Pilot studies in health research
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Slide 1 :
Pilot studies Dr. Edwin van Teijlingen & Dr. Vanora Hundley
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Contact details E. van Teijlingen Public Health University of AberdeenMedical SchoolAberdeen AB25 2ZDScotland, UK email@example.com V. Hundley Honorary Senior Lecturer, NMAHP Research Unit, University of Stirling Stirling, Scotland, UK firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pilot studies refer to: mini versions of a full-scale study (also called 'feasibility' studies); pre-testing of particular research instrument (e.g. a questionnaire or interview schedule).
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Pilot studies background Get advance warning about where the main research project could fail, where protocols may not be followed, or whether proposed methods and/or instruments are inappropriate, unacceptable to potential participants or too complicated.
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Pilot studies background In the words of De Vaus (1993: 54): "Do not take the risk. Pilot test first." De Vaus, D.A. (1993), Surveys in Social Research (3rd edn.), London: UCL Press.
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Developing and testing adequacy of research instruments; Assessing the feasibility of a (full-scale) study/survey; Designing a research protocol; Assessing whether the research protocol is realistic and workable; Establishing whether sampling frame and technique are effective; Assess the likely success of proposed recruitment approaches; Identifying logistical problems which might occur using proposed methods; Estimating variability in outcomes to help determining sample size; Establishing initial contact with potential research participants; Collecting preliminary data; Determining what resources (finance/staff) are needed for planned study/survey; Assessing the proposed data analysis techniques to uncover potential problems; Developing a research question and/or research plan; Training a researcher in as many elements of the research process as possible; Training students as part of education in research methods; Convincing funding bodies that research team is competent & knowledgeable; Convincing funding bodies that main study is feasible and worth funding; Convincing other stakeholders that main study is worth supporting. Reasons for conducting Pilot Studies
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Reasons for pilot studies Test instrument Test research protocol Training researcher/ Education Collect preliminary data Impress (potential) funders Est. initial contact with participants
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Reasons for pilot studies 1 Test instrument: individual questions possible answers (e.g. M.C.) order of questions colour of paper etc. etc.
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Reasons for pilot studies 2 Test research protocol: test way of questionnaire distribution test process of returning them to you test intervening factors (gate keepers, etc.) try out different incentives
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Reasons for pilot studies 3 Training researcher/ Education: Undergraduate & postgraduate training; Train new researcher on a study; Train researcher in new technique.
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Reasons for pilot studies 4 Est. initial contact with participants: Hard-to-reach populations, where you might have to rely on snowball sampling (e.g. drug misusers); Reluctant participants (e.g. policy makers); ……
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Pilot Studies in Qualitative Research 1 Piloting provides qualitative researcher with a "clear definition of the focus of the study" which in turn helps her to concentrate data collection on a narrow spectrum of projected analytical topics. Frankland J, Bloor M. Some issues arising in systematic analysis of focus group material, In: Barbour & Kitzinger (eds) Developing Focus Group Research: Politics, Theory & Practice, London: Sage, 1999, p. 154
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Pilot Studies in Qualitative Research 2 Common aim of a pilot study using a qualitative approach might be to pretest some of the research techniques to establish which are more suitable/ useful for conducting in-depth studies in various groups of key people at a later stage.
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Qualitative pilot studies I Qualitative approaches do not need separate pilots, because of its flexible nature. E.g. an interviewer conducting ten focus groups will listen to recordings or read through transcripts of first few groups to improve questions, or ways of introducing issues into the group. Thus although there is no specific pilot study, analysis of the earlier focus groups may help improve the later ones.
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Qualitative pilot studies II Conduct a few pilot interviews. E.g. student can practise pilot interviews on friends, family or flat mates. Supervisor, listening to recording or reading transcripts, can give advice to student on how to improve interview style.
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Pilot studies: limitations possibility of making inaccurate predictions or assumptions on the basis of pilot data; problems arising from contamination; funding related problems.
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Possible contamination This may arise in two ways: where data from the pilot study are included in the main results; where pilot participants are included in the main study, but new data are collected from these people.
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Funding pilot studies I If pilot study requires a significant investment of resources, this may make it difficult for researchers to stop the research after an unsuccessful pilot study. Researchers might be tempted to make changes in main study, rather than deciding that proposed study is not possible with available resources, time, population, etc.
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Funding pilot studies II Funding bodies may be reluctant to fund a further study if the pilot has been substantial as they may view the research as no longer original, especially if results from the pilot study are published in full.
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Reporting pilot studies I Often pilot studies are not reported at all; Often only justification of research methods and/or research tool used; Might only refer to one element of pilot, e.g. ‘pre-testing’ of a postal questionnaire.
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Reporting of pilot studies II Reporting both successful/failed pilots might help others embarking on projects using similar methods or instruments, as pilots can be: “time-consuming, frustrating, and fraught with unanticipated problems, but it is better to … deal with them before investing a great deal of time, money, and effort in the full study”. Mason & Zuercher (1995) Pilot studies in clinical nursing research. J NY State Nurs Assoc 26: 11.
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Reporting of pilot studies III Researchers have an ethical obligation to make the best use of their research experience by reporting issues arising from all parts of a study, including the pilot phase.
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Useful references Bowling A (1997) Research Methods in Health, Buckingham: Open Uni Press,p 232. De Vaus DA (1993) Surveys in Social Research (3rd edn) London: UCL Press. Corbetta P. (2003) Social Research: Theory, Methods & Techniques, London: Sage, pp.148-49. Peat J et al. (2002), Health Science Research: A Handbook of Quantitative Methods, London: Sage. Teijlingen van, E., Hundley, V. (2001) The importance of pilot studies, Social Research Update Issue 35, http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk/sru/SRU35.html Teijlingen van E, Hundley V. (2005) Pilot studies in family planning andreproductive health care, J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care 31: 219-221.
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