More About the HSRC
The HSRC has a strong corporate support structure incorporating research and administrative functions such as finances, human resources, a computer centre providing data management services for research and operational management, a modern library with dedicated information services, and a section supporting publications and product sales.
The organisation has a presence in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. Through its different offices, the HSRC is able to forge excellent links with local institutions of higher learning, government and non-government organisations and international donor organisations active in all the provinces of South Africa.
Survey work undertaken by the HSRC may employ a variety of methods. Scientifically designed samples are at the heart of ensuring representative data. Using the latest census data and employing the services of noted sampling experts, the HSRC samples are noted for their scientific quality.
Fieldwork or market research houses are invited to submit tenders in response to our calls for proposals, and on a competitive basis. Strong HSRC involvement is maintained throughout to ensure adherence to research quality and ethical guidelines.
Where specialised research is undertaken (e.g. national surveys on socio-cultural and behavioural aspects of HIV/AIDS, classroom observation and school-based surveys), our own researchers are involved in the selection and training of fieldworkers, and as members of fieldwork teams. Where biological measures are taken from individuals and analysed, the HSRC subcontracts with other organisations such as the Medical Research Council (MRC), universities, and laboratories around the country. Qualitative research methods include focus groups, in-depth interviews, and observation.
Project management and quality assurance
The HSRC is a professional, service-oriented organisation, which is held accountable to clients and the public sector through the professional work standards upheld by staff. Its research work is carried out in accordance with the principles underlying a Council-approved Code of Research Ethics, and a Code of Business Ethics.
In terms of specific project (assignment) management and quality control procedures, the following are in place:
- Selection and appointment of suitably qualified staff per assignment
- Appointment of project leader accountable for overall performance and delivery according to contract requirements
- An operational and regularly audited project management system according to which achievement of performance objectives and due financial management are monitored by project
- Quality control of projects and project leaders is the responsibility of executive directors, who report to the CEO. The CEO of the HSRC is legally accountable for the overall performance of the organisation (cf. HSRC Act)
HSRC research focuses on people, and the bulk of the information and data gathered is accordingly likely to be of a personal nature to the participants in the research. Researchers and the research leadership in the HSRC are very aware of ethical considerations related to research with human subjects, and these concerns are built into planning and review process of all research proposals.
The execution and completion of research projects are also carefully monitored to make sure that HSRC researchers, as well as project collaborators, adhere to the highest ethical standards.
The organisation drew up a Research Code in 1987, which was amended in 1993. In 1997, the Research Code was further revised and a Code of Research Ethics was published. In 2006 the Code of Ethics replaced the 1998 Code of Business Ethics.
Where formal ethical clearance of research proposals are required, such proposals are submitted to established ethics committees for research on human subjects in South Africa, that are also accredited institutional review boards in South Africa.
A Research Ethics Committee was established on 27 November 2002, with Prof. Peter Cleaton-Jones as chairperson - one of the most experienced medical ethics experts in the country. He recently completed a term as chairperson of the Medical Research Council's ethics committee and has close to three decades of experience in the area. (Click here for the REC membership list.)
Since 2003 the Committee examines and approves all research projects in advance.
It was decided that ethical approval would be given to project proposals for a three-year period, after which extensions will be granted if required. A fixed timescale is apparently a pre-requisite for international acceptance.
The Research Ethics Committee also agreed, in the interim, to use the Medical Research Council's recently-published Guidelines on Ethics for Medical Research as its blueprint for decision-making. These guidelines will be adapted, in time, as the REC responds to the HSRC's specific needs.