First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research: Highlights from a Session Linking Research to Policy-making

First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research: Highlights from a Session Linking Research to Policy-making

At this First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research there have been a number of concurrent sessions on how best to make the link between research and decision-making. How do we make research relevant and timely so that it can inform policy-making?

MSH served as a panelist on the panel “Health systems and national policy-making: Strengthening the Connection,” which provided good examples of studies from Nigeria and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region that provided insight into this gap.

In Nigeria, a study focused on how the gap between policy makers and researchers could be bridged. How can research be made attractive so policy makers desire it? Through a cross-sectional survey, they set out to improve the skills of policy makers in evidence-informed policy making. A platform was created where the two met on neutral ground to develop the research agenda. What came out of this collaboration were five skill building workshops where pre/post data was collected. There was much participation and enthusiasm by both parties which culminated in six policy briefs to improve health systems operation in Nigeria.

In the MENA region, where it was recognized that research isn’t relevant to policy makers, another cross sectional survey was conducted. There, policy makers reported that there is sufficient health research but it’s not provided at the right time or it’s available but not used. It was emphasized that an understanding of the context is absolutely critical to develop effective knowledge translation strategies.

Both studies were funded by the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, a department at the WHO.

A nice complement to these studies was a presentation by Dan Kraushaar, MSH Global Technical Lead for Health Systems Strengthening (HSS). Dan presented on “Causal pathway analysis: Linking health systems strengthening to health outcomes” and drew on examples from recent applications in Vietnam, Liberia and Rwanda. This analytical way of thinking helps to open the “black box” of investing in inputs and not knowing the pathway to outcomes. It helps to focus on the factors that drive a health challenge and focus strengthening systems on the main obstacles that are disrupting our ability to deliver an intervention at scale.

If we really are driven to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, we must apply this way of thinking. This causal pathway thinking has been highlighted at the conference as an exciting way to think about HSS---a way to design interventions so that researchers will be able to clearly document the link to better health outcomes so as to inform policy. The causal pathways approach would go far to address the problem often stated at the conference: “We need more money for health, but we need more health for the money.” By honing our efforts, we will get more ‘bang for the buck.’

This is the first of a number of post to be published on this exciting conference---which hopefully will spur a movement towards investing in and learning through increased health systems research.

Sara Wilhelmsen is a Senior Program Officer at MSH.