Background: Vignettes are short stories about a hypothetical person, traditionally used within research (quantitative or qualitative) on sensitive topics in the developed world. Studies using vignettes in the developing world are emerging, but with no critical examination of their usefulness in such settings. We describe the development and application of vignettes to a qualitative investigation of barriers to uptake of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) HIV services in rural Tanzania in 2012, and critique the successes and challenges of using the technique in this setting.
Methods: Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) group activities (3 male; 3 female groups from Kisesa, north-west Tanzania) were used to develop a vignette representing realistic experiences of an HIV-infected pregnant woman in the community. The vignette was discussed during in-depth interviews with 16 HIV-positive women, 3 partners/relatives, and 5 HIV-negative women who had given birth recently. A critical analysis was applied to assess the development, implementation and usefulness of the vignette.
Results: The majority of in-depth interviewees understood the concept of the vignette and felt the story was realistic, although the story or questions needed repeating in some cases. In-depth interviewers generally applied the vignette as intended, though occasionally were unsure whether to steer the conversation back to the vignette character when participants segued into personal experiences. Interviewees were occasionally confused by questions and responded with what the character should do rather than would do; also confusing fieldworkers and presenting difficulties for researchers in interpretation. Use of the vignette achieved the main objectives, putting most participants at ease and generating data on barriers to PMTCT service uptake. Participants' responses to the vignette often reflected their own experience (revealed later in the interviews).
Conclusions: Participatory group research is an effective method for developing vignettes. A vignette was incorporated into qualitative interview discussion guides and used successfully in rural Africa to draw out barriers to PMTCT service use; vignettes may also be valuable in HIV, health service use and drug adherence research in this setting. Application of this technique can prove challenging for fieldworkers, so thorough training should be provided prior to its use.