff to ensure that they make sense from a technical perspective. We then hold focus groups to validate and pre-test messages with the community.
If researchers who are part of your study are conducting formative research, reviewing their results can help you identify and address communications needs in the trial community.