It’s all about incentives

Everyone at the symposium has by now agreed that there exists a huuuuuuge gap between research and policy in the health sector.

For the first time on Wednesday evening, a plenary session put a possible solution on the table – offering  incentives for policy-oriented research.

Economist Lyn Squire, from the Global Development Network  introduced the topic by quoting from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. “It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times.”

According to Squire, the best of times would be when research is very relevant to policy and policy is based on solid, empirical research. Which does not happen that way, as we well know.

And the worst of times? When a funder commissions research in a donor-driven approach, and a policy maker cobbles together a programme under instructions from her minister, and a gets donor funding for a programme that is completely evidence-free.

Ensuring a system of incentives, both from the national governments and international donors, could  ensure that the research commissioned is based on policy, says Squire. According to him, had someone thought of this ten years ago, the current research policy gap that exists could have been a research policy nexus.

The panel discussion that followed Squire’s proposal included speakers from some developing countries. “It’s a great idea,” said Muhammad Pate, from Nigeria’s Primary Health Care Development Agency. “It takes research from an academic context to closer to ground realties.”

Ximena Aguilera, from the centre of epidemiology and public health at the University of Chile, says it is does not suffice to just offer incentives for policy-relevant research. On should to ensure the capacity for such research exists.

Irene Agyepong, from the Ghana Health Service, said there is the element of time, as policymakers want information in a short time, whereas a researcher takes anywhere from six months to two years to get results.

Still, as Robert Hecht from Results for Development and chair of the plenary, observes: “It’s (incentives) an idea that is bubbling here.”  Hope the bubble does not burst.

T. V. Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

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