Monday 17 December 2018

M7: Respondent-Driven Sampling

Respondent-driven sampling (RDS) is a recently developed method used to sample hidden and hard to reach populations such as injecting drug users, commercial sex workers, and men who have sex with men. As a variant of a chain-referral sampling, it does not require the development of a sampling frame.  Rather, RDS uses a coupon referral system whereby target group members recruit each other through their social networks. Once data is obtained, it is analysed with RDS Analysis Tool (RDSAT), specially designed software that accounts for the snowball-like initial selection of respondents and uses a weighing system in order for an RDS-obtained sample to be considered probabilistic and representative of the social network the sample was recruited from. Since its development in the late 1990s, it has been widely used for surveillance purposes, and it has proved to be very successful in recruiting the abovementioned populations.

Learning objectives

This course aims to provide participants with practical skills and theoretical knowledge to implement a population-based survey using respondent-driven sampling. After the course, participants will become familiar with the method, and should be able to create a basic design of an RDS bio-behavioural survey.

Key topics

The course provides the theories, assumptions and requirements required to use RDS in a variety of field settings. Course facilitators describe all the steps involved in organising and implementing an RDS survey. Following topics are covered:

  • conducting formative research and pre-surveillance assessment
  • establishing collaboration with high-risk groups and the community
  • selection of initial recruits (known as seeds)
  • organisation of the study site(s)
  • determination and provision of primary and secondary incentives
  • screening participants for eligibility
  • roles and responsibilities of site staff
  • HIV and STI tests
  • RDS data and coupon management
  • documentation and collection of biological and/or behavioural data
  • data analysis with Respondent-Driven Sampling Analysis Tool (RDSAT)
  • field examples of the advantages and challenges associated with implementing RDS

Teaching Methods

The course consists of lectures, exercises and presentations. Participants are supposed to be actively involved in all parts of the course. They are expected to work together to develop protocols for implementing an RDS survey in a chosen high-risk group. This protocol can be used as a template for an actual RDS study and for obtaining approval from local ethical review boards. At the end of the course, participants have the opportunity to present an outline of the protocol of their proposed study. Participants will also receive literature on RDS and a CD with all the lectures and exercises.

Target Audience

Epidemiologists, social scientists, public health professionals.


The course takes place in five days.


  • University of Tulane, USA
  • Institute for Global Health, University of California, San Francisco,
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA)
  • Iskorak - Sexual and gender minorities rights centre, Zagreb, Croatia
  • University Hospital for Infectious Diseases "Dr.  Fran Mihaljevic", Zagreb, Croatia

Download the Programme:

Programme - Respondent-Driven Sampling.doc

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