Our Work

Customizing a Tool to Collect Complex Network Data among HIV-positive Youth in South Africa (2017-2018)


2017-09-01 02:46:13 - 2018-06-30 02:46:13

Project Objectives

HIV-positive youth repeatedly demonstrate lower levels of retention in HIV care and adherence to antiretroviral therapy compared to older adults. Developing evidence-based interventions to improve HIV care and engagement in this population will require an in-depth understanding of factors shaping retention and adherence behaviors from multiple levels of influence.

Developmental theories suggest that youth are particularly sensitive to and motivated by the social networks in which they are embedded. However, no studies have assessed the social networks of HIV-positive youth in South Africa. This is likely because of the enormous methodological challenges historically involved in collecting and analyzing such complex data. Recent technological innovations facilitate the collection and analysis of complex network data, though customizing newly created tools to collect network data among HIV-positive youth in South Africa will require an interdisciplinary approach.
The goal of this Bass Connections project is to customize and pilot a network data capture tool to collect data on the social networks of HIV-positive youth in South Africa.

In order to inform the development of the tool, the project team will first aim to understand the potential types of social networks (e.g., social support networks, disclosure networks, sexual networks) that should be assessed. Team members will explore literature on adolescent/youth health, gender and culture in South Africa, social network influence on health behaviors and stigma and barriers of adherence to antiretroviral therapy among youth.

With guidance from the Duke University Network Analysis Center, this project team will customize an existing open-source network data capture tool called NetworkCanvas for use in the South African context. NetworkCanvas was developed by researchers at Northwestern University to study the social networks of young men who have sex with men. The tool has many benefits including an interactive touchscreen interface and a user-centered design. However, it has not yet been utilized in international settings and is built to handle only certain types of traditional data. Thus, the team will customize the tool to capture complex data on the various social networks of HIV-positive youth.

In Cape Town, South Africa, the team will pilot the tool with 10-15 HIV-positive youth. This will allow team members to collect complex network data of up to 40 network members (and the relationships between them) for each participant.

Immediately after piloting the tool with a participant, team members will solicit feedback from that participant on his/her user experience to see whether the instrument can be further improved. The team will also ask questions about participants' social networks more qualitatively, to assess whether the tool conducted a comprehensive network inventory.

Traveling to Cape Town as a team will provide the opportunity to debrief in daily team meetings, immediately implement changes to the tool based on feedback and assess whether those changes are positively received by additional participants. Upon return, the team will analyze the network data collected from the participants to describe the structure and composition of these networks.
Published paper describing adaptation of network data capture tool, feasibility of using the tool with youth in South Africa and findings of pilot; adapted network data capture tool for use in future longitudinal research in South Africa

Project Opportunities

We seek to engage at least one doctoral student, one master's student and two undergraduate students. All team members will have the opportunity to travel to Cape Town.

The two undergraduate students (optimally, computer science majors or other undergraduates with familiarity and expertise with HTML and CSS) will apply computer programming skills to customize a network data capture tool for research in a global setting. They will have the opportunity to learn about gender and culture in the South African context and consider how those issues are related to HIV-related health issues among youth. The students will also be exposed to social network analysis methods and will learn how to construct network measures and to visualize multiplex (overlapping) networks.

The master's student (optimally, global health) will work closely with the team leader to prepare materials for review and discussion in the weekly team meetings. Since the Cape Town trip is a short field experience and would not fulfill fieldwork requirements for an MSc in Global Health student, we will explore possibilities for this student to expand on the team's activities during a 10-week field-based research experience.

The doctoral student (optimally, computer science) will gain leadership and management skills by serving as project manager and mentor to the undergraduate students. S/he will provide direct guidance to the undergraduates and be responsible for managing the shared repository (code review, bug tracking, integration).
Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

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