Consultations Among Global Health Leaders Generate Consensus and Momentum in Effort to Establish the Implementation Science Collaborative

Feb 27, 2018

As part of the process to engage a wide range of stakeholders in the conceptualization of the Implementation Science Collaborative (ISC)—and in anticipation of the ISC October 2018 launch at the Fifth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Liverpool, UK—USAID’s Health Evaluation and Applied Research Development (HEARD) Partnership has been organizing a series of small group consultations regarding the ISC’s proposed structure and work. In January 2018, Indiana University’s Center for Global Health in Indianapolis, Indiana and Project Concern International (PCI) in Washington, DC hosted high-level, multi-stakeholder consultations that allowed global health leaders to strategize regarding the ISC’s ongoing establishment and envisioned governance structure and processes.

As envisioned, the ISC will leverage a diverse partnership of stakeholder groups to address the persistent challenges of bringing evidence into global health interventions, practices, programs, and policies in real time. Discussion across both consultations highlighted the need for such a collaborative considering the emerging common understanding that history’s major global health success stories—immunization, Vitamin A, or universal healthcare, for example—represent examples not just of good science, but of implementation science and partnership. Participants asserted their shared vision that “eureka!” moments in clinical research cannot and do not alone improve the health of populations. Rather, population health outcomes are improved through using scientific methods to assess and improve the uptake and integration of evidence-based knowledge; they are improved through incremental advances in the capacities of institutions to partner around implementation science.

The first of the two consultations, held in Indianapolis and co-chaired by Rachel Vreeman, co-Director of Research at Indiana University’s Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), and Maeve McKean, Senior Policy Advisor to USAID’s Health Evaluation and Applied Research Development (HEARD) Project at the City University of New York (CUNY), convened evaluation and research institutions. Representatives from Population Council, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Columbia University also attended. Participants expressed excitement about the ISC’s potential to leverage convening power around implementation science, ultimately helping institutions overcome barriers to coming together, including the high costs of collaboration as well as faculty pressures to “declare victory at publication.”

The second consultation, held in Washington, DC and co-chaired by Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President & CEO at PCI, and Dr. Anne Peterson, Senior Vice President of Programs at Americares, convened representatives of implementation assistance provider institutions including Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Pathfinder International, and World Vision. Meeting attendees expressed a strong interest in the ISC working to address the three consistent struggles that implementing organizations experience:

  • Robust systems do not exist to allow (i.e., fund) those working in the technical/research pathway to systematically engage with those in the policy/program pathway, resulting in siloed work.
  • It is often difficult to know what the best practices are to replicate and scale up since peer reviewed literature rarely captured varying implementer experiences with scaling up evidence-based work.
  • Opportunities to present funders with projects/programs which allow monies to be pooled and leveraged are often popular, but difficult to construct.

Overall, across both consultations, the presence of innovative institutions at the table combined with the opportunity to understand one another’s strengths encouraged attendees regarding the prospects for launching a successful partnership. ISC’s mission and work will be cross-cutting, and its partners will break barriers by taking implementation science risks together in the service of healthier global communities.