Commencing in January 2012, this 2-year Wellcome Trust funded research project is being led by Professor Nicola Lowe at the University of Central Lancashire in collaboration with academics both in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, and is facilitated through the Abaseen Foundation. Jirga is a local cultural institution composed of male elders which is widespread in Pakistan and involved with conflict resolution as well as community development. The objectives of this qualitative research study are to understand how the Jirga works, establish if it has potential for engaging communities in public health research and to develop an intervention with community members to improve maternal, infant and child health outcomes. Currently, a 4-month behavioural change communication intervention is being implemented in a brick kiln community 20 kilometres south east of Peshawar to increase community uptake of iodised salt.
What Issues is the project addressing?
The Abaseen Foundation is dedicated to addressing the huge social and health needs that exist in North West Pakistan. For any intervention to have a lasting impact it is essential that they are deeply rooted in the local community. The ‘Jirga’ is an existing form of decision making in the local community and operates in the border tribal regions in North West Pakistan and Afghanistan. The project will evaluate the Jirga, assess how far it can be used to help engage the local community in important research and explore whether there are elements of the Jirga Model that can be used in other areas of work.
What are the opportunities?
The Jirga is a Pukhtun term for a decision making assembly of male elders. Traditionally the Jirga is used for conflict resolution, information dissemination and gathering, alliance building, forum to find solutions to problems and means of peace keeping. Experiential evidence also suggests that local Jirgas are equally essential means to the successful development of research in the area, as they enable the full collaboration of local communities.
The primary objective of this project is to generate understanding about the mechanisms of the Jirga system as a culturally embedded route for community engagement and explore its potential for community engagement in research. This project will utilise qualitative and quantitative research methods to a) generate understanding about the model; b) evaluate its applicability to engagement in research and c) explore the degree of transferability of the certain functions of the model to other contexts. In a context of poverty and considerable health and social care needs, there are sizeable challenges attached to engaging people in a research agenda. The Abaseen Foundation approach is unique, in that it seeks to capitalise on a local culturally embedded means of community engagement to introduce research in a community.
How is the project being delivered?
A project team has been employed on the ground to engage with the local community. In the first part of the project researchers will explore, observe and document the operation of the Jirga, including membership criteria, community consultation and decision making process (‘how does the Jirga work?’). In this exploratory phase the research takes place in ‘natural’ settings where people’s actions and accounts are studied in everyday contexts. Data will be gathered mainly through participant observation and informal conversations.
The second part of the research will hold a series of Focus Groups to assess how the Jirga could work in engaging local communities in public health research. The final part of the research will enable a more quantitative analysis of the effectiveness of the Jirga model in identifying key public health related concerns of the community, and suggesting possible intervention strategies to improve community health and wellbeing.
The project started in October 2011 and ran for 2 years.