The Clever one is also Advised: A Pathway to Implementation Research

October 11, 2023


By Marylene Wamukoya and Daniel Ochiel

A Kenyan proverb states that, ‘the clever one is also advised’ to mean that those who seek the advice of others are strategically positioning themselves for success. It is with an aim to succeed that in August 2023, the ‘Catalyze Impact via Africa-led Implementation Research Platforms’ initiative (GCI) inaugurated its eight-member Strategic Advisory Committee (SAC) during a two-day event held at the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) campus. The GCI aims to increase the capacity of research and higher education institutions in Africa to generate evidence via implementation Research (IR) and to drive its use for decision-making at all levels across Africa.

GCI is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and was represented during this event by Nosa Orobaton, Senior Advisor to the Health, Africa Region Office at BMGF, and Samburu Wa-Shiko, BMGF’s East Africa representative. They shared with the team the BMGF strategy as well as opportunities for researchers and research institutions in Africa. BMGF’s theory of change around African research aims to address Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1 – 6 by strengthening the African Research and Development (R&D) ecosystem to deliver relevant, high-quality research products that realize economic benefits for Africa, such as the creation and use of intellectual property (IP).

Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi, the Executive Director of APHRC, expounded on APHRC’s vision and strategy. The Center has become a regional leader in designing and implementing research, ensuring it’s the basis for impact. This is complemented by its work through programs that strengthen research capacity in Africa. This has positioned APHRC to take on the great task of assessing, identifying and resolving the challenges facing Africa’s R&D domain. The result is that the Center will design an ecosystem that supports research in Africa for itself and for other actors in order to continue its visions to transform lives in Africa through research.

The newly formed SAC’s primary role is to provide high-level strategic guidance to the GCI team throughout the life course of the initiative in order to position it for success in the long-term. It comprises distinguished individuals in Africa’s research arena as well as experts in strengthening the capacity of the R&D ecosystem. Various institutions are represented, including both governmental and non-governmental agencies and associations (both research and non-research). The president of West African Research and Innovation Management Association (WARIMA), Dr. Dembo Kanteh was elected to serve as the SAC’s first chairperson. Other members of the SAC included: Prof. Akin Abayomi, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Nigeria, Dr. Joyce Wamicwe of the Ministry of Health (MoH), Kenya (she was represented by Dr Rachel Githiomi), Dr. Shingai Machingaidze of the Africa CDC, Dr. Bernhards Ogutu of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Dr. Ruth Nigatu of the MoH in Ethiopia (she was represented by Dr Munir Kassa), Ms. Nelisha Naidoo of the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association (SARIMA) and Nosa Orobaton.

The two-day meeting, which included an array of activities such as plenary sessions and panel discussions, provided a platform to discuss the ways in which GCI could enhance Implementation Research in Africa. GCI can leverage on other APHRC programs to achieve its own goals. One such program is the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), which was established in 2008 to facilitate the development of a critical mass of African researchers. The discussions also touched on the visibility and impact of research in Africa and the use of data science initiatives to drive decision-making.

The forum generated plenty of learnings with the first being the importance of embedding African voices in the development of research priorities as well as in making investments in Implementation Research in Africa. It is important to strive towards generating evidence that is owned by Africans (both researchers and non-researchers) by ensuring regional representation of individuals conducting research in Africa. This, coupled with efforts to make Africa’s research institutions/actors discoverable to foreign investors would address the current brain drain of research talent that often occurs after training. Acknowledging areas of weakness is important for ensuring that these goals are achieved. Some areas of improvement include:

  • Making deliberate efforts to convene stakeholders during the research process (from setting the agenda to developing policy from generated evidence).
  • Accelerating the adoption of research evidence by moving away from previous models in which researchers were generators and disseminators of evidence to models in which researchers are part of the brain trust that contributes their expertise towards decision making. Additionally, concomitant steps should be taken to ensure that the African ecosystem is more accepting of adopting research and innovation for impact and that successful models are championed and scaled up.
  • Considering decolonization of research in terms of how it would accelerate impact rather than focusing on how colonization of research has negatively affected impact thus far.
  • Capacity building efforts for research and development shouldn’t be limited to individuals at the later stages of their careers but should be impactful at the institutional and systemic levels and at the early stages of research careers.
  • Shifting away from linear thinking and towards systems thinking, which considers as many factors as possible from as many sectors as possible and infuses these into Implementation Research that is guided by evidence. Linear thinking is geared towards cause and effect whereas system thinking would enable us to acknowledge that existing problems are as a result of a complex interplay of factors. A major consideration in a system thinking process is to ensure that policy is evidence-informed and that we do not set out to generate evidence that is policy-informed.

APHRC stands as the convening institution that aims to enable the goals of GCI and has already made several strides as seen in the following achievements:

  • The Research Matching Platform (RMP) – This is being developed to facilitate matchmaking and collaboration between individuals and research The platform includes information on institutions, researchers, publications, grants, collaboration and expertise and triangulates it with information from similar platforms.
  • Good Financial Grant Practices (GFGP) – This work recognizes that research management (from discovery to adoption) is key to the goals of GCI. It is a certification process that improves grant management systems making institutions more attractive to funders.
  • Africa Journals’ Visibility (AJV) – This area of work involves engaging with journal editors in Africa in order to understand the challenges that they face. A platform has been created that lists African journals, including information on whether they were indexed in various databases. This work aims to create a community of research practice, particularly one that promotes gender equality.
  • Prototyping – This involves creating initiatives that are African-led, owned and co-created with stakeholders. Most importantly, these initiatives are aligned to the contexts, priorities and resources while also being adaptable and scalable to the wider African region. An example is the development of proposal to establish sample registration systems (SRS) in Lagos and Kano states in Nigeria to generate evidence for programming and formulation of policies to reduce maternal deaths and stillbirths. These SRS would be co-owned by the two states and the University of Lagos in Lagos and Bayero University in Kano.

Ultimately, during this pilot phase of the GCI, and while employing varied channels of influence, the project will deliver initiatives and strategically engage with governments, BMGF and other donors, and research institutions to optimize its success. The GCI has strategically positioned itself for success by relying on the guidance and advice of its SAC as it sets out to increase capacity for Implementation Research in Africa and to push for resulting evidence to be used for decision-making.