17 March, 2020

Harmonizing Data

The Process of Developing Joint Research in a Large International Consortium

Male Speaker facing the audience at a podium giving a speech
Dr. Mark Butler Addressing the Consortium at the 3rd Annual TREIN/Hy-TREC Meeting in Guatemala

The purpose of the GRIT research consortium is to enhance capacity building efforts and the use of evidence-based interventions for non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention and control in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

An essential part of this capacity building effort is the process of sharing and harmonizing data between the members of our consortium. In typical research studies, the information obtained from a single project is viewed in isolation. That is, one particular study examines the effect of a particular intervention on selected outcomes in a single setting and resulting findings are interpreted in light of that particular setting. With the support of a consortium like GRIT, however, it is possible to synthesize information across multiple settings to better understand informative similarities and dissimilarities in outcomes achieved through various interventions in different contexts. This allows us to maximally leverage resources invested and information gained from each individual project.

Through data pooling and harmonization, we can begin to address questions such as:

  • Does the availability of resources, both tangible and intellectual, affect the delivery of an intervention designed to reduce blood pressure?
  • Is the sustainability of an NCD intervention influenced by national level policies implemented by the Ministry of Health?

In a consortium, researchers can pool their scientific expertise, intellectual resources and research data to begin to answer these questions in ways that research programs confined to a single location and single context cannot.

people sitting in seminar form listening to the speaker
Consortium Members listening to the annual data Harmonization update

While the pooling and harmonization of data is an important effort, it is not without difficulties. Each study uses methodologies and strategies to collect data and evaluate interventions that cater to a specific setting. This can lead to a multitude of methods and strategies. To create data that are comparable (i.e., so we can compare apples to apples), we must harmonize data and methods (i.e., identify comparable parameters for joint analysis). This process is challenging and requires dedicated effort and high levels of scientific rigor.

Data Harmonization Chairs and Vice-Chairs: Drs. Irazola (Guatemala) and Patel (India).

The Data Harmonization and Joint Research Sub-committee within the GRIT consortium is a group of representatives from each of our consortium member sites working to complete this difficult but important work. Coordinated by Mark Butler and Chaired by Dr. Vilma Irazola (Chair) and Dr. Shivani Patel (Vice-Chair), this sub-committee has worked to identify potential areas of overlap between the research projects in our consortium.

These efforts have taken the form of 2 initiatives:

  1. Harmonizing the implementation science measures among our 5 Hy-TREC study sites [Guatemala, India, Vietnam, Ghana and Kenya]
  2. Harmonizing the needs assessments among our 3 TREIN study sites [Nepal, Malawi, and Rwanda].

Through these two initiatives, we are trying to understand the context for each of our member sites and to examine how this context influences the delivery of evidence-based interventions for NCDs. By pooling data from multiple countries, we intend to examine how the varying context of the LMICs in our consortium influences the research and treatment of NCDs across a myriad of communities, 8 countries and 3 continents.

The Data Harmonization and Joint Research Sub-committee has already made a great deal of progress with both of these initiatives and we look forward to sharing our results with you in the near future.