Public Engagement

The MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit has enjoyed the support of its host communities for over 20 years. Since the inception of the unit in 1992, community consent for all research activities was obtained from both civic and traditional leadership, and verbal or signed consent continues to be obtained at household and individual level. However, community-based surveillance work over a prolonged period rests on stable long-term relationships which need to be nurtured and fostered.


Primary relationships are between the  Unit’s Public Engagement Office (PEO), the  elected village Community Development Forums and the  indunas of the 28 villages in the study site.  The real public face of the Unit is it’s fieldworkers, who are trained to ensure that they are able to conduct informed consent and answer questions from potential participants with sensitivity.

An effective PEO , working together with the public, service providers, researchers, fieldworkers and management enable effective and appropriate community engagement with research.


  • To build an evidence base on an effective means of community partnership in a long term demographic surveillance site through:
  • Learning and adding value to research: enabling two way learning opportunities between researchers and community members, maintaining community willingness to participate in research, and ensuring dignity of research participants.
  • Information dissemination: enabling the research site community and service providers to have access to and make effective use of research results.
  • Networking and Community engagement: enabling effective and appropriate community participation in guiding and informing research processes in the site, and developing an appropriate participant support programme.

How does community governance work in the Agincourt HDSS study area?
The field site covers 28 administrative villages in the Bushbuckridge sub-district of the Ehlanzeni District of the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa.  Administrative villages are defined by the municipality and the traditional authorities.  (There are 31 research villages, as the former Mozambican villages have been given a unique status in the Agincourt database.  For more information about how number of villages has changed over the years, download this broadsheet). 13 of these villages fall under the Amashangana Traditional Council, 14 under the Jongilanga Traditional Council, 1 under the Hoxane Traditional Council. Although the political power of the traditional councils has decreased considerably since 1994, they are still respected leaders in the community, and are consulted on most matters affecting development.

Local governance operates at three levels – Municipal, Ward and Community Development Forum (CDF). There are 8 municipal wards represented in the Agincourt Field site, each of which has a ward councillor who is accountable to the municipal offices and to the CDF. Each village CDF is made up of two representatives from every Community Based Organisation in the village, and the Induna (Chief) as a representative of the Traditional Council. Before the CDF is formally recognised by the municipality, issues such as gender representation are investigated to ensure that it complies with government regulations concerning gender and disability representation. Each five villages elects a paid ward councillor two years after every national election for a five year term (renewable three times). This ward councillor, together with the ward council (one person from each of the 5 CDFs) represents village concerns to the municipality. The Indunas of each village meet at their respective Traditional Council offices once or twice a week.

All the CDFs, Indunas. Ward Councillors and local Municipal Officers in the field site are well known to the PEO team, and there is a good working relationship between the team and village leadership. The PEO meets with the CDFs when required either at the regular CDF meetings, or at a special CDF meeting requested by the PEO or by the CDF. If the PEO wants to meet with the Traditional Council, visits can be arranged on the day that all the Indunas have their regular joint meetings.

The PEO’s Interaction with Communities
Routine interaction includes informing village leaders and communities of forthcoming census updates and research projects, well-prepared feedback and discussion of research findings at village meetings, village leadership meetings and clinics and regular production of village “fact sheets” to support local development initiatives. Example of a village fact sheet.  Household fact sheets are also given to each household during the annual updates – click here for an example of the one for the whole HDSS.  Each village also has their own household fact sheet. The most recent fact sheets for each village are to be found at the end of this page. Contributions from all research projects conducted in the site are an expectation. Example of a research project fact sheet. All village fact sheets and research project facts sheets are translated prior to circulation in the community.

Each research project has to be approved by the Wits Ethics Research Committee on Human Subjects, and also has to be approved by the Mpumalanga Province Health Dept Ethics Committee. These committees are particularly concerned with the consent forms that are used in each project, reasons for the research, and real and potential benefits to the community. Informed consent is either verbal or written, and the field workers are thoroughly trained in the implementation of informed consent prior to each project.

