As time goes on, new technologies and innovative modalities have become more integral to health communication activities. And with that comes a change in the traditional manner that public health and other development sector organizations create, implement and evaluate interventions. If data can now be collected in lightning speed and messages can be disseminated to millions of people in a matter of seconds, then the very foundation of the design of interventions has to be transformed, too.
There has always been a certain controversy around the most robust research methods for public health interventions: Can we move beyond randomized control trials by adding other methods to the mix? How do we best integrate quantitative and qualitative methods into our design? How do we find out about our target population, and how do we ensure that our intervention is actually successful? These are all questions that have been around for years. Now, with the advent of technology, there’s a new mix of questions that must be answered.
On September 10th, the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) facilitated the second Innovation in Health Communication Webinar focused on research methodologies. The webinar featured three panelists: Dr. John Parrish-Sprowl, Co-Director of the Global Health Communication Center (GHCC) of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts; Alexandra Bornkessel, Digital Strategist and Project Manager, RTI International; and, Maria Elena Figueroa, PhD, Associate Scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Parrish-Sprowl began the webinar with an introduction to research methodologies used in the past and the gap that has been created recently. He explored the idea of transforming how we do research and integrating triangulation methods. But he also noted that a huge investment in research will be required to acquire the variety of “tools in the toolbox” that will enable these new research methodologies.
On the other hand, Bornkessel focused on leveraging technologies to use participatory methods for health communication and engaging the audience in research activities. She described how research can be integrated throughout a program instead of syphoning out a separate “needs-assessment” phase. She emphasized the importance for digital participatory research that can transform research into real-time, audience-based methods to kick-start the intervention as a whole and get closer to ensuring user satisfaction.
Figueroa spoke specifically about projective techniques, particularly in an HIV/AIDS project in Mozambique. She described how projective techniques can be helpful for understanding the norms of a study population and can also communicate sensitive topics in an appropriate manner. She went into some of the fascinating results of the study, such as how men in the study population viewed equitable gender roles favorably. You can find more results and information in her presentation.
Dr. Garrett Mehl, a Research Scientist within the WHO Reproductive Health and Research department, sparked a robust Q&A session with several questions for the panelists. The audience also participated actively; submitting questions about the specific methods as well as the best ways to integrate them into projects. To see a recording of the webinar and download the panelists’ presentations click here.