Translating research into policy: new papers on HIV and sexual and reproductive health
A special Supplement of Health Research Policy and Systems is published today that provides learning on how to get HIV and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) research into policy and practice.
There are 7000 new HIV infections every day, 99 per cent of maternal deaths happen in developing countries and access to reproductive health services is woefully inadequate. Improving health is vital to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Evidence can help to improve policies and health interventions but too often it doesn't get used.
Significant investments in research should go hand in hand with a focus on communications and making an impact. Yet, as IDS Director Lawrence Haddad pointed out in his Development Horizons blog, many of us spend a lot of time worrying about whether our research will be used but not much time in experimenting about how to do it and figuring out whether the experiment worked. Given the 'results agenda' of many international development agencies effective research uptake is a growing concern amongst many research organisations.
As part of the Realising Rights Research Programme Consortium, IDS led a project which brought together all the Research Programme Consoritia working on HIV and sexual and reproductive health. Together they studied the strategies that researchers and communications professionals used to get research into policy and practice. The Sexual Health and HIV Evidence to Policy (SHHEP) initiative showcases work from (South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana) and Asia (Bangladesh and India). This work has now been published in the special Supplement.
The Supplement was edited by Prof Hilary Standing (IDS), Dr Sally Theobald and Ms Olivia Tulloch (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine). 'This supplement presents conceptual and empirical analyses of the research-policy interface from different contexts. It brings fresh theoretical and practical insights into the complexities of research engagement in the politicised, sensitive and challenging arena of sexual and reproductive health,' said Sally.
What have we learned?
The articles in the Supplement give an analysis of engagement strategies across the spectrum of SRH and HIV/AIDS research. They illustrate the importance of:
- Undertaking reflective assessments of the policy relevance of research evidence, its scope and limitations within a particular context and the ethical implications of communicating the research
- Carrying out strategic scoping of opportunities and levers for influence through analysis of the policy context, actors and processes, including the political or cultural acceptability of research findings
- Assessing the nature of the research evidence and consulting with other key actors on how best to frame it in ways that increase local decision makers' receptivity
- Keeping communications strategies flexible, innovative, jargon free and relevant to research institutions' objectives to keep them effective
- Being aware of the broad range of research impacts
- The topics covered by the Supplement are diverse and include: work to engage the print and broadcast media on sexual and reproductive health in Kenya; the value of collaboration and dialogue with multiple stakeholders as a means of fostering ownership of research on orphans and vulnerable children in Ghana; building trust between researchers, community members and policymakers in clinical trials in South Africa; national policy development for cotrimoxazole prophylaxis in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia; and an examination of the Regional Network on AIDS, Livelihoods and Food security's role in influencing as a 'boundary organisation'.
Professor Standing commented, 'These analyses highlight the very wide range of strategies that researchers can consider in order to influence key decision makers and the importance of understanding of, and long-term engagement with, diverse groups of stakeholders. They also demonstrate the value of careful documentation of these processes. There is no one-size-fits-all method but there are useful practical lessons from every success or failure.'
Influencing thinking on sexual rights
Kate Hawkins, Convenor of the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme and co-author of one of the papers in the Supplement, said, 'Learning from this project is particularly significant for those of us working on contested and neglected areas in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Two of the papers really stand out for me. Firstly the work that the James P Grant School of Public Health, at BRAC University, have done to build a platform to work on sexuality issues. Their paper demonstrates that even in challenging and conservative settings it is possible to bring together groups marginalized because of their sexuality to debate and dialogue with researchers, the media and public health professionals. This signals the crucial role that researchers can play in sensitively building coalitions for social and political change. Secondly, the article by The Pleasure Project is a good reminder that the positive motivations for sex - pleasure, desire, love - can help to "sell" public health as well as being important in their own right.'
Download the Supplement
All the Supplement papers are free to access and download online. Click on the link below:
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