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The European men-who-have-sex-with-men internet survey (EMIS): design and methods

Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 2013, 10(4): 243-257 (doi: 10.1007/s13178-013-0119-4).

Authors: Peter Weatherburn; Axel J. Schmidt; Ford Hickson; David Reid; Rigmor C. Berg; Harm J. Hospers; Ulrich Marcus and The EMIS Network.

Abstract

Community-based opportunistic self-completion surveying for sexual health programming is common among men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) in Europe, being used to generate evidence of unmet prevention need, for behavioural surveillance and as a platform for advocating HIV precautions. However, comparing survey findings across Europe is difficult because of varying measures and recruitment designs, and surveying has not occurred in all countries. EMIS (the European Men-who-have-sex-with-men Internet Survey) aimed to develop a pan-European Internet survey on HIV-related male homosexual behaviours and prevention needs both to increase research capacity and to move towards harmonisation of existing systems. Six associated partners (APs) recruited another 77 collaborating partners from academia, public health and civil society across 35 countries. Partners’ existing MSM surveys were collected and collated, producing a meta-survey which was discussed by all partners through rotating round-tables at a 2-day summit. Survey development continued iteratively through user piloting and partner feedback until the English language content was agreed. Transfer to an online survey application was followed by further testing before on-screen translation into 24 other languages, final testing and sign-off. The project’s visual identity and promotional materials were developed in close collaboration with national leads, tailoring products to match country specific needs while maintaining an overall project identity. Five international MSM dating websites were contracted to send carefully crafted instant messages to members in a series of waves. The survey sought common ground with stakeholders and respondents by endorsing ‘the best sex with the least harm’ for MSM. Real-time monitoring of responses allowed targeted spending of the advertising budget to maximise coverage and depth of responses. Fieldwork occurred during June–August 2010. Over 184,469 responses were submitted of which 94.4 % were eligible. Partners in 38 countries were supplied with a national database of 100 or more respondents for national analysis and outputs, while the AP team proceeded on international comparisons among 174,209 respondents in 38 countries. EMIS demonstrated the feasibility of multi-country community-based MSM Internet surveying with limited public funding. The concept of ‘the best sex with the least harm’ provided a common ground for a diverse range of stakeholders to collaborate. Meaningful involvement of a large number of collaborators in the survey design, its visual identity and in promotional strategies ensured unprecedented coverage and depth of recruitment. Flexible planning was essential and a patchwork of recruitment was required across a range of commercial and community partners. Careful design, piloting and presentation ensured the survey was acceptable and had both authority and perceived community benefit.

Copyright © 2013, The Author(s)

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