Implementation Research and Delivery Science (IRDS) took center stage early on at the Third Global Health Systems Research Symposium in Cape Town this week. USAID’s Ariel Pablos Mendez, the World Bank’s Tim Evans, and WHO’s Abdul Ghaffar opened on IRDS on Monday as one of numerous satellite sessions happening before the official conference kickoff. This session also marked the release of the Cape Town Statement on Implementation Research and Delivery Science.
Their presentations reinforced the powerful and essential linkages between health implementers and their researcher colleagues to increase our understanding of what kinds of strategies improve health system performance but more importantly of how and why strategies work.
All speakers called for greater synergy between implementers and researchers to advance systems science in health and embed learning and sharing of learning into the implementation process. Only then will we be able to tackle the challenges of tailoring and replicating sound strategies. Ariel Pablo Mendez discussed the advent of a new paradigm for the use of research by health implementers and policy makers, and USAID’s commitment to the “science of strengthening implementation in the health sector.” Tim Evans noted that “we know what to do, but not how to do it.”
Implementation Research/Delivery Science (IRDS) is fundamentally applied research. It focuses not on testing hypotheses but on solving a problem. Major funders and global health actors can ensure that IRDS stays grounded and used by channeling resources to researchers and implementers in partnership, or indeed to organizations where measurement and learning is already linked to implementation.
As one pathway for building this essential bridge between implementation and research, the World Health Organization has issued a called for research where the principal investigator must be an implementer, not an academic, not a researcher, encouraging the implementation/research partnership. USAID is actively building research and M&E capacity and partnerships between implementers and researchers through projects like MEASURE Evaluation and Translating Research into Action (TRAction).
In a message for implementers, the leading funders (and the Cape Town Statement on IRDS) are promoting the consistent application of a “learning lens” while working to improve health. Implementers should not only focus on achieving project outcomes but should also ask themselves and their partners: What questions are we trying to answer during implementation? What does the community, district, or country need to learn from this implementation experience? How can we channel investment toward learning while doing, advancing or adding to monitoring systems to create an inherent culture of reflection for ensuring and improving health service delivery and health system performance?
The answers to these questions are not easy, but will be uncovered as implementers and researchers work in partnership to move the implementation research and delivery science domain forward. These teams can ultimately improve health outcomes through improved understanding of why programs succeed and how they can be replicated and scaled.