This article describes the formative process of developing and implementing a Qualitative Evaluation Plan (QEP) for a large-scale, National Institute of Health (NIH) supported program: Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics — Underserved Populations (RADx-UP). RADx-UP includes over 137 projects in the United States that aim to ensure that all Americans have access to timely, accurate diagnostics for COVID-19, with a specific focus on populations the pandemic disproportionately affects. As part of a comprehensive, mixed-methods strategic evaluation plan, our team developed the QEP. We employed qualitative methods to understand RADx-UP academic and community partners’ experiences implementing community-engaged research strategies, and to understand how projects addressed COVID-19 outreach, testing, and response efforts in-depth. This paper describes how our evaluation team developed the QEP in three phases. Within these phases, we describe our processes related to planning the QEP, sampling from a diverse frame of projects, creating interview guides, collecting interview data, analyzing data, and disseminating findings. We provide our key takeaways and lessons learned from creating a QEP for a large-scale research initiative that other researchers may consider when creating similar evaluation plans.


qualitative evaluation plan, in-depth interviews, COVID-19 pandemic, RADx-UP, lessons learned, community-engaged research

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Shelly Maras holds a PhD in sociology and works as an evaluation research scientist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Her research interests span health equity, gender inequalities, and community-engaged research. Please direct correspondence to shelly_maras@med.unc.edu

Dr. Josephine McKelvy is a Research Scientist with Abacus Evaluation and holds a PhD in Sociology. Her research interests include stakeholders' meaning making in programs and interventions, conditions of systems change, and the impact of organizational culture on collaboration and inclusion. Please direct correspondence to josepine_mckelvy@med.unc.edu.

Ms. Kelley Milligan is a senior researcher and evaluator at Allyson Kelley and Associates PLLC and holds an MPH with an emphasis in environmental health. Her research interests include strength-based approaches that focus on physical and mental well-being. Please direct correspondence to milligan.kell@gmail.com

Dr. Allyson Kelley is the principal consultant of Allyson Kelley and Associates PLLC and holds a DrPH in Community Health. Her research interests are in areas of healing, health equity, and the social determinants of health. Please direct correspondence to kelleyallyson@gmail.com

Valerie Lucas is an Evaluation Research Assistant at the UNC Center for Health Equity Research and a doctoral student in the UNC Department of Epidemiology. Her research interests include the economic determinants of health and reproductive epidemiology. Please direct correspondence to valerie_lucas@med.unc.edu

Tara Carr, MPH, RD, is a public health professional with experience in the evaluation and management of large, complex, national community health and health professional leadership development programs. Her research interests are program evaluation, community-engagement in research, and health promotion and intervention research. Please direct correspondence to: taracarr@unc.edu

Abisola Osinuga, PhD, MPH, PMP is a Research Program Manager at the Center for Health Equity Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She holds a PhD in Occupational and Environmental health. Her research expertise and interests include equity-based implementation science research and evaluation, water, sanitation, and hygiene research and characterizing the socio-environmental determinants of women/maternal/child health in developing countries. Please direct correspondence to abisola_osinuga@unc.med.edu

Dr. Leah Frerichs is an associate professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Department of Health Policy and Management. Her research interests include community engaged and participatory research, systems science, and health equity. Please direct correspondence to leahf@email.unc.edu

Dr. Gaurav Dave is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, Director of Abacus Evaluation, and the Co-Director of the Center for Health Equity Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Dr. Dave trained as an emergency medicine physician in India with a master's and a doctorate in public health from UNC-Greensboro. He has over 20 years of experience in clinical, public health, and evaluation research. Dr. Dave is an MPI for the National Institutes of Health's Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP). The RADx-UP Program provides critical findings to inform ongoing SARS-CoV-2 public health efforts to improve the reach, acceptance, uptake, and sustainability of COVID-19 testing and prevention in marginalized and vulnerable communities across the United States. Dr. Dave is a Principal Investigator for two NHLBI-funded R01 studies that aim to address adverse social determinants of health associated with chronic disease risk in rural North Carolina. He is also a site Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator on multiple grants funded by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Dave's research focuses on mitigating adverse social determinants of health and eliminating health inequities associated with chronic conditions in historically marginalized and rural communities.


Our team would like to acknowledge research coordinators at Abacus Evaluation, Jaimee Zeyzus and Rakiah Anderson, who helped to coordinate data collection and study activities. We would also like to acknowledge all RADx-UP project partners that participated in our evaluation.

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