Research and implementation interactions in a social accountability study: Utilizing guidance for conducting process evaluations of complex interventions

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: In recent years, researchers and evaluators have made efforts to identify and use appropriate and innovative research designs that account for the complexity in studying social accountability. The relationship between the researchers and those implementing the activities and how this impacts the study have received little attention. In this paper, we reflect on how we managed the relationship between researchers and implementers using the United Kingdom Medical Research Council (MRC) guidance on process evaluation of a complex intervention. Main body: The MRC guidance focuses on three areas of interaction between researchers and stakeholders involved in developing and delivering the intervention: (i) working with program developers and implementers; (ii) communication of emerging findings between researchers/evaluators and implementers; and (iii) overlapping roles of the intervention and research/evaluation. We summarize how the recommendations for each of the three areas were operationalized in the Community and Provider driven Social Accountability Intervention (CaPSAI) Project and provide reflections based on experience. We co-developed various tools, including standard operating procedures, contact lists, and manuals. Activities such as training sessions, regular calls, and meetings were also conducted to enable a good working relationship between the different partners. Conclusions: Studying social accountability requires the collaboration of multiple partners that need to be planned to ensure a good working relationship while safeguarding both the research and intervention implementation. The MRC guidance is a useful tool for making interaction issues explicit and establishing procedures. Planning procedures for dealing with research and implementers’ interactions could be more comprehensive and better adapted to social accountability interventions if both researchers and implementers are involved. There is a need for social accountability research to include clear statements explaining the nature and types of relationships between researchers and implementers involved in the intervention.