Two way research capacity strengthening: a model from Atoifi, Solomon Islands

Friday, 21 December, 2012
Analysing interviews of TB patients

A better model for research capacity strengthening is two way, rather than unidirectional. In the two way model valuable skills and experience are gained by those regarded as "experts" as well as those learning how to do research. This is the main message from a study just published by the International Journal for Equity in Health.

The study describes mutual research capacity strengthening at a remote location in the Solomon Islands. Atoifi is rapidly becoming an acknowledged centre for public health research in the Pacific. The hub of the health research effort are the Atoifi Adventist Hospital and Atoifi College of Nursing on the island of Malaita (coordinates -8.869424° 161.004714°).

THS Director, Rick Speare, was a member of the research team.


Capacity building has been employed in international health and development sectors to describe the process of 'experts' from more resourced countries training people in less resourced countries. Hence the concept has an implicit power imbalance based on 'expert' knowledge. In 2011, a health research strengthening workshop was undertaken at Atoifi Adventist Hospital, Solomon Islands to further strengthen research skills of the Hospital and College of Nursing staff and East Kwaio community leaders through partnering in practical research projects. The workshop was based on participatory research frameworks underpinned by decolonising methodologies, which sought to challenge historical power imbalances and inequities. Our research question was, "Is research capacity strengthening a two-way process?"

In this qualitative study, five Solomon Islanders and five Australians each responded to four open-ended questions about their experience of the research capacity strengthening workshop and activities: five chose face to face interview, five chose to provide written responses. Written responses and interview transcripts were inductively analysed in NVivo 9.


Six major themes emerged. These were: Respectful relationships; Increased knowledge and experience with research process; Participation at all stages in the research process; Contribution to public health action; Support and sustain research opportunities; and Managing challenges of capacity strengthening. All researchers identified benefits for themselves, their institution and/or community, regardless of their role or country of origin, indicating that the capacity strengthening had been a two-way process.

The flexible and responsive process we used to strengthen research capacity was identified as mutually beneficial. Using community-based participatory frameworks underpinned by decolonising methodologies is assisting to redress historical power imbalances and inequities and is helping to sustain the initial steps taken to establish a local research agenda at Atoifi Hospital. It is our experience that embedding mutuality throughout the research capacity strengthening process has had great benefit and may also benefit researchers from more resourced and less resourced countries wanting to partner in research capacity strengthening activities.

Recent Publications from Atoifi

Massey PD, Wakageni J, Kekeubata E, Maena'adi J, Laete'esafi J, Waneagea J, Fangaria G, Jimuru C, Houaimane M, Talana J, MacLaren D, Speare R. TB questions, East Kwaio answers: community-based participatory research in a remote area of Solomon Islands. Rural and Remote Health 2012;12:2139.

Redman-MacLaren ML, MacLaren DJ, Asugeni R, Fa’anuabae CE, Harrington H, Muse A, Speare R, Clough AR. “We can move forward”: challenging historical inequity in public health research in Solomon Islands. International Journal for Equity in Health 2010;9:25.

Redman-MacLaren M, MacLaren DJ, Harrington H, Asugeni R, Timothy-Harrington R, Kekeubata E, Speare R. Mutual research capacity strengthening: a qualitative study of two-way partnerships in public health research. International Journal for Equity in Health 2012;11:79. doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-79

Redman-MacLaren ML, MacLaren DJ, Solomon J, Muse A, Asugeni R, Harrington H, Ketuabata E, Speare R, Clough AR. Research workshop to research work: initial steps in establishing health research systems on Malaita, Solomon Islands. Health Research Policy and Systems 2010;8:33.

Posted 21 December 2012 by Rick Speare