Managing community engagement in research in Uganda: insights from practices in HIV/aids research

BMC Medical Ethics 23 (1):1-12 (2022)
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Abstract

BackgroundCommunity engagement in research is valuable for instrumental and intrinsic reasons. Despite existing guidance on how to ensure meaningful CE, much of what it takes to achieve this goal differs across settings. Considering the emerging trend towards mandating CE in many research studies, this study aimed at documenting how CE is conceptualized and implemented, and then providing context-specific guidance on how researchers and research regulators in Uganda could think about and manage CE in research.MethodsWe conducted qualitative interviews and focus group discussions involving forty-one respondents who were experienced in HIV/aids biomedical research involving CE. Thirty-eight of these were directly or indirectly associated with Uganda’s leading research institution in the field of HIV/aids. They included Principal Investigators, Community Liaisons Officers, Research Ethics Committee members and Community Advisory Board Members. Three respondents were from Uganda National Council for Science and Technology. Data were collected between August 2019 and August 2020, using audio-taped focus group discussions and key informant interviews, transcribed and analyzed manually to generate themes and subthemes.ResultsThree major themes emerged: goals or value of CE; the means of CE, and, the evaluation of CE. Goals or value of CE generated four subthemes representing the overarching goals of CE: Promote communities’ agency; Generate and sustain trust; Protect and promote communities’ rights and interests; and, Help studies optimize participation in the form of enrolment and retention of participants. What usually comes under the nomenclatures of methods, strategies, and approaches of CE, such as town-hall meetings, sports events, drama, and the like, should simply be understood as the means of CE, and it is not desirable to hold pre-conceived and fixed ideas about the best means to conduct CE in research since a lot depend on the context. Finally, the study found that despite CE’s critical importance, which suggests the need to track and evaluate it, CE is currently intermittently evaluated, and for inadequate motivations.ConclusionsExisting guidance on how to conduct robust CE in research is no substitute for creativity, flexibility, and reflexivity on the part of both researchers and research regulators.

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