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BMC Public Health. 2014 Sep 6;14:922. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-922.

Co-interviewing across gender and culture: expanding qualitative research methods in Melanesia.

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College of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University, McGregor Rd, Smithfield, Cairns, Australia.



The social and cultural positions of both researchers and research participants influence qualitative methods and study findings. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), as in other contexts, gender is a key organising characteristic and needs to be central to the design and conduct of research. The colonial history between researcher and participant is also critical to understanding potential power differences. This is particularly relevant to public health research, much of which has emerged from a positivist paradigm. This paper describes our critical reflection of flexible researcher responses enacted during qualitative research in PNG.


Led by a senior male HIV researcher from PNG, a male from a PNG university and a female from an Australian university conducted qualitative interviews about faith-based responses to HIV in PNG. The two researchers planned to conduct one-on-one interviews matching gender of participants and interviewer. However, while conducting the study, four participants explicitly requested to be interviewed by both researchers. This experience led us to critically consider socially and culturally situated ways of understanding semi-structured interviewing for public health research in Melanesia.


New understandings about public health research include: (i) a challenge to the convention that the researcher holds more power than the research participant, (ii) the importance of audience in Melanesia, (iii) cultural safety can be provided when two people co-interview and (iv) the effect an esteemed leader heading the research may have on people's willingness to participate. Researchers who occupy insider-outsider roles in PNG may provide participants new possibilities to communicate key ideas.


Our recent experience has taught us public health research methods that are gender sensitive and culturally situated are pivotal to successful research in Melanesia. Qualitative research requires adaptability and reflexivity. Public health research methods must continue to expand to reflect the diverse worldviews of research participants. Researchers need to remain open to new possibilities for learning.

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