About Participatory Epidemiology

There is no standard definition of participatory epidemiology (PE). Based on a review of veterinary uses of PE published in 2012, the following working definition was proposed:

Participatory epidemiology is the systematic use of participatory approaches and methods to improve understanding of diseases, and options for disease control. This definition refers to both a 'participatory approach' and 'participatory methods', indicating that an understanding of both apprach and methods are needed to define PE.

The term 'participatory' in PE refers to the essential involvement of communities in defining and prioritizing veterinary-related problems, and in the development of solutions to service delivery, disease control or surveillance. For some workers, the use of the term PE to describe activities that do not involve communities in these ways is viewed as a misnomer - meaningful community participation is an essential element of PE.

Some other important features of PE are:

  • Respect for local concerns and knowledge
    PE works on the principle that livestock keepers often possess detailed knowledge on animal diseases and can conduct their own problem analysis and research. Livestock workers can use PE as a stand-alone approach, or PE can be combined with conventional veterinary investigation and research methods.

  • Use of participatory methods
    The three main groups of participatory methods viz. informal interviews, visualisation and ranking/scoring methods, are all used in PE.

  • Triangulation
    The process of using different methods and sources of information to crosscheck findings. Triangulation in PE includes the use of secondary data, and conventional veterinary investigation and epidemiological methods.

Participatory epidemiology is a relatively new branch of epidemiology which is still developing. The approach is based on qualitative inquiry and complements the qualitative nature of standard veterinary investigation procedures. According to the needs of a given community or organisation, participatory epidemiology can also combine the benefits of participatory approaches and methods with quantitative inquiry.