Methods: We used a stepped approach to develop a practical framework for researchers. This included: (1) a systematic review of the innovative qualitative methods mentioned in the health literature; (2) in-depth interviews with 23 academics from different methodological backgrounds working on RCTs of public health interventions in 11 different countries; and (3) a framework development and group consensus-building process.
Results: The findings are presented according to the CONSORT Statement categories for ease of use. We identify the main challenges of RCTs for public health interventions alongside each of the CONSORT categories and potential innovative qualitative methods that overcome each challenge are listed as part of a Framework for the Integration of Innovative Qualitative Methods into RCTs of Complex Health Interventions. Innovative qualitative methods described in the interviews include: rapid ethnographic appraisals, document analysis, diary methods, interactive voice responses and SMS, community mapping, spiral walks, pair interviews and visual participatory analysis.
Conclusions: The findings of this study point to the usefulness of observational and participatory methods for trials of complex public health interventions, offering a novel contribution to the broader literature about the need for mixed methods approaches. Integrating a diverse toolkit of qualitative methods can enable appropriate adjustments to the intervention and/ or process of data collection during RCTs, which in turn can create more sustainable and effective interventions. However, such integration will require a cultural shift towards the adoption of method-neutral research approaches, transdisciplinary collaborations, and publishing regimes.
- Complex intervention
- Public health
- Qualitative method