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Mutual research capacity strengthening: a qualitative study of two-way partnerships in public health research

Michelle Redman-MacLaren1*, David J MacLaren2, Humpress Harrington3, Rowena Asugeni4, Relmah Timothy-Harrington3, Esau Kekeubata5 and Richard Speare67

Author Affiliations

1 School of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia

2 School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia

3 Atoifi College of Nursing, East Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands

4 Atoifi Adventist Hospital, East Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands

5 Community Chief, East Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands

6 School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

7 Tropical Health Solutions, Townsville, Australia

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2012, 11:79  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-79

Published: 18 December 2012



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.

Capacity building; Research capacity strengthening; Health research; Solomon Islands; Atoifi Adventist Hospital; Mutuality