A mixed methods and Triangulation Model for increasing the accurancy of Adherence and Sexual Behaviour Data: The microbicides Development Programme
The collection of accurate data on adherence and sexual behaviour is crucial in microbicide (and other HIV-related) research. In the absence of a "gold standard" the collection of such data relies largely on participant self-reporting. After reviewing available methods, this paper describes a mixed method/triangulation model for generating more accurate data on adherence and sexual behaviour in a multi-centre vaginal microbicide clinical trial. In a companion paper some of the results from this model are presented .
Data were collected from a random subsample of 725 women (7.7% of the trial population) using structured interviews, coital diaries, in-depth interviews, counting returned gel applicators, focus group discussions, and ethnography. The core of the model was a customised, semi-structured in-depth interview. There were two levels of triangulation: first, discrepancies between data from the questionnaires, diaries, in-depth interviews and applicator returns were identified, discussed with participants and, to a large extent, resolved; second, results from individual participants were related to more general data emerging from the focus group discussions and ethnography. A democratic and equitable collaboration between clinical trialists and qualitative social scientists facilitated the success of the model, as did the preparatory studies preceding the trial. The process revealed some of the underlying assumptions and routinized practices in "clinical trial culture" that are potentially detrimental to the collection of accurate data, as well as some of the shortcomings of large qualitative studies, and pointed to some potential solutions.
The integration of qualitative social science and the use of mixed methods and triangulation in clinical trials are feasible, and can reveal (and resolve) inaccuracies in data on adherence and sensitive behaviours, as well as illuminating aspects of "trial culture" that may also affect data accuracy.