A conversation with Sue Kinn, Chair of TDR’s Joint Coordinating Board
Tell me where you work and your connection to TDR.
I am the team leader and head of research for health and education in the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. My team is the team that funds research and puts money into TDR. I personally have been involved with TDR for 5 years. I was elected chair of the Joint Coordinating Board (JCB) last year and have been the chair for one calendar year and two meetings.
What is the value of TDR to DFID?
TDR is really an important partner. We have a long-term institutional relationship. For us the value of TDR is how long it’s been going and the relationships it has with disease endemic countries and particularly with researchers in disease endemic countries. The work that TDR has done in capacity building is quite remarkable. Wherever you go in the world you meet a person who is an alumnus of TDR. You see people working in ministries, ministers themselves and leaders of international research institutions and national research institutions who have all had TDR funding at some point during their careers. That’s a fantastic output from TDR and an impact as well, because it means there are so many people who understand about research and understand about the need for evidence and the uncertainties around evidence and how you make decisions which based on evidence, and this is really important in terms of having an impact on health in countries.
How do you assess the value of programmes like TDR?
The experience we gain when we manage a whole different range of different programmes, and from our team it’s research related programmes, we see different ways of things being done and we’re able to share that learning with all the programmes and we take a lot of what TDR is doing and share that with other programmes and we bring lessons learned elsewhere into TDR. Some of the suggestions that we make are based on things which are important in other countries or for our own country. For example, looking at the outputs and outcomes and impacts of research, it’s very, very good to see that TDR has got such a fabulous record on capacity building. This year the data on the number of publications -- over 400 pubs and 62% with lead authors from developing country institutions -- is just really a remarkable achievement, but that’s just the publication. We want to also look at the next steps, what happens to that knowledge once it’s generated, does it go into the production of guidelines, does it go into the delivery of services and the design of those services? So we need to go one step further and think about how that works and what the impacts are. We are having this very difficult discussion with everybody that we are providing research funding for, there are no easy answers, but TDR is going to be very helpful in its thinking and its experience and to be able to help us think this through with not only TDR but many other programmes.
What do you think of the new TDR strategy?
I think it’s great and it’s so nice to have a short, succinct document about what TDR is all about. The aims and aspirations of the new strategy are absolutely right for where we are now. The times of large, relatively widespread programmes are probably a thing of the past and the way the funding streams are working and the need for expertise means that TDR is really focusing on where it has expertise and credibility. The underlying principles of the strategy are just really robust and really strong and the focus on quality research as the first and foremost thing is absolutely in line with what we at DFID think.
What is the value of implementation research to meeting the global health challenges?
It’s quite clear that as we get more and more products and technologies being developed that we’re going to have what some people call an innovation pile-up where we have so many things sitting on the shelf and nobody knows how to implement them. We already have lots of things sitting on the shelf and we know that we could save many more lives if we implemented the things we know work well. But the trouble is we don’t know how to implement at scale and in many different environments. So implementation research helps us identify some of the barriers and facilitators to implementing. Scale is absolutely key for success. TDR is positioned right at the heart of what is required, having it fed in from all the other programmes developing products and doing research, there’s a real need for all these different processes and systems along the chain and TDR is part of that.
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