Monday, 14 November 2016

Characterizing partnerships and measuring their impacts, both intended and unintended

On Day 1 of THET Annual Conference 2016, ‘Evidence, Effectiveness & Impact’, Lawrence Loh chaired the breakout session entitled ‘Network for collaboration: partnership communities and volunteers contributions’. Here the highlights of the session. 

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Tropical Health and Education Trust conference held 20-21 October at Resource for London and chairing the breakout session titled “Networks for collaboration: partnership communities and volunteer contributions.” 

In keeping with the conference theme of Evidence, Effectiveness and Impact and focus on health partnerships, the presented valuable abstracts covered the full range of tools and topics around partnerships. These included tools to measure and visualise partnerships and networks; frameworks to assess a partnership or coalition’s development phase; strategies to tangibly measure the outcomes of partnerships; and of course, broad descriptions of how partnerships might better support sustainable, positive development impacts on communities worldwide.  

The first presentation, from Kristy Yiu of McMaster University, reviewed the results of a network mapping analysis conducted on a novel community health partnership in the Dominican Republic. The specific aim of this coalition is to bring visiting short-term volunteer groups into the fold of established development efforts identified by the communities, thus eliminating the “parallel system” of programming created by foreign visitors. To move the partnership forward, Yiu and her co-authors analysed the range of connections between coalition partners and evaluated their perceptions around the coalition’s strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, Yiu’s work aimed to show the value of network analysis in planning and developing global health partnerships. 

Dr. Oliver Johnson of Africa Health Placements (AHP) then shared a summary of post-experience survey evaluations from their participants. The studied population was largely junior doctors placed by AHP in Africa based rural hospitals for year-long placements to support health human resource gaps. In doing so, African-based partners were described as having a notable role in leading the recruitment and assignments in question. The surveys found that partnerships with a local facility meant greater engagement between parties, and interestingly, a commitment from participant junior doctors to undertake quality improvement projects while on the ground there – perhaps reflective of an unintended shift in volunteer mindset towards capacity building rather than strict service provision. 

The next talk from Dr. Katie Mageean also emerged from an African project that focused on the evaluation results arising from a partnership-led paediatric triage intervention in Uganda. Dr. Mageean’s work helped demonstrate the substantive outcome of health partnerships. In her specific example, local partner leadership and buy-in was essential to facilitating training and support for local staff, which in turn supported the success of the intervention in changing process outcomes. Her presentation closed by highlighting additional ongoing research work that is targeted at documenting improved patient outcomes from this capacity building partnership effort.

The last and final presentation by Dr. Annalee Yassi presented a “North-South-South” partnership model based on the development of partnerships between a Canadian institution and its South African counterpart. In this specific model, technical expertise around health challenges was sought through an initial international partnership (North-South) that then was distributed through a national network of peers (South-South). Dr. Yassi shared lessons learned and opportunities that such a model might provide, highlighting the need for a strong, respected southern partner to act as the key modulator between the two relationships and bring information and identified needs from their South-South “community of practice” as part of the conversation within the North-South partnership. In turn, that same partner would be expected to bring and disseminate international inputs within the South-South partnership.

The session ended with a panel discussion featuring the presenters that drew out common themes among their work. Questions focused on tools to understand and measure the outcomes of partnerships to show their value, and the importance of flexibility in developing and tweaking differing partnership models depending on context and priorities. The perspective of trust and openness from local partners was also highlighted as one potential area to explore that had not been touched on. 

In all, the session was extremely fruitful and provided a lot of food for thought around how we understand and evaluate the nature of health partnerships in global health work. As with all good sessions, many left with more ideas and questions than they started with!

Lawrence C. Loh, MD, MPH, CCFP, FRCPC, FACPM
Associate Medical Officer of Health, Peel Public Health Director of Programs at The 53rd Week Ltd., Brooklyn, NY

See pages 23-26 of the Abstract Booklet for more information about the work of the partnerships featured in this blog.