Use Primary and Secondary Research

Part 2 > Essential Element 1 > Use Primary and Secondary Research

To understand the context and root causes of the problem, start with a review of secondary research—information that has been collected by other researchers or organizations. The advantage of secondary research is that it is already completed. You do not have to spend time or resources conducting the research.

The disadvantage is that you might not be able to find secondary research that answers your specific questions about your intended audience. If that is the case, you will probably need to supplement with primary research; that is, information that you collect yourself.

Depending on the questions you have, you may conduct your primary research with any number of people, such as:

  • Youth
  • Parents and/or other caregivers
  • Other family members, including aunts/uncles, siblings, spouses and in-laws
  • Friends and peers

  • Health providers
  • Teachers and youth workers
  • Other community members
  • Community leaders

Important Concepts

Using Country-Level Data

A country-level study like a Demographic Health Survey (DHS) or census data is a good starting point, as long as it’s up to date. Many DHS studies collect information on SRH. These studies can separate the data by different variables, such as age, marital status, level of education and parity.

However, DHS only collects data for those ages 15 and over, living in a household. If your program focuses on younger adolescents or those living on the streets, you will need to look for alternative data sources. National-level data may also not provide information specific to your city.

Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Both primary and secondary research can be divided into two groups—quantitative and qualitative. Both types are helpful for answering the questions to plan your program.

Common Quantitative Methods

Quantitative research provides the “numbers” and is usually based on surveys with large, statistically representative groups of people. Quantitative research helps to understand how many people believe something or behave a certain way and which characteristics are related to each other.



Vital statistics

“Counts” or record keeping

Social media metrics

Webpage analytics

Media consumption studies

Common Qualitative Methods

Qualitative research is more descriptive and provides the “why” of an issue. It helps explain the issue from the point of view of the intended audience. It allows you to explore the reasons why they think or do what they do.


  Focus group discussions

In-depth interviews

Photo narrative

Content analysis

Case studies

Mapping exercises


Using Secondary Research

Reading through secondary information is a good place to start understanding the SRH problem and those affected by it. If you have Internet access, try searching for articles on your topic of interest and using the websites of large-scale datasets.

Information can also be collected from groups and organizations that conduct research and publish on SRH and youth. Search their websites or contact their local office for publications and reports. There also may be working groups in your city covering the SRH issue you are addressing that can provide information (i.e., oral or written reports) and may lead to potential partnerships.



Collecting Secondary Research

Brainstorm with your team. Work with co-workers to generate a list of all the organizations locally that might have collected data that could be helpful.

Take advantage of the benefits of the city. Working in urban environments often means being close to national-level information repositories (i.e., Ministry of Health [MOH], research groups, NGOs) and Internet access.

Use the most recent data (within the last five years). If you are not able to find recent data, use what you can find, update when possible and/or try to verify older data through your own research.

Similar studies can be helpful. Consider research that might have been conducted elsewhere on a similar topic or the segment of urban adolescents that you are interested in. If your organization has a chapter in another place or nearby countries, don’t forget to also reach out to them.

Use trusted sources of information.

  • Global organizations (e.g., UN agencies, international donor governments)
  • International non-governmental health organizations
  • National and community-based organizations
  • Researchers

  • Journals
  • Private sector
  • Government ministries
  • Service delivery organizations

Conducting Primary Research

You might find secondary research provides good overall information about urban adolescents across the country, but it might not provide enough detail about urban adolescents in particular locations or about particular groups of urban adolescents. You also might not find any data on the people who influence the behavior of your urban adolescents—parents and/or caregivers, siblings, spouses, in-laws, friends and peers, health care providers, teachers and more. You can conduct your own research to fill in these gaps. Conducting your own research allows you to customize for your intended audience and the specific information you need.

The questions below can help you identify whether you will need to conduct primary research:


Is there anything else you need to know for your program about your audience’s behaviors?
Is there anything else you need to know for your program about your audience’s attitudes, beliefs, values and perceptions?
For your program, do you need to know more about the barriers and drivers of behavior for your audience?
Do you see any contradictory information in the research you have gathered so far?
Do you think that the research you have gathered may have been biased in any way? 
For your program, do you need to know more about the key influences on behavior in your audience?
For your program, do you need to know more about the individuals who play an influential role in the lives of your audience?
Are there any important questions that could help you design or improve your program that have not been answered by the research you have gathered so far?

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above questions, it is likely that conducting primary research will help you gather the information you need to develop a successful SBCC program.

If you choose to do primary research, there are a variety of research methods you could use to gather more information and the Resource section at the end of this Essential Element provides some helpful reminders on how to conduct primary research.



Whenever possible, both qualitative and quantitative methods should be used to provide a complete picture.