COUNTDOWN works to help institutionalise production and use of evidence to guide decision making within NTD programmes. To ensure that newly introduced research and research uptake activities will be sustained beyond the life of COUNTDOWN, the Consortium provides capacity-strengthening technical assistance to its staff, associated partners and country-based research communities.
COUNTDOWN supports partners in assessing existing capacity and identifying priority areas for strengthening at both the organizational and individual level. COUNTDOWN then applies a combination of approaches to build knowledge and skills and enhance performance in research and research uptake. Through strong, sustained partnerships, COUNTDOWN’s capacity strengthening efforts targeting institutions and individuals are developing strong independent research teams, able to conduct high quality research and to influence NTD programmes.
Some examples of capacity strengthening within COUNTDOWN are provided below:
Institutional capacity strengthening
- Improved capacity has been evident at the country level e.g. by the Cameroon team writing and mapping key reference national policy documents such as: The Atlas of Schistosomiasis Transmission; Strengthening capacity of Nigeria state and LGA NTD teams to facilitate and improve planning for MAM using intervention tools, building skills in power sharing, knowledge exchange, team building, conflict management, mutuality & respect, using train the trainer approaches ahead of MAM 2019
- Investments in infrastructure and technical equipment with training in its use.
- Technical assistance to reinforce administrative, management, and financial policies and procedures of research organisations
- Planning with UL-PIRE to improve the working environment of the office and job enrichment for staff. Structural arrangements were adapted and there was a shift to a more dispersed centralised unit, enabling lower levels in the hierarchy to be empowered and receive recognition for taking on additional responsibilities and decision making within their areas of skill. We now have in-country project leads depicted in updated governance frameworks.
- COUNTDOWN has worked to support the development of policies and procedures to support institutional growth of various partners where gaps have been highlighted through due diligence processes and capacity assessments.
- COUNTDOWN has also focused on raising gender awareness throughout its research programme through celebrating and promoting the work of COUNTDOWN female staff and building strong supportive networks with stakeholders to ensure women are well represented in health and working professions.
Individual capacity strengthening
- Individuals have flourished within the partner organisations, with junior staff members joining 5 years ago now managing teams of people. Individuals across the partnership have been encompassed in new grant development and have secured additional resources to conduct further research in the areas of NTDs, having created a network of new collaborations, also building confidence and skills through various COUNTDOWN initiatives such as mentorship, presenting at conferences, leading and taking part in various research workshops and trainings provided by COUNTDOWN
- Mentoring on manuscript preparation to allow lead authorship to shift from senior researchers to a broader range of authors across disciplines and countries.
- Formal workshops and training for experiential learning, for example in qualitative and quantitative data analysis including use of NVIVO.
- Practical training, for example in molecular diagnostics.
- Twinning and “learning-by-doing”, whereby less experienced colleagues pair with a senior researchers who coach team members through all steps of the research and evidence promotion process.
- Digital Engagement training through webinars during COVID-19 lockdown with sessions on blog writing, PowerPoint presentations and use of social media.
- Participation in a cross-country blog series, working with partners from other countries to write blog posts focusing on the impacts of COVID-19 on research, healthcare and daily life. This can strengthen partnerships and provide experience of cross-country working as well as put the blog writing training into practise.
- Many team members from partner countries have been undertaking further studies having received scholarships with support from COUNTDOWN, including two PhD’s and 4 Masters.
- Co-funding for scholarships has also enabled junior researchers to present oral presentations and contribute to organised sessions accepted by COR NTD, ASTMH, HSR, European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health, and the Global Conference on Implementation Science in Bangladesh.
Stakeholder capacity strengthening
- Through capacity strengthening activities NTD implementers across two states have learned how to engage and listen to communities better through developing soft skills such as communication, respect for all views and conflict management.
- In Nigeria, COUNTDOWN supported the establishment of a new local governmental areas (LGA) NTD team, which helped in the area of supervision and monitoring during mass administration of medicines (MAM) in Kaduna state. COUNTDOWN also contributed to the revision of training plans for CDDs on how to administer medicines to people with disabilities and adapt programmes to meet urban needs.
- COUNTDOWN researchers are working with the COR-NTD taskforce and other institutions to establish a community of practice for NTD social science and implementation research methods and techniques to be shared across the network. The first planning meeting was held in November 2019 after the main COR-NTD meeting. A key activity for this network will be focused on building junior researcher skills in this area and ensuring country wide engagement.
- Participatory Action Research (PAR) is successful in promoting joint problem and solution finding between communities and different health systems actors and supporting policy implementation analysis at all levels of the health system. COUNTDOWN’s PAR research has strengthened health systems by connecting and co-creating sustainable solutions to implementation challenges.
- In Liberia, research has influenced health systems interventions to be more inclusive of the needs and experiences of individuals. This has led to the inclusion of mental health within the national case management plan for NTDs.
- To influence policy and practice within Mass Administration of Medicines (MAM), COUNTDOWN engaged with the National Steering Committee on NTDs. The Participatory Guide for Planning (PGP) and intervention tools COUNTDOWN created to support MAM, have been introduced by a member of the Federal Ministry of Health NTD team who serves as a co-researcher within the project. A 10-minute training video was produced and has been used in scale up training and this year’s MAM was filmed with examples to accompany the guide.
- In Nigeria, research led to the revision of training plans for CDDs on how to administer medicines to people with disabilities.
- COUNTDOWN has generated evidence on the obstacles impeding access to NTD services and the populations most affected by inequitable coverage. Subsequent changes to NTD programme practice in response to our findings have enabled positive changes that have impacted on the availability and accessibility of interventions to key populations, having undertaken extensive stakeholder engagement to interpret research findings with key groups.