All research projects that are conducted in the field site have to ask formal permission to undertake the research activities from the CDF, the Induna and the community of the villages in which they want to work. We approach the CDF to ask them to call a community meeting at which the research will be presented to the community at large. The date and time of the meeting is set by the CDF. The research team explains the research question and methodology at the meeting, and time is allowed for the community to ask questions. The annual census is also introduced to the community every year, in the same manner.

CAG 2013

CAG at workshop, May 2013

Since 2007, a voluntary Community Advisory Board (CAB), with a representative from each village and each health committee in the study has been running. The CAB was responsible for reporting community based problems regarding that research project to the PEO, and assists greatly in calling village leadership and general village meetings.This CAB meets once a month, and its main role is to be the eyes and ears of the unit in the community, and represent community concerns to the unit. The CAB also gives comment in informed consents and questionnaires for any research project requiring such input.

There is a strong commitment to official feedback and collaboration with relevant public sector departments and local government in the Mpumalanga province (including district and provincial departments of health and welfare, education and environmental affairs; the District Community Development Office; and the local municipal offices).

Every project, including the annual census, gives feedback on their results to the relevant communities both reporting on the progress of the reserach and on the results once the research has been completed and the data analysed. Village fact sheets are distributed to village leadership and service providers every year. Again the CDF organises a meeting to which the whole community is invited. Statistics kept from the last four annual census feedback meetings show that numbers of people attending these community feedback meetings is steadily increasing, indicating that the community finds these meetingsJeff at community meeting useful. The community feedback sessions involve not only provision of the research data, but also health promotion around the topic researched, in verbal as well as written form. Experts on the health promotion topic to be discussed are called in to run these health promotion sessions, or to training the field workers to run the health promotion. Short one-page summaries of the research results are also given to the CDFs.

Since 2002, the PEO compiles and updates information directories on development, education and home-based care resources for the use of community leaders, local organizations and researchers.

Benefits of the Public Engagement Office (PEO) to the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit
The PEO supports the HDSS and projects nested in the HDSS through:

  1. Assisting in ensuring that socially responsible research occurs in the site
  2. Maintaining a village leadership and service provider database
  3. Developing an effective research result feedback process on local, district and provincial levels
  4. Monitoring and evaluating the use of the data at these levels
  5. Ensuring that appropriate community entry is undertaken for all projects


Services offered to projects

  • Advise on community entry
  • Running community entry (after ethics approval)
  • Community, local, district and provincial service provider feedback
  • Report on community entry and feedback


Services requested from projects

  • Ethics certificates
  • Community entry letter
  • Fact sheets
  • Answers to FAQs

Village fact sheets

The village fact sheet for 2020 for the WHOLE of the Agincourt HDSS
2018 Village Fact Sheet

2020 Village Fact Sheet

The village fact sheets for 2020.

Agincourt main-factsheet-2020
All villages main-factsheet-2020
Belfast main-factsheet-2020
Croquetlawn main-factsheet-2020
Croquetlawn B main-factsheet-2020
Cunningmore A main-factsheet-2020
Cunningmore B main-factsheet-2020
Dumphries A main-factsheet-2020
Dumphries B main-factsheet-2020
Dumphries C main-factsheet-2020
Huntington main-factsheet-2020
Ireagh A main-factsheet-2020
Ireagh B main-factsheet-2020
Ireagh C main-factsheet-2020
Justicia A main-factsheet-2020
Khaya Lami main-factsheet-2020
Kidare A main-factsheet-2020
Kildare B main-factsheet-2020
Kumani main-factsheet-2020
Lillydale A main-factsheet-2020
Lillydale B main-factsheet-2020
Makaringe main-factsheet-2020
MP Stream main-factsheet-2020
Newington B main-factsheet-2020
Newington C main-factsheet-2020
Rolle C main-factsheet-2020
Somerset A main-factsheet-2020
Somerset C main-factsheet-2020
Xanthia main-factsheet-2020