Background: Recent literature on community intervention research stresses system change as a condition for durable impact. This involves highly participatory social processes leading to behavioural change.
Methods: Before launching the intervention in the Nicaraguan arm of Camino Verde, a cluster-randomised controlled trial to show that pesticide-free community mobilisation adds effectiveness to conventional dengue controls, we held structured discussions with leaders of intervention communities on costs of dengue illness and dengue control measures taken by both government and households. These discussions were the first step in an effort at Socialising Evidence for Participatory Action (SEPA), a community mobilisation method used successfully in other contexts. Theoretical grounding came from community psychology and behavioural economics.
Results: The leaders expressed surprise at how large and unexpected an economic burden dengue places on households. They also acknowledged that large investments of household and government resources to combat dengue have not had the expected results. Many were not ready to see community preventive measures as a substitute for chemical controls but all the leaders approved the formation of "brigades" to promote chemical-free household control efforts in their own communities.
Conclusions: Discussions centred on household budget decisions provide a good entry point for researchers to engage with communities, especially when the evidence showed that current expenditures were providing a poor return. People became motivated not only to search for ways to reduce their costs but also to question the current response to the problem in question. This in turn helped create conditions favourable to community mobilisation for change.
Trial registration: ISRCTN27581154 .
Keywords: Community cost-benefit discussions; Community intervention research; Socialising evidence for participatory action.