The social science department at Zambart is responsible for conducting social behavioural research studies with a bias towards qualitative research. The department conducts formative, as well as the more explorative and interpretative studies. Over the years, social science enquiry has formed the bulk of formative research preceding implementation of studies. Most of these have been large studies including community randomised trials for which social science findings have informed study design, randomisation, and community engagement approaches. During study and intervention implementation, social science enquiry has tended to be interpretive, examining the relationship between the study intervention, the context, and people. This enquiry has provided rich contextual data about how communities are experiencing the intervention, implementation challenges, suggestions to improve intervention implementation, and identification of further research areas to explore. More recently, social science research has been at the core of implementation science projects conducted by Zambart and partners, documenting intervention implementation and community responses to inform implementation adaptions.
The social science department has in the recent past conducted standalone social science studies independent of CRTs and other implementation science studies. These have focused on exploring emerging issues in adolescence health, HIV treatment and disclosure, stigma, impact of ART on disability, poverty, water and sanitation, and community engagement ethics. Other studies have focussed on exploring and adapting methodologies such as the broad-brush survey (BBS), qualitative cohorts and community ethnographic research. The department has also conducted consultancies with organisations such as UNICEF, and the Overseas Development Institute. It is staffed by a multidisciplinary team including social anthropology, social work, development studies, gender, education, and public administration. Consequently, the department employs a range of qualitative research data collection approaches including participant and non-participant observations, focus group discussions, interviews, qualitative cohort, photo voice, written or oral diaries, mystery shopper observations and vignettes. The department is led by Professor Virginia Bond.