A Mixed Methods and Triangulation Model for Increasing the Accuracy of Adherence and Sexual Behaviour Data: The Microbicides Development Programme

Robert Pool*, Catherine M. Montgomery, Neetha S. Morar, Oliver Mweemba, Agnes Ssali, Mitzy Gafos, Shelley Lees, Jonathan Stadler, Angela Crook, Andrew Nunn, Richard Hayes, Sheena McCormack

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: 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 [1].

Methodology/Principal Findings: 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 routinised 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.

Conclusions/Significance: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11600
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2010




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