The formation of a consortium is one of the forms of collaboration critical to developing strong teams, implementing and delivering programme objectives. By bringing together organisations with different experiences and knowledge through a consortium, parties share and exchange different strengths that are beneficial in delivering as one. The success of AFIDEP’s Strengthening Capacity to Use Research Evidence in Health Policy (SECURE Health) programme which has been running in Kenya and Malawi since 2014, is as a result of the collaborative effort of five institutions. The consortium which is led by AFIDEP, comprises FHI 360, ECSA-Health Community, College of Medicine (University of Malawi), Consortium for National Health Research (Kenya) with the United Kingdom Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (UK POST). The programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The programme involves working collaboratively with the ministries of health and parliaments in both countries, to design and implement interventions that optimise access and use of data and research evidence in health-related policy decision-making, planning and programming.
Combining different capabilities, skills, expertise and experiences of the different partners led to greater economies of scale, efficiency and effectiveness to deliver the programme’s success. SECURE Health brought together African and international leading organisations and experts in capacity building to design, test, and implement a comprehensive set of interventions to strengthen the capacity of policymakers in Kenya and Malawi in using health research evidence in decision-making processes. Lessons from the two countries have been continually disseminated to the wider East and Southern Africa regions through the programme’s participation in key regional health policy platforms. The consortium partners leverage their collective strengths and experience in supporting the translation of research into policy and practice, including through enhancing the capacity of policymakers to use research evidence in decision-making.
The achievement of this collaborative working was fostered through a clear, optimised flexible work plan combined with frequent partners’ meeting. The SECURE Health programme work plan was formulated by all partners’ contribution. The programme was divided in two phases – the inception phase and implementation phase. The inception phase provided a platform to further understand contextual issues that would have affected project implementation, refine and pilot test feasibility of and materials for some interventions, secure further buy-in from end-beneficiaries and other stakeholders, as well as acquire additional input on the design of the programme from end-beneficiaries and key stakeholders. It is also during the inception phase that the programme refined and solidified operational modalities for the consortium, as well as strengthen institutional internal capacity within the consortium that necessitated for the successful programme implementation. During the implementation phase, monitoring and evaluation activities were conducted consistently combined with quarterly annual partners meeting. These meetings presented a platform for reviewing and refining the work plan as deemed fit with the evolution of the programme.
Strong programme advisory organs and steering committees were also instituted. The steering committees comprised of institutional leaders from each consortium partner organisation and a DFID representative. This committee is the highest decision-making organ for the consortium, and therefore provides strategic direction and advice to the programme design and implementation. To enrich the design and implementation of the programme at country-level, the programme set up national advisory committees in each country. The advisory committees reviewed progress and provided strategic advice to the implementation of country-level activities. The members were experts drawn from the evidence champions identified during the programme activities representing Ministry of Health, Parliament, professionals from medical associations, and members from the research and academia institutions. Furthermore, advisory committee members acted as ambassadors of the programme and they continuously identified windows of opportunity within their institutions that the programme took advantage of during implementation of activities.
In each country, the programme was introduced to different relevant Technical Working Groups (TWGs) which offered remarkable technical support. TWGs were in the focus areas of Monitoring and Evaluation, Quality Assurance, Policy and Planning. The TWG’s acted as the technical advisory teams during the implementation of the programme. They contributed in increasing the visibility, acceptability and timely execution of the programmes activity and offered advice on how and when to change activities to suit the needs of the various beneficiaries.
It has been three years of tremendous excitement and successful implementation of the SECURE Health programme, but also a period full of lessons in Kenya and Malawi. The programme has trained 76 mid-level policy makers on evidence-informed policymaking; held science policy cafés as a platform for policy dialogues; developed and launched the Guidelines for Evidence Use in Policy Making (EIPM) for the Ministry of Health and Parliament in both Kenya and Malawi. This has led to stimulation of commitment, interest and nurturing an EIPM culture at national and regional level. Discussions are underway in various institutions to introduce the EIPM Training Manual in various Health Sciences courses.
The SECURE health programme was set up to be part of the ongoing learning processes on how policymakers’ skills can be enhanced to utilise research evidence. The learning process was through well-designed capacity strengthening programmes that strengthened EIPM leadership skills and nurtured a culture of evidence use. The journey so far has been made possible through strengthened collaboration among the consortium members as well as the welcoming doors of the different government agencies. As the programme wraps up, we look forward to further collaborations that will foster uptake of research evidence in policy and decision-making for improved policies on the African continent.