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To walk before you can run: listening to communities to inform global health research priorities


How can we as funders support engagement between communities and policy-makers in low and middle income countries (LMICs) in order to shape research questions which are relevant and responsive to local needs?  

At the recent Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR2020) our satellite session, ‘To walk before you can run: ensuring global health systems research questions are informed by stakeholders in the context concerned’ focused on our NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR) programme. 

A diverse panel of eight Development Award holders from the UK and LMICs presented their experiences over the past year engaging with communities and stakeholders in very different contexts. The discussion was expertly chaired by Professor Dame Anne Mills, a world authority on health economics.

Global HPSR Development Awards are held jointly by pairs of researchers in LMICs and the UK, who work together to: develop a new collaboration with up to five institutions; review local context and existing research literature; engage with relevant policy makers and local communities; plan for institutional and individual research capacity and develop a strategy for research uptake and dissemination. 



The HSR2020 session attracted delegates from across the globe who engaged our panel with challenging questions. My key takeaways include: 

  • The importance of realistic time frames for researchers to establish new collaborations and engage stakeholders to develop research applications. In this case Development Awards were extended from nine to 15 months due to COVID-19.
  • The award was described as an “exceptional opportunity to develop a proposal in an understudied area” bringing researchers together with different language skills, for example in francophone West Africa. 
  • The value of establishing new relationships, networks and collaborations. One panel member described reaching out by email to potential new collaborators they had never met to jointly apply for a Development Award.  
  • Another noted how mutual exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience between different country contexts through the Award (including from low and middle income countries to the UK) has created a truly equitable partnership. 
  • We were told how community engagement with patients in remote mountainous areas Inner Mongolia and Gansu provinces in China has established trusting relationships sharing experiences across diverse cultural differences. 
  • Moving to online engagement and interviews has been “better than expected” and “hugely worthwhile”, although panel members agreed the irreplaceable value of face-to-face interaction for creative joint working and to avoid possible selection bias. 

Watch the video of the full session

What’s next?

The third funding opportunity in the Global HPSR programme will open this Spring as a researcher-led competitive call to improve global health systems and services for people in LMICs, aligned with Universal Health Coverage and sustainable development goals. We look forward to continuing the conversation, gaining more ideas of how funders, researchers and stakeholders can continue to collaborate and innovate in this area.

Dr Val Snewin, Head of Global Health Research Partnerships, Department of Health and Social Care 


Find out more about our NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR) programme. The new researcher-led call opens in March / April 2021. 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.