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Strengthening capacity for health policy and systems research: an agenda for progress

Date: Thursday 1 November 10.45–12.15
Source: Forum 11
Authors: Sara Bennett, Manager, Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, Switzerland
with Andrew Green


National capacity for health policy and systems research (HPSR) is critical given the context-specificity of much HPSR. This presentation draws upon the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research Biennial Review. The presentation draws conclusions from the various papers prepared for the review and presents priorities for action.

The conceptual framework used focuses upon the organizational dimensions of capacity. In undertaking the review, multiple consultative meetings were held, country case studies and a review of previous capacity enhancing initiatives in health and development research were conducted.

This abstract indicates five priority areas for action that are emerging from the review: 1) Improving the definition and rigor of the field of HPSR: including strengthening, standardizing and disseminating methodologies for common types of HPSR studies, and strengthening and standardizing the curriculum used to teach HPSR in northern and southern institutions. 2) Addressing common practices that distort incentives for health policy and systems researchers and contribute to them leaving the field. This includes shifting investment of national and international agencies away from short-term consultancies towards longer-term, more rigorous research that builds knowledge and capacity, and ensuring that a greater share of total HPSR spending goes to southern organizations. 3) Increasing the volume and predictability of financing for HPSR through measures such as promoting in investment in HPSR (particularly operational research and evaluation) as part of health systems strengthening investments and working with partners to create basic core funding packages for research organizations in the south. 4) Bringing a much stronger focus to capacity development among the users of HPSR (policy-makers and civil society), including: (i) demonstrating how taking account of evidence can lead to better policy; (ii) developing specific skills and capacities (such as for research commissioning); and (iii) using prospective evaluation to build knowledge in this area. 5) Focusing on organizational systems and structures in research organizations, such as governance, financing, human resource management etc. that help create appealing and functional work places and thus help retain staff, as well as enabling efficient operations.