Health Evaluation and Applied Research Development (HEARD) is a USAID-funded project that brings the implementation and technical capacity of a strategic set of an initial 33 global partners together to generate, synthesize, and use evidence to improve the implementation of policies and programs related to USAID priority areas, and crucial for improving health and development in low and middle-income countries. The project runs from 2016-2021.
The HEARD Partnership is part of a series of projects supporting USAID’s Health Research Program. To learn more about the whole portfolio, visit the Health Research Program website.
Why are there gaps in evidence to inform decision-making? One major reason is that priority-setting for investments in research is often determined without input from end point decision-makers resulting in a disconnect between evidence needed and evidence produced. Answering implementation questions requires a shift in research mentality and capacities towards a different approach to evidence generation that both relies on: diverse research designs and tools; diverse stakeholder engagement in the prioritization of research; diverse implementation challenges such as acceptability, adaptability, scalability, and sustainability of interventions.
The HEARD Project seeks to effectively respond to these major challenges by:
- Actively engaging communities of implementers, policy-makers, investigators, and advocates interested in identifying evidence needs and priorities relevant to current implementation gaps and challenges to improve programs and policies;
- Developing issue-specific implementation science collaborations that bring together a diversely-skilled set of partners well-positioned to link evidence with the design and improvement of programs and policies;
- Creating iterative processes of evaluation and improvement, linking those with specific skill sets and capacities to evaluate current work and those empowered to make necessary changes in support of health goals,
emerging threats, and new opportunities; and
- Expanding and sustaining these activities through the development of a global health Implementation Science Collaborative (ISC).
As a partnership composed of 33 diverse organizations from across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, with opportunities to expand, the HEARD Project works through four collaborative strategies:
1) Partnership and Agenda Development
By engaging the right mix of partners at the right time, we can determine the most relevant priorities and questions while minimizing the “stalling” of evidence in the research-to-use pathway.
2) Data Liberation and Evidence Strengthening
What do we already know? What is already available? Is it of good quality? By increasing access to and public use of data, we liberate it. Data includes non-published documents (e.g., gray literature). Evidence strengthening refers to the vetting of data to make sure it’s high enough quality so we can make decisions. The generation of more relevant evidence results in a more inclusive agenda setting process.
3) Research and Evaluation Study Design and Implementation
If there is a gap in existing data, we support new research studies or evaluations (e.g., systematic review of literature that would inform a new implementation research study). It’s possible to do both data liberation and research and evaluation studies.
4) Process Development for Evidence-To-Use Acceleration
The four strategies above (orange boxes) combined with appropriate stakeholder engagement will set us up for more potential to accelerate evidence use. Evidence-to-use acceleration is also facilitated by creating useful products (beyond publications), engaging useful platforms, and linking to communities of practice and others to package and share findings. Eventually this will inform new sets of better questions that feed back into the process, which will hopefully influence prevention of death and disability.
Emphasizing effective stakeholder engagement and knowledge management throughout will lead to more relevant questions, which leads to more effective and efficient evidence generation and liberation with less delay in evidence uptake.
HEARD’s partnership approach to implementation science is rooted in the understanding that the use of evidence to improve health policies and programs requires the long-term active engagement of multiple actors representing an extensive array of skill sets and experiences. Current partners therefore include, regional health bodies, policy advocacy groups, civil society-based evidence advocates, implementation support organizations, research organizations, and academic institutions.