BMC Medical Research Methodology

Telephone peer recruitment and interviewing during a respondent-driven sampling (RDS) survey: feasibility and field experience from the first phone-based RDS survey among men who have sex with men in Côte d’Ivoire



Maxime Inghels, Arsène Kra Kouassi, Serge Niangoran, Anne Bekelynck, Séverine Carillon, Lazare Sika, Mariatou Koné, Christine Danel, Annabel Desgrées du Loû & Joseph Larmarange for the research team ANRS 12323 DOD-CI



Many respondent-driven sampling (RDS) methodologies have been employed to investigate hard-to-reach populations; however, these methodologies present some limits. We describe a minimally investigated RDS methodology in which peer recruitment and interviewing are phone-based. The feasibility of the methodology, field experiences, validity of RDS assumptions and characteristics of the sample obtained are discussed.


We conducted a phone-based RDS survey among men who have sex with men (MSM) aged 18 or above and living in Côte d’Ivoire. Eight initial MSM across Côte d’Ivoire were selected. Participants were asked to call a hotline to be registered and interviewed by phone. After the participants completed the questionnaire, they were asked to recruit a maximum of 3 MSM from their acquaintances.


During the 9 months of the survey, 576 individuals called the hotline, and 518 MSM completed the questionnaire. The median delay between the invitation to participate and the completion of the questionnaire by peer-recruited MSM was 4 days [IQR: 1–12]. The recruitment process was not constant, with high variation in the number of people who called the hotline during the survey period.

RDS chain convergence to equilibrium was reached within 6 waves for most of the selected variables. For the network size estimation assumption, participants who incorrectly estimated their network size were observed.

Regarding the sample obtained, MSM were recruited from all the regions of Côte d’Ivoire with frequent interregional recruitment; 23.5% of MSM were recruited by someone who does not live in the same region. Compared to the MSM who participated in two other surveys in Côte d’Ivoire, the MSM in our sample were less likely to know about an MSM non-governmental organisation. However, MSM aged 30 years old and above and those with a low level of education were underrepresented in our sample.


We show that phone-based RDS surveys among MSM are feasible in the context of sub-Saharan Africa. Compared to other classical RDS survey methodologies, the phone-based RDS methodology seems to reduce selection bias based on geography and proximity with the MSM community. However, similar to other methodologies, phone-based RDS fails to reach older and less-educated MSM.