Background: The changing health care environment presents both challenge and opportunity for STD programs. Program planners and staff need practical, low-threshold research tools and skills that help them obtain timely information on emerging trends, develop new partnerships, and engage new populations. Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) have a skill set that may be uniquely suited to carrying out rapid ethnographic assessment, a team-based, practical approach to collecting locally relevant qualitative data that can be used for program planning.
Methods: New Jersey STD program staff attended a 2-day workshop on rapid assessment techniques, including team-based interviewing, observation, field note expansion, and team debriefing. Immediately following the workshop, DIS conducted 24 semi-structured interviews and observations in 4 local health departments. CDC provided coaching, and assisted the STD program with qualitative data analysis and report writing. CDC evaluated the workshop and conducted follow up phone interviews with DIS and managers to solicit feedback about their experiences.
Results: Nineteen of 21 workshop participants completed evaluations. All (100%) agreed that the workshop met the objectives and provided an understanding of rapid assessment; a majority (84%) agreed that they learned new skills. Qualitative interviews indicated that DIS saw value in “hearing directly” from partners about activities and challenges; most felt they obtained new information they could use in their jobs; and said that debriefing sessions facilitated useful information sharing. Challenges included note-taking during interviews, establishing rapport, and feeling unprepared to answer questions about the overall project. DIS wanted more involvement in planning and more preparation time. Managers wanted more training in qualitative data analysis.
Conclusions: The assessment resulted in a written report that is being used by a planning workgroup. Training DIS to carry out focused, small-scale rapid assessments is feasible, expands on their existing skill set, and may be a good use of their time.