Digital longform on health systems research
We were hired by FatRat Films to support the creation of two digital longform products on embedded health systems research for the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (the Alliance). The Alliance are a partnership hosted by the World Health Organization. We assisted in conceptualising the stories behind the digital longforms, visiting the countries that were featured and interviewing staff, background research and all the writing associated with the products. We acted as the staff who could bridge the creative and research worlds.
Communicating about health systems change is tricky. It is easy to picture how the introduction of a new medicine, or the construction of a health centre, contributes to better health. Embedded research often leads to changes occurring incrementally, over a long period of time. It might strengthen the gathering and use of data for decision making, experiment with innovative ways of delivering services, or make changes to the way in which the health workforce is trained and deployed. It is harder for people who are not directly involved in the process to see this type of change and too often the process and the outcomes remain hidden from sight.
Health systems researchers and implementers on the front line of evidence generation are understandably proud of the positive change that their interventions have prompted. They have published on the process and the outcomes of this work in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. But academic publishing has its limitations – papers remain inaccessible to outside of academia and are written in a style which by its very nature appeals to other academics.
This project brought to light, and made visible, the power of embedded research through a longform online resource made up of narrative, film, and data visualisation. It highlights and communicates the power and importance of embedded research; demonstrates how research in Ghana and Mozambique led to changes in policy and practice; and unpacks the health system impacts of the research to illuminate the many effects that the projects had, at multiple layers, with a host of key characters.
We hope it will catalyse other countries to adopt an embedded approach to health systems research by raising awareness of the approach among audiences in other low- and middle-income countries.