Action for Access! Community in the Driver’s Seat for Research

Published: March 20, 2017

Pictured Above: Sonya Arreola and Jeffery Walimbwa conducting a mock qualitative interview on expereinces while accessing services

The number-one complaint from LGBT community members who have contributed to research in their local communities is that researchers arrive, use community members to collect data, and then disappear and disseminate findings elsewhere. Conducting research in this way not only leaves community members suspicious of professional researchers’ intentions, it creates two additional problems: Firstly, the questions are often irrelevant to communities – researchers repeatedly fail to investigate questions that advance understanding of community needs, and instead, investigate questions that are important to other researchers. Secondly, researchers often fail to disseminate findings among community members who are positioned to use them to improve evidence-based advocacy and to strengthen programs.

It is with this in mind that LeGaBiBo, Lighthouse, ISHTAR and the MSMGF have teamed up to conduct Action for Access!. This is a community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) project that aims to investigate the unique forces that shape access to services among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and trans women who have sex with men. CBPAR is an approach that places community members in the driver’s seat of the research project, where they set the research questions and strategies, and collect and analyze data, ensuring the results can directly influence programs and advocacy among participating communities. In this project, LeGaBiBo, Lighthouse, and ISHTAR will each direct a program of research in their own communities with the support of the rest of the Action for Access! team.

The Action for Access! team visiting CARMAH – an MSM organization in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

Not only does this approach improve the quality of the research, it creates a platform for all participants to share their expertise. Over the 7 months of Action for Access!, through online weekly team calls, the community investigators from Botswana, Viet Nam, and Kenya have presented information on their respective country contexts, based on program experience and literature reviews that they conducted. The two MSMGF team members have in turn presented information based on their research expertise. In addition, the team has gathered in Nairobi and Ho Chi Minh City to work together on a research protocol and to meet members of local CBOs. Meeting members of local CBOs led to lively discussions about their contexts and concerns, which in turn informed the research questions we will explore. In the Action for Access! program, learning and “capacity development” do not happen in a single direction. Each participant is at the same time a learner, a teacher and an investigator.

Beyond the rich learning we will all do, in 2017, the Action for Access! team will conduct and analyze in-depth interviews in several locations within each country and share the results with  community members. We will also prepare a manuscript for publication. In addition, we will use the findings to inform quantitative research that we will implement in 2018. The lessons we learn from each other, together with the research findings, will enhance our capacity to build an ongoing and meaningful evidence base that can support our advocacy and programing goals.

For more information, please contact any member of the Action for Access! team.

Augustus Mokabedi, Bsc ENH – LeGaBiBo, Botswana: mokabedia@yahoo.co.uk
Đoàn Thanh Tùng, BA – Lighthouse, Viet Nam: thanhtung.was@gmail.com
Jeffrey Walimbwa – ISHTAR, Kenya: jwalimbwa@ishtarmsm.org
Keletso Makofane, MPH – MSMGF, South Africa: kmakofane@msmgf.org
Sonya Arreola, PhD MPH – MSMGF, United States: sarreola@msmgf.org

* Acknowledgement: In 2016, Bao Le, Director of CARMAH in Viet Nam, helped to develop the protocol for Action for Access!. He wrote the original draft of the country context for Viet Nam and participated in the team meetings held in Kenya and Viet Nam. We are very grateful to Mr. Bao Le for his contributions to Action for Access!

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