“Once in a generation opportunity”. Sustaining evidence-informed decision-making mechanisms and cross-sectoral collaboration

16 November 2021

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Regional perspectives on lessons learned in evidence-to-policy processes during the pandemic, and new ways to promote institutionalization and cross-sectoral collaboration in knowledge translation were at the heart of the second day of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global E2P Summit.

In five regional events, WHO Regional Offices for Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean , Europe, and South-East Asia took a close look at regional specificities in leveraging evidence for countries’ pandemic response and health policy-making. The WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, for example, presented its network of institutions for evidence and data to policy (NEDtP) established in 2020, aiming to strengthen regional and national capacities to improve the availability, quality and use of evidence for decision-making.

At the European Regional Focus Event, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Norway and Czech Republic showcased mechanisms for translating emerging evidence into guidance for policy and practice trough systematic and transparent processes with the help multidisciplinary groups. The Africa Regional Focus Event was a major step in launching the implementation of the new Framework to strengthen the use of evidence, information and research in health policy-making in the Region.

In the day’s first global focus event, institutionalizing knowledge translation mechanisms was identified as a steppingstone to promote E2P at country level. “It’s a way to ensure process, structure, and incentives”, underlined Fadi E-Jardali, Professor of Health Systems and Policy at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. The current public attention on evidence translation offers “a once in a generation opportunity for more sustainable mechanisms”, pointed out John Lavis, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Evidence-Informed Health Systems at McMaster University.

For institutionalizing evidence-informed decision-making, learning from past health emergencies is equally essential, stressed Emma Rhule, the Policy Translation Lead at the United Nations University’s International Institute for Global Health. “Not only that we institutionalize, but also how we do it matters”, she said during the panel. For the right approach, taking stock of evidence standards and knowledge brokerage should also be taken into consideration, added Stephane Jacobzone, Senior Adviser for Public Management and Budgeting at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Sara Bennett, Director for Health Systems at the Johns-Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, U.S.A., similarly pointed out that “we learned a lot from the pandemic – and the time to capitalize and act is now”.

COVID-19 also revealed new complexity in working with local, regional, and national governments of effective evidence-informed approaches. Ruth Stewart, Director of the Africa Centre for Evidence at the University of Johannesburg called for “a shared vision on what we are trying to achieve for more effective knowledge translation in the future, developed jointly by researchers, policy-makers, and stakeholders.”

Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology and Director of the Center for Behavior Change at the University College London, emphasized the role of human behavior in implementing effective health policies. Zubin Shroff of the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, presented a case study from India, where rapid reviews on how to inform health workers on community engagement supported direct integration of findings into the policy process.

The second global focus event was dedicated to connecting insights from the evidence-support ecosystem to make progress towards WHO’s Triple Billion Targets. Collaborating with all producers of decision-relevant evidence – from evidence synthesis to data analytics and modeling, evaluation and technology assessments – is increasingly important for supporting decision-makers with the best-available and context-relevant evidence, explained Tanja Kuchenmüller, Head of WHO’s Evidence to Policy and Impact Unit. Kaelan Moat, Managing Director of the McMaster Health Forum at McMaster University in Canada, listed fit-for-purpose evidence products, structured processes and collaboration in evidence production, and readily-available knowledge translation tools as a building ground for improved collaboration and evidence uptake.

Along a collaborative evidence-to-policy process in Chile and a “living hub of knowledge hubs” platform, Lucy Kuhn-Barrientos from Chile and Promise Nduku from South Africa presented a successful approach and promising support structure to integrated, multidisciplinary evidence use. Mark Leys, Professor and Head of the Organization Policy and Inequalities in Health Research Group at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, showcased the forthcoming WHO Guide and Online Repository for Evidence-Informed Decision-Making.

In several short discussion rounds, panel participants and guests also exchanged on innovative knowledge translation tools, such as online stakeholder dialogues, social media communication formats, and living evidence syntheses. Establishing a culture of evidence use in policy-making, creating more inclusive, cross-sectoral communities of practice, and emphasizing peer-to peer learning were identified as promising strategies for enhanced collaboration among evidence support systems.