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The integrity of biomedical research depends heavily on the quality of research data collected. In turn, data quality depends on processes of data collection, a task undertaken by frontline research staff in many research programmes in Africa and elsewhere. These frontline research staff often have additional responsibilities including translating and communicating research in local languages, seeking informed consent for study participation and maintaining supportive relationships between research institutions and study participants and wider communities. The level of skills that fieldworkers need to undertake these responsibilities clearly affects the quality of data collected, the ethics of research 'on the ground' and the short and long term acceptability of research.We organised an international workshop in Kenya in July 2014 to discuss the role of frontline staff in scientific research. A total of 25 field managers from 9 African countries and the UK met for 2.5 days to discuss the relationship between data quality and institutional performance management systems and how they affect career progression and supportive supervision policies of research frontline staff.From this workshop, and supporting an expanding literature on the role of fieldworkers in international health research, participants agreed that fieldworkers' roles present them with practical and ethical challenges that their routine training does not adequately prepare them for. We argue that the common and complex challenges facing fieldworkers should in part be addressed through increased investment and collaborative agreements across types of research institutions in Africa. We call for standardization of core elements of training for this critically important cadre of research staff who perform similar roles and encounter similar challenges in many African settings. Although many valuable training elements are offered in institutions, there is a need to develop broader, more grounded and innovative strategies to address complex realities for fieldworkers, and support the integrity and ethics of health research in these settings.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Med Ethics

Publication Date





Africa, Biomedical Research, Career Mobility, Cooperative Behavior, Ethics, Research, Health Personnel, Humans, Informed Consent, Investments, Job Satisfaction, Professional Competence, Quality Assurance, Health Care, Research Subjects, Staff Development