Qualitative Health Research Network


Rapid qualitative research in complex health emergencies training course

This page provides information on our 'Rapid qualitative research in complex health emergencies' training course.

Course summary

Humanitarian systems responding to complex health emergencies need and require evidence-based solutions to address contemporary problems and to help establish sustainable health systems for preventing future crises. Health emergencies facing the world today are complex and intertwined. Climate change has led to a rapid increase in natural disasters which in turn significantly increases the risk for civil conflict. At the time of this writing, there are multiple violent conflicts and civil wars occurring across the Americas, Middle East, Africa and Asia which are contributing not only to civilian deaths but also collapsing healthcare systems. A highly mobile and interconnected world has led to unprecedented potential for the rapid spread of infectious pathogens such as Ebola and vector-borne diseases such as Zika. The rapid spread of rumors and misinformation through social media sources (among others) has led to a rise in vaccine refusal and the subsequent increase in vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio. Inability of vaccinators to enter conflict zones has disrupted other routine childhood vaccinations leading to generations of at-risk children. The size and scale of these events threatening human health demand innovative qualitative methodologies along with a new generation of researchers prepared to implement them.

This course aims to provide attendees with the skills required to implement rapid qualitative research approaches in the context of complex health emergencies. The workshop will include a combination of interactive lectures, debates, hands-on exercises and self-study. Participants will learn to apply and adapt rapid qualitative methods to health emergencies through critical appraisal of the literature and contemporary case studies. Use of personal topics of interest as it directly applies to the humanitarian system is encouraged. This course will require preparatory reading (to be sent to attendees a few weeks before the course). A suggested list of additional reading materials will be provided at the end of the course for continuing self-study along with a ‘toolkit’ of methodological sources as developed by experts in the field.

Course aims

  1. Introduce participants to specific research approaches which can be used before, during and after acute phases of a health emergency
  2. Discuss importance of local partners for building community resilience and sustainable health systems
  3. Discuss challenges and ethical implications of conducting research in an emergency setting
  4. Improve skills in the dissemination and application of research findings to relevant humanitarian actors (i.e. research findings uptake)

Course content

  • Designing research questions and objectives on the basis of humanitarian operational needs
  • Overview of rapid qualitative research approaches which can be used during a health emergency (innovation and adaptation of methods to the humanitarian context)
  • The combination of rapid research with other types of data regularly collected by international humanitarian actors and local partners
  • The role of qualitative research during an emergency (‘Am I a data collector or a risk communicator’?)
  • Dissemination of findings to appropriately guide and inform response, preparedness, prevention and control efforts


Attendees will be encouraged to attend the course with a specific topic/project in mind

About the instructor

Dr Ginger Johnson

Dr Ginger A. Johnson is a Medical Anthropologist who has conducted research in East, West, and Southern Africa, North and Southeast Asia, and in the Middle East and North Africa on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Population Services International (PSI) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She was embedded in West Africa with the IFRC during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and is currently a member of the Outbreak Research Team at the Institute of Tropical Medicine.