The African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), together with Malawi’s Ministry of Health (MoH), and with support from the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme’s (MLW’s) Policy Unit, facilitated a three-and-a-half-day Research Communication, Policy Engagement and Research Uptake Workshop for MLW researchers between the 4th and 7th of May, 2021. The training, which targeted a wide range of early to senior career researchers from various MLW research groups, was a follow-up to a one-day virtual training that was previously facilitated by AFIDEP and the MoH in November of 2020 and sought to strengthen the researchers’ competence in policy engagement and optimising research uptake.
The Capacity Development Training
The training was attended by 21 participants and began with recapping previous modules on policymaking and evidence use and policy and stakeholder analysis, then proceeded with interactive sessions and discussions on developing policy engagement and evidence uptake strategies, writing policy briefs, media engagement, and monitoring and evaluation for policy influence.
In understanding the gaps and barriers that exist among policymakers, researchers, and the media, the training offered panel discussions with policymakers and experts on the role of evidence in policy formulation and implementation; and media experts on the role of media engagement, which included sharing experiences on evidence use, as well as the role of media engagement. Commenting on these sessions, a participant stated that, “…the panel discussions were really useful to provide insights into real-life research uptake realities”; with another going on to say, “the panel discussions were a superb idea, I have learnt a lot this week!”
The Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Honourable Matthews Ngwale, who was a panelist for the policy discussion highlighted that one way to engage the committee is to invite members to participate at certain levels of the research process so they are aware of what is being done and can back any recommendations made to the government.
A pre-and post-training test was administered to assess the training’s immediate effect on participants’ understanding of the topics, and the results indicated a significant improvement in understanding of evidence-informed decision-making among the researchers present. Participants showed enthusiasm for follow-up mentorship and support to complete their policy briefs and news releases which were part of their post-training assignments. Additionally, participants acknowledged that it was important to think about policy influence at the start of a project.
The MLW acting director, Professor Henry Mwandumba stating that said “we realise the importance of translating our work and can only do this if we know the mechanisms and if we engage the right people”. Further, one of the participating researchers when asked about their overall remark on the workshop was quoted saying, “excellent training! I recommend all researchers, especially Principal Investigators (PIs) and those involved in research design and project management to take the course.”
To provide holistic support, the training has been followed by formalised mentorship and support provided by AFIDEP. This will be done through review and feedback of the draft policy briefs and news releases developed by participants—which will subsequently be published.
The MLW Policy Unit was established to improve policy impact through effective policy engagement within the Malawian health sector and promote the use of research towards evidence-informed decision making.