There are specific challenges and benefits from involving several centres in a single research study, which is called multi-site research. When numbers of potential participants are limited (eg, the problem under study is not common) or if recruitment and retention is likely to be difficult for other reasons, a multi-site approach makes it more likely that the study will be able to recruit and retain enough participants to provide a valid answer the question.
The other significant benefit is that new researchers have an opportunity to work with, and be mentored by, experienced researchers and clinicians from multiple disciplines and to contribute to rigorous studies.
Multi-site approaches may be used for qualitative psychosocial studies aiming to learn about a diverse range of experiences, clinical trials that need large sample sizes, and also for health services research which looks at different ways of organising services. However, issues to do with managing research, ensuring consistent processes and high quality data, and having clear communication processes between researchers, become absolutely critical in a multi-site trial.
Specific processes are used in most multisite research studies to deal with these challenges - they include start-up meetings for each research site, where the protocol and all the associated processes are gone through, research management committees involving research staff from all sites at which issues are identified and dealt with, a range of regular review processes for each site, and use of shared Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which provide a detailed manual for how research is done.
Within a research collaborative where sites are used to working with each other, the processes become easier over time. However for any new collaboration, researchers need to be aware that there is a significant amount of set-up work involved in dealing with these issues.
Last updated 11 January 2018