Collecting behavioral data

How do I conduct research on zoonotic diseases?

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Collecting behavioral data is a critical aspect of preparedness and response. There are several important considerations. First, succinct research questions will help clarify the scope of your study or surveillance activity. What are the most important questions you need answered in order to prevent and respond to a zoonotic disease? Which methodological approach – qualitative or quantitative – will produce the type of data you need to answer your research questions? Are there particular groups of people at risk, such as certain types of professional categories? Or are there certain groups of people who have a lot of influence with the communities of interest, such as media professionals or health workers? Where will we collect data?

Here we give an overview of these considerations for collecting data on zoonotic diseases, and then allow you to build a customized questionnaire that you can download.

A well-formulated research question should include who, where, and why/what. For example, why do animal health workers in the Sikasso region of Mali not wear personal protective equipment when interacting with animals? Or what is the prevalence of animal health workers in the Sikasso region of Mali who wear personal protective equipment when interacting with animals? A study may have multiple research questions.

Qualitative and quantitative approaches are both useful for understanding behavioral drivers of zoonotic diseases. The approach you choose depends on your research questions. If you want to know why people behave the way they do or what people perceive to be the advantages and disadvantages of given behaviors, like in the first example research question (why do animal health workers in the Sikasso region of Mali not wear personal protective equipment when interacting with animals?), a qualitative approach is most appropriate. If you want to know the prevalence of given behaviors within a population or which behavioral drivers are most strongly associated with behavior like in the second example research question (what is the prevalence of animal health workers in the Sikasso region of Mali who wear personal protective equipment when interacting with animals?), then a quantitative approach is most appropriate.

The research question defines the study participants. In both example research questions the participants are animal health workers in the Sikasso region of Mali. Sampling strategies will differ based on the study methodology and whether it is quantitative or qualitative. For a qualitative study, participants are often purposively selected to include as wide a variety of perspectives as possible. For example, if there are different types of animal health workers in the Sikasso region of Mali, you might purposively seek out both male and female representatives each type of animal health worker from one or several urban and rural locations within the Sikasso region. For a quantitative study, participants are often selected to be representative of the study population. In this case, you might work with the Ministry and other professional associations to compile a list of all the animal health workers in the Sikasso region and then randomly select participants from that list to survey.

The research question(s) also defines the study sites (pertinent geographic areas) which often depends on where a project plans to implement behavior change interventions. Common ways of defining study sites include naming the population of interest in specific urban or rural locations or administrative units (municipalities, regions, nations), for example, slaughterhouse workers in the two most populous cities in Cameroon (Douala and Yaoundé); poultry farmers in Kongo Central, Democratic Republic of Congo; hunters in Sierra Leone; or human health workers in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Liberia.

Between 2019 and 2022, Breakthrough ACTION, a USAID-funded project implemented by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP), collected qualitative data in six countries to examine the individual behaviors and beliefs related to these diseases: Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The cross-national research team worked to identify the key behaviors and possible multilevel determinants, ultimately producing a set of guides that could be tailored for specific sub-populations and diseases of interest. The qualitative questions in the table below come from those studies. The use of these guides has produced fascinating and actionable data and we have refined and improved the questions with each study.

CCP has a long history of collecting quantitative data through survey questions informed by behavioral theories such as the Ideation framework, the Health Belief Model, the Theory of Planned Behavior and the Extended Parallel Process Model. The quantitative items in the table are standard questions arising from theories of behavior change that are tailored to zoonotic diseases by drawing on the formative qualitative research CCP conducted. They consider knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, self-efficacy, perceived norms, and socioeconomic factors. While these questions have been used to explore a variety of health domains, the extent to which they have been tested and validated for zoonotic diseases varies. We offer them here with this caveat, and in the hope that our team and the users of this site will have opportunities to test, validate, and improve these questions in a variety of settings.

All of these elements of your study design can be summarized in a research protocol, which should undergo ethical review by an ethical review board. Each country typically has one or more ethical review boards that review protocols for public health research.

The following table allows you to select the disease or behavior of interest and then view suggested qualitative and quantitative questions. You can then download the filtered table. A note that our knowledge about these diseases is constantly evolving, and these questions have been tagged by disease based on the best current literature. Find links to the most updated WHO fact sheets.

How to Use this Table

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Read the background and frequently asked questions on collecting data.

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Use filters to build your customized questionnaire. Select one or more diseases, one approach, and one population.

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Once you have applied the filters, download your customized questionnaire.

ZBRA Research Tools

HPAI=highly pathogenic avian influenza
CCHF=Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever

ZBRA Research Tools French

GAHP=grippe aviaire hautement pathogène
FHCC=fièvre hémorragique de Crimée-Congo