People are living longer and staying healthier not only due to seismic changes in the creation of health interventions, such as the introduction of a new vaccine or the scale-up of discrete health interventions like Vitamin A, but equally because of incremental changes that allow for, for example, improved delivery of care. These public health advances have two major things in common: one, they are the result of implementation science—the linking of evidence of what works to policy and program development— and two, they are the result of partnership—the bringing together of diverse stakeholders who span the evidence generation to implementation trajectory.
A third major trait of public health advances is that successful interventions can be difficult to replicate. While it is globally recognized that closing the gap between what is known and what is done is critically important, the translation of evidence of what works into policy and program implementation is not automatic. More often, because of inherent disconnects (working in one’s silo, lack of technical capacity, etc.), the linking between the evidence generation and the evidence engagement pathways is often slow, tedious, or simply does not occur.
Further improvements in health outcomes will require closing the gap between these two health pathways— the gap between what is known and what is done. To address this, USAID’s Health Evaluation and Applied Research Development (HEARD) Project has set out to create the Implementation Science Collaborative (ISC). With the inaugural Steering Group Meeting taking place in October 2018, the ISC will serve as a formal collaborative to bring together a strategic and diverse mix of global, regional and national stakeholders with key implementation science capabilities. ISC partners will come together to overcome disconnects and accelerate evidence-to-use processes in global health.
A collaborative partnership model will prove critical for overcoming the challenges of implementation science because barriers to progress are often due to disconnects in systems or processes. The consequence of these disconnects is often a failure to learn from previous experiences and best practices, and/or investing in the generation of new evidence that is not needed or less relevant to intended users. Such disconnects include:
- Not engaging the right people across disciplines;
- Not having the skills and ability to translate evidence into improved policy and practice;
- A lack of information sharing, or lack of the ability to convey or package information in a useful way; and
- Not engaging end users at the beginning of process, often resulting in work products that are misaligned with end user needs.
In the coming months the ISC interim governance body, in collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders, will propose its first year work plan, selecting a number of discrete projects that integrate the use of evidence with the engagement of policy and advocacy stakeholders. ISC’s composition will reflect the reality that no one type of partner can alone successfully bring the right evidence to decision-makers. The establishment of a partnership that includes policy-makers, implementers, advocates, researchers and civil society will help address key challenges while accelerating the adoption of appropriate evidence by the right stakeholders in a timely manner, ultimately improving health outcomes.