Showcasing the value of implementation research

TDR news item
22 September 2015

The first group of scientists who have completed the new TDR Impact Grants showcased what they have been able to do at the 9th European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health held recently in Basel, Switzerland.


The conference drew well over 2 000 health specialists, researchers, students, policy-makers and private sector representatives to explore how science could play a more effective role for dealing with today’s global health problems. Organized by the Swiss Tropical Medicine and Public Health Institute, it also provided TDR with a forum to demonstrate how its own research initiatives, even modest ones such as its short-term impact grants, are making a crucial difference in public health.

The 5 researchers on the TDR panel came from Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Benin and Nepal. They represented the first cadre of 22 short-term impact grantees from 2013. (A sixth grantee from China was selected but unable to attend the conference.) The grantees are trained health professionals, who, with the help of grants of up to US$50 000, can work on projects enabling them to use their skills in the field of implementation research.

A better understanding of health economics

Nepal grantee Dr Shiva Raj Adhikari, a health economist, explained that his grant helped to create a training manual and hold a workshop on health economics. The participants learned how to better link public health issues from the economic perspective. “This grant allowed us to reach a wide group at the local level,” Adhikari explains, “and they went on to write proposals for further research.” Ten of these were selected and are now in the process of being funded by UNICEF and the German development organization, GIZ, in coordination with the local government agencies.

“For me, this was an extremely important task. It made them (the grantees) visible, particularly to policy-makers.”

Edward Kamau, TDR scientist

Similarly, the Tanzanian project also worked at the district level to create greater awareness of the potential value of implementation research initiatives and to develop systems to collect what is being done, where, and to share lessons learnt. The grantees found that there are often research projects in universities that are not known at the local level, so the goal is to identify areas for collaboration, sharing and research gaps that should be addressed.

Putting the fire in the right place

“We are very excited by this process given that two of the pilot projects were picked up by their governments and expanded to the regional level. What this shows is that even with a modest amount of funding, one can put the fire in the right place,” said TDR John Reeder who introduced the panel.

According to TDR’s Edward Kamau, one of the biggest benefits of the Basel symposium, which incorporated numerous plenary and side events, was to give the grantees, who represented a multi-disciplinary approach of researchers, academics and programme coordinators, a chance to showcase their research at an international level. “For me, this is an extremely important task. It makes them visible, particularly to policy-makers,” he said. “It’s also a chance to actually meet the people we had been supporting. To see a human face rather than simply talking with them by email or phone.”

Expanding support for implementation research

TDR further explored the need for non-governmental agencies (NGOs) to become more involved in implementation research. “Many of them do not have a research mandate,” noted Reeder. “Nor do the smaller ones necessarily see themselves as vehicles for research. Yet they are often in a unique position to collect invaluable data.” Hence the overall objective is how to make better use of NGOs as a ‘mine’ for on-the-ground research. “It is vital to recognize what NGOs are able to contribute, even if they do not receive research funding,” he said.

A further aspect was to show both donors and governments that research projects are not necessarily reliant on outside funding. They can actually become sustainable locally once policy-makers and other stakeholders grasp the benefits that can be obtained from research. “It’s a question of ownership,” said Kamau. “At times, funding is available but people are not sensitised to the needs. Sometimes, too, they don’t understand that research does not have to be expensive. The data is there. One simply needs to analyse it.”

For more information, contact Edward Kamau.