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5. Respondent-Driven Sampling

July 8, 2020 @ 12:00 am UTC+0

Respondent-driven sampling (RDS) is a method used to sample hidden and hard to reach populations such people who inject drugs, 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 Analyst (RDS-A), specially designed software that accounts for the snowball-like initial selection of respondents and uses a weighting system in order for an RDS-obtained sample to be considered  quasi-probabilistic and representative of the social network the sample was recruited from. Since its development in the late 1990s, RDS has been widely used for surveillance purposes, and it has proved to be very successful in recruiting key and vulnerable populations at risk of HIV.


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 communities at higher risk of HIV
  • 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 study staff and field team members
  • HIV, viral hepatitis and STI tests
  • RDS data and coupon management
  • documentation and collection of biological and/or behavioural data
  • data analysis with Respondent-Driven Sampling Analyst (RDS-A)
  • 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  develop a protocol for  an RDS survey in a chosen key population. This protocol can be used as a template for an actual RDS study. At the end of the course, participants have the opportunity to present an outline of the protocol.


Target Audience

Epidemiologists, social scientists, public health professionals.



The course takes place in five days.



  • Lisa Johnston, 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


Where was this course held:

  •  Zagreb, Croatia, several times
  •  Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •  Donetsk, Ukraine
  • Baku, Azerbaijan
  • Sudan, in several cities 
  • Yangon, Myanmar
  • Colombo, Sri Lanka 


July 8, 2020
12:00 am UTC+0
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