Using research networks to generate trustworthy qualitative public health research findings from multiple contexts

Lot Nyirenda*, Meghan Bruce Kumar, Sally Theobald, Malabika Sarker, Musonda Simwinga, Moses Kumwenda, Cheryl Johnson, Karin Hatzold, Elizabeth L. Corbett, Euphemia Sibanda, Miriam Taegtmeyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Qualitative research networks (QRNs) bring together researchers from diverse contexts working on multi-country studies. The networks may themselves form a consortium or may contribute to a wider research agenda within a consortium with colleagues from other disciplines. The purpose of a QRN is to ensure robust methods and processes that enable comparisons across contexts. Under the Self-Testing Africa (STAR) initiative and the REACHOUT project on community health systems, QRNs were established, bringing together researchers across countries to coordinate multi-country qualitative research and to ensure robust methods and processes allowing comparisons across contexts. QRNs face both practical challenges in facilitating this iterative exchange process across sites and conceptual challenges interpreting findings between contexts. This paper distils key lessons and reflections from both QRN experiences on how to conduct trustworthy qualitative research across different contexts with examples from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Indonesia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Methods: The process of generating evidence for this paper followed a thematic analysis method: Themes initially identified were refined during several rounds of discussions in an iterative process until final themes were agreed upon in a joint learning process. Results: Four guiding principles emerged from our analysis: A) explicit communication strategies that sustain dialogue and build trust and collective reflexivity; b) translation of contextually embedded concepts; c) setting parameters for contextualizing, and d) supporting empirical and conceptual generalisability. Under each guiding principle, we describe how credibility, dependability, confirmability and transferability can be enhanced and share good practices to be considered by other researchers. Conclusions: Qualitative research is often context-specific with tools designed to explore local experiences and understandings. Without efforts to synthesise and systematically share findings, common understandings, experiences and lessons are missed. The logistical and conceptual challenges of qualitative research across multiple partners and contexts must be actively managed, including a shared commitment to continuous 'joint learning' by partners. Clarity and agreement on concepts and common methods and timelines at an early stage is critical to ensure alignment and focus in intercountry qualitative research and analysis processes. Building good relationships and trust among network participants enhance the quality of qualitative research findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

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