Triangulation Resource Guide

Sponsor: Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria

Location(s): United States


The HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the most complex public health crises in recent history. No single data source can fully explain the status and direction of the epidemic. However, research studies, surveillance projects, and prevention, treatment, care and support programmes have accumulated a massive amount of data over the past decade. Synthesizing and interpreting these data is a daunting task.An analytical approach known as “triangulation” integrates multiple data sources to improve the understanding of a public health problem and to guide programmatic decision-making to address such problems. Triangulation can be used by public health officials to assess the impact of widely implemented interventions at the population level. Whereas research seeks to definitively answer a pre-formed hypothesis, triangulation seeks to strengthen interpretations and improve decisions based on the available evidence. Triangulation does not infer causality, but offers a rational explanation or interpretation of the data at hand.
Triangulation offers many advantages. First, triangulation can make use of pre-existing data sources. This allows for rapid understanding of the situation and facilitates timely and appropriate decisions during health crises. Second, as the information examined is collected by different methods, by different persons and in different populations, the findings can be used to corroborate data received from different sources, thereby reducing the effect of both systematic bias and random error that may be present in a single study. However, it is important to be aware that bias and error can also be increased in the final results if care is not taken by the analyst to fully understand each data source and what it represents.