Critical Appraisal: Exploring the potential of expatriate social networks to reduce HIV and STI transmission: a protocol for a qualitative Study.

Existing Literature

In my opinion this study has a clear aim. The authors claim that there is literature available on relationship between sex and travel that is historical in their opinion however I would like to understand on what grounds they consider it historical and which literature exactly they are referring to?

 The authors have not offered any description of their research criteria, nor have they mentioned anything about their sources and the steps they took to carry out a systematic literature search in English and other languages. It would be helpful to find at least some detail around the criteria and literature search strategies to understand authors’ position in depth.

Authors mention one study which suggests that analysis of networks can lead to identification of social factors that contribute to risky behaviours. They have not thrown any light what those possible factors might be or if they are using those factors (highlighted in in this particular study) to inform their current research process?

 I would like to find more discussion around the factors that lead to social and peer influence and some mention of those reasons that led to the development of belief that approaching at-risk populations and involving their networks had been helpful in stopping the spread of these diseases. 

Methodology

The authors offer a clear description of how they want to generate the knowledge. It is not clear why they have chosen to address it only from personal perspective of the individuals; they offer no reason to why they have not considered observational methods, ethnography or combined methods. “The actor selects, checks, suspends, regroups and transforms the meanings in the light of situation in which he is placed and the direction of his action” (1). They aim to find how individuals interact within a society to take one another’s perspectives and draw meanings and symbols out of those interactions (2)   . To collect the data symbolic interactionist collects interviews and participant observations. (3).  In this protocol however the authors have mentioned only interviews and have not mentioned the observation methods except that observations of some venues will be carried out to supplement interview information. It is not clear how those venues will be chosen and why some are preferred to others. Overall if we keep ‘interaction’ bit in mind there is no mention how the perspective of other party within a social setting will be taken into account.

They haven’t mentioned the epistemological or ontological perspective of the authors themselves and any description that how their own stance directed them to choose this specific methodology and how possibly that can interfere or support the overall process.

 

Sample

The authors aim to use purposive and theoretical sampling methods. They mention to make use of snowball technique and rely on data saturation. I understand that purposive sampling depends upon two key principals i.e. search for meaning and flexibility; the authors are aiming for homogeneous and snowball sampling but I would like to understand why a ‘maximum variety’ or ‘extreme deviant case’ sampling method is not used. Authors have claimed that 12 interviews would be enough to reach to the saturation point (referring to a paper in references) but they have not incorporated their personal reasons why.  They mention flexibility and to use primary and secondary selection process. They could throw more light on what actual process of recruitment would entail i.e. the content of telephonic, email or online conversation etc.  Although they have described who to be involved but there is little information given about what, where and when. They have set out a geographical location but have not mentioned any time period in which they aim to do it or the duration in which they intend to finish this work.

Data Collection and Analysis

The interview will be guided by symbolic interactionist theoretical framework; list of initial inquiry domains which will guide the interview. The three premises of symbolic interactionism include ‘Meaning’, ‘Action/Interaction’ and ‘Self’ that highlight the interconnectedness of each of these themes and “sketch a picture of human society” (4) . It appears that these areas successfully covered within the domains of inquiry. With regards to the carrying out observations it is difficult to understand what do the exactly mean by the word audit. The term is used very loosely that audit of settings will be carried out. There is no description provided to what the criteria will be. In my opinion more robust observation methods could be adopted to compliment interview data for example information around the required areas i.e. space, object, act, activity, event, time, actor, goal and feeling etc. must be provided for reader to make an opinion about what the authors are going to observe in those settings. This information in my opinion is essential to fully compliment the personal narrative. Audit will be used as a means of triangulation but what aspects it aims to address is not clear in the description. With regards to analysis the authors aim to use mainly symbolic interactionism but have also mentioned to make use of psychological theories. They have offered no further explanation on how they plan to use these theories (only names mentioned). A detailed description of the how reflexivity will be incorporated is also missing.

Ethics

In ethics section the authors have mainly referred to the follow the national guidance available in Australia which is appropriately referenced and they have confirmed that the protocol has already received an approval. In addition to that the authors have especially identified the importance of anonymity, confidentiality, consent and its withdrawal, participant’s distress and health issues of participants. They have mentioned the plan that the main researchers will be kept informed about the developments. However the authors have offered no detail about what ethical issues should be considered whilst carrying out the process of audit and observations. I think that is important as it is going to be carried out in a different country and there can be many issues related to it for example observer related issues etc. With regards to the writing and dissemination fair dealing is not mentioned.  

Rigour

1)      Why a more detailed and descriptive literature search methodology is not adapted?

2)      Why observations methods are not described in detail?

3)      Why only one method of triangulation is used.  How about other methods?

4)      Why field notes, photographs and researcher journals are only mentioned; how these methods will be used is not clear? Why not videos, can be a very helpful tool?

5)      In analysis, what about inter-rater reliability? Why using more than one raters is not considered?

6)      With regards to generating knowledge why the epistemological and ontological perspective of the authors are not described.

7)      No debate is available on what could be alternative methods and if this method is chosen they why it has been preferred to the others.

Improvement to the proposed study:

1)      To carry out a description of my epistemological and ontological perspective on the matter. To describe how I aim to generate knowledge on the subject matter and how that knowledge would differ in my method of choice compared to other methods which I am not adapting.

2)      I would include more detailed observation methods to compliment interview data for completing the picture.

3)      To carry on more robust literature search and to offer the readers by criteria and details of the process that I undertook to carry out that research.

4)      To use additional methods in sampling strategy i.e. to make use of extreme deviant sampling and maximum variety sampling methods.

5)      To use various methods of triangulation for example using video recordings and detailed description from observers to compliment the interview data.

6)      Once data is generated by various means interpretation to be carried out by various raters and to devise a standard for inter-rater reliability. In addition I would like to carry out validation from participants.

(1314 words without title and references)

References

1)      Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, Herbert Blumer, Prentice-Hall, 1969 – Psychology. (Page 5)

2)      The Research ACT: A Theoretical Introduction to Sociological Methods by Norman Denzin (Page 7)

3)      Symbolic Interactionism: Genesis, Varieties and Criticism Paperback – September 15, 1977 by Bernard N. Meltzer (Author), John W. Petras (Author),

4)    Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, Herbert Blumer, Prentice-Hall, 1969 – Psychology. (Page 72)