New Approaches to Enhance Evidence Use
One of the most pressing challenges the public health community faces is how to provide timely and relevant evidence to decision makers so that they can use it to improve public health policy, programs and implementation. This acceleration of research to use, was one of the key themes of the first ever Global Evidence Summit held in Cape Town, South Africa in September 2017, which examined a wide range of issues regarding the use and improvement of evidence-based policy.
The HEARD Project convened a special session at the Global Evidence Summit on “New approaches to enhance evidence use through continued technical support and collaboration with policy makers and senior officials”. Facilitated by public health expert, Dr. Jon Rohde, panelists from the HEARD Project/University Research Co. LLC, the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI), University of Indonesia (UI), Africa Academy for Public Health (AAPH), and the co-founder of Covidence spoke about their own experiences overcoming the challenges they have faced in providing timely and relevant data to policy makers, as well as some of their successes in enabling evidence-informed policies.
Key themes which emerged from the presentations included:
- The importance of systematic reviews of grey literature to liberate evidence. The raw data and evidence often exists but is inaccessible to policy makers and program designers.
- As a community, we need to find ways to share tools to bring research to policy. Covidence spoke to a tool they created to accelerate the systematic review processes, which, while designed for the Cambodian HIV context, would be useful to practitioners in many other areas.
- The focus on the people we are looking to serve must occur each stage of the research to use processes. For example, using case study methodology to understand variation in performance across health facilities in a results-based financing program contributed to a greater understanding of how to yield better health outcomes and to adopting a human-centered design approach to design and implement changes to improve performance in a Benin study.
- The research-to use process is not sequential but research and advocacy work must be done in tandem. The issue of Respectful Maternal Care (RMC) in Tanzania highlighted the crucial need for packaging complex information for different audiences.
Panelists engaged in a discussion around the topic of how best to engage policymakers and senior officials in evidence-informed policy making. A key part of this requires packaging and presenting evidence and information in a way that is both useful and accessible. However, there is little understanding of how best to do this. An example of this challenge is the interplay between the global, national, and local levels. The fact that the World Health Organization had identified RMC as a critical global issue provided Tanzanian policymakers with a level of comfort in hearing from advocates and responding by changing national policy, because they knew their country was not being specifically targeted and criticized. However, the reverse is also true and that many policy makers perceive global evidence as too general and thus not relevant to the country and sub-national levels. It was a reminder that global guidelines are only powerful and effective advocacy tools when work is being done in parallel at the national level.
The session ended with participants very much energized by how much work needs to be done to improve the use of evidence to inform policy. The HEARD Project can serve as an important platform for continuing this work as its partnership brings together implementation and technical capacity of 33 global organizations to ensure that evidence is used to improve policy development and program implementation.