Giving communities a greater voice in research

Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) is working as part of a Wellcome Trust initiative to explore the value of participatory video as a tool for community engagement.

SMRU is located in Thailand’s northwestern Tak province, with its clinics immediately adjacent to the Burmese border. Since 1986 SMRU has been providing healthcare and conducting operational research amongst the border population, composed of refugees, displaced people and migrant workers from Burma – SMRU is the only healthcare provider that many of these people can access.

Since 2008, SMRU has been working with representatives from the border population to establish and run the Tak Province Border Community Ethics Advisory Board (T-CAB) which catalyses community discussion about the work of SMRU and represents the local people’s views in the development of SMRU’s research projects and provision of health services.

As part of the new Wellcome Trust initiative, T-CAB members have been provided with video cameras and training in their use and they are now planning to: capture and share their communities’ discussions and experiences so that they can be used to inform bring authentic voices of the community to researchers.

Saw Aung Than Wai a member of T-CAB said:

"The T-CAB member is the bridge, or the joiner between the community members and the researchers. The researchers present something, concerns or risks/benefits and they have to be clear the community people understand these."

"Listening is important during communication because we have different backgrounds and different attitudes as well as different opinions. Sometimes if we’re not a good listener, we may interpret in a different way, and it may cause a different meaning."

This method of “participatory video” is being explored to make films that can support new T-CAB members’ confidence and understanding of research to fully participate in the group’s work; enable communities living in different areas to share their points of view with one another (this is important because SMRU operates sites which are more than 100km apart); and to give communities a direct voice in the development of studies, and potentially to convey the communities’ needs in funding applications to the international donor community.