Evaluating health research priority-setting in low-income countries: a case study of health research priority-setting in Zambia
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Priority-setting (PS) for health research presents an opportunity for the relevant stakeholders to identify and create a list of priorities that reflects the country's knowledge needs. Zambia has conducted several health research prioritisation exercises that have never been evaluated. Evaluation would facilitate gleaning of lessons of good practices that can be shared as well as the identification of areas of improvement. This paper describes and evaluates health research PS in Zambia from the perspectives of key stakeholders using an internationally validated evaluation framework. METHODS: This was a qualitative study based on 28 in-depth interviews with stakeholders who had participated in the PS exercises. An interview guide was employed. Data were analysed using NVIVO 10. Emerging themes were, in turn, compared to the framework parameters. RESULTS: Respondents reported that, while the Zambian political, economic, social and cultural context was conducive, there was a lack of co-ordination of funding sources, partners and research priorities. Although participatory, the process lacked community involvement, dissemination strategies and appeals mechanisms. Limited funding hampered implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Research was largely driven by the research funders. CONCLUSIONS: Although there is apparent commitment to health research in Zambia, health research PS is limited by lack of funding, and consistently used explicit and fair processes. The designated national research organisation and the availability of tools that have been validated and pilot tested within Zambia provide an opportunity for focused capacity strengthening for systematic prioritisation, monitoring and evaluation. The utility of the evaluation framework in Zambia could indicate potential usefulness in similar low-income countries.
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