The integrity of biomedical research depends heavily on the quality of research data collected. In turn, data quality depends on processes of data collection, a task undertaken by frontline research staff in many programmes in Africa and elsewhere. These frontline research staff often have additional responsibilities including translating and communicating research in local languages, seeking informed consent for study participation and maintaining supportive relationships between research institutions and study participants and wider communities. The level of skills that fieldworkers need to undertake these responsibilities clearly affects the quality of data collected, the ethics of research ‘on the ground’ and the short and long term acceptability of research.
An international workshop organized in Kenya in July 2014 discussed the role of frontline staff in scientific research. A total of 25 field managers from 9 African countries and the UK met to discuss the relationship between data quality and institutional performance management systems and how they affect career progression and supportive supervision policies of research frontline staff.
From the workshop, and supporting literature on the role of fieldworkers in international health research, participants agreed that field workers roles present them with practical and ethical challenges that their routine training does not adequately prepare them for. They further argued that the complex challenges faced by fieldworkers (and the integrity and ethics of health research in these settings) could be addressed through increased investment and collaborative agreements across types of research institutions in Africa, and through the standardization of core elements of training for these research staff.
Kombe BMC Medical Ethics (2015) 16:77 DOI 10.1186/s12910-015-0071-3