Recognising values and engaging communities across cultures: towards developing a cultural protocol for researchers

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-8 (2021)
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Abstract

Efforts to build research capacity and capability in low and middle income countries (LMIC) has progressed over the last three decades, yet it confronts many challenges including issues with communicating or even negotiating across different cultures. Implementing global research requires a broader understanding of community engagement and participatory research approaches. There is a considerable amount of guidance available on community engagement in clinical trials, especially for studies for HIV/aids, even culturally specific codes for recruiting vulnerable populations such as the San or Maori people. However, the same cannot be said for implementing research in global health. In an effort to build on this work, the Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning and University College London in the UK sought to better understand differences in beliefs, values and norms of local communities in Pakistan. In particular, they have sought to help researchers from high income countries (HIC) understand how their values are perceived and understood by the local indigenous researchers in Pakistan. To achieve this end, a group discussion was organised with indigenous researchers at Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning. The discussion will ultimately help inform the development of a cultural protocol for researchers from HIC engaging with communities in LMIC. This discussion revealed five common themes; (1) religious principles and rules, (2) differing concepts of and moral emphasis on autonomy and privacy, (3) importance of respect and trust; (4) cultural differences (etiquette); (5) custom and tradition (gift giving and hospitality). Based on the above themes, we present a preliminary cultural analysis to raise awareness and to prepare researchers from HIC conducting cross cultural research in Pakistan. This is likely to be particularly relevant in collectivistic cultures where social interconnectedness, family and community is valued above individual autonomy and the self is not considered central to moral thinking. In certain cultures, HIC ideas of individual autonomy, the notion of informed consent may be regarded as a collective family decision. In addition, there may still be acceptance of traditional professional roles such as ‘doctor knows best’, while respect and privacy may have very different meanings.

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