Credible knowers

Credible knowers

Reda SadkiGlobal health, The Geneva Learning Foundation, Thinking aloud

“Some individuals are acknowledged as credible knowers within global health, while the knowledge held by others may be given less credibility.” – (Himani Bhakuni and Seye Abimbola in The Lancet, 2021)

Immunization Agenda 2030” or “IA2030” is a strategy that was unanimously adopted at the World Health Assembly in 2020. The global community that funds and supports vaccination globally is now exploring what it needs to do differently to transform the Agenda’s goal of saving 50 million lives by the end of the decade into reality. Last year, over 10,000 national and sub-national health staff from 99 countries pledged to achieve this goal when they joined the Geneva Learning Foundation’s first IA2030 learning and action research programme. Discover what we learned in Year 1Learn more about the Foundation’s platform and networkWhat is the Movement for Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030)?

In global health, personal experience is assumed to be anecdotal, the lowest form of evidence. We are learning, as one of many organizations contributing to Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030), to reconsider this assumption.

An ongoing ‘consultative engagement’ in which a group of global experts has been listening and learning with health professionals working in districts and facilities provides a practical example that changing how we know can lead to significant change in what we do – and what results and outcomes may come of it.

On 12 December 2022, the Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF) hosted a special event with the Immunization Agenda 2030 Working Group on Immunization for Primary Healthcare and Universal Health Coverage, which includes representatives from leading global agencies that support immunization efforts worldwide. 

Over 4,000 people participated. Most were health workers from districts and health facilities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In the run-up to the event, they shared 139 context-specific experiences about their daily work – challenges, lessons learned, and successes – in integrating immunization as part of primary health care practices. The live event opened with such stories and then transitioned into a formal presentation of the framework. This helped everyone make sense of both the “why” and the “how” of the new framework.

However, this was not the first time that the global group was in listening mode. In fact, the new framework was the capstone in a year-long ‘consultative engagement’ that had begun at Teach to Reach 4 on 10 December 2021, attended by 5,906 health professionals who deliver vaccines in districts and facilities. (Teach to Reach is the Foundation’s networking event series, during which participants meet to share experience and global experts listen and learn. You can view the sessions on primary health care here and here.)

Global health organizations often issue new frameworks and guidance, sometimes accompanied by funding for capacity development. However, dissemination often relies upon conventional high-cost, low-volume approaches, such as face-to-face training or information transmission through digital channels, even though fairly definitive evidence suggests severe limitations to their effectiveness.

To address these challenges, the Geneva Learning Foundation and its partners are launching the IA2030 Movement Knowledge to Action Hub, a platform for sharing local expertise and experience across geographical and health system level boundaries. The goal is to research and implement new ways to convert this knowledge into action, results and, ultimately, impact.

The Double Loop, a monthly insights newsletter edited by Ian Steed and Charlotte Mbuh, is one component of this Hub. The newsletter asked questions to all 4,000 participants of the December 2022 event, 30 days and 90 days later, to gather feedback on the new framework.

Here are the questions we asked three months on:

  1. Since you discovered the Framework for Action: Immunization for Primary Health Care, have you referred to this framework at least once? If you have not used it, can you tell us why? How could this Framework be improved to be more useful to you?
  2. If you have referred to this Framework, tell us what did you do with the information in the Framework? How did your colleagues respond to the Framework?
  3. How did this Framework make a difference in solving a real-world problem you are facing? How did things turn out? Explain what you are doing differently to integrate health services, empower people and communities, and lead multisectoral policy and action.

Within days, we received hundreds of answers:

  • Some health professionals apologized, often citing field work, emergency response, and other pressing priorities. This can help better understand the strengths and weaknesses of learning culture (the capacity for change), which the Foundation’s Insights Unit has been researching in the field of immunization since 2020.  
  • Others praised the framework in generic terms (“It’s a great framework”), but did not share any specific examples of actual review, use, or application. Some speak to sometimes peculiar practices of accountability in immunization, where top-down hierarchies remain the norm and provide incentive to always provide positive accounts and responses, whatever the reality may be.
  • A few respondents candidly explained that the Framework does not fit their local needs, as it was primarily designed for national planners. This begs the question of how such local adaptation and tailoring might happen.
  • Finally, we discovered credible, specific narratives of actual use, including adaptation at the local levels. These provide fascinating examples of how a global guidance, developed through a year-long consultative engagement, is actually being translated into practice.

Our Insights Unit is analyzing these narratives, as this exercise is helping us learn how to scale the IA2030 Movement Knowledge to Action Hub to involve the more than 10,000 health professionals who joined the Movement in its first year.

The Double Loop regularly shares feedback from its readers as “insights on sights”. You can already read a sample of responses about the framework.

On 31 March 2023, our team will meet with the IA2030 Working Group to share and discuss the insights gathered through this process.

The Working Group has also changed through this process. In January 2023, it invited its first sub-national member, Dr. María Monzón from Argentina, who brings her own professional experience and expertise from running a primary health care center. She will also serve as the voice of over 10,000 Movement Leaders, immunization staff from 99 countries and all levels of the health system, who met and have been intensively collaborating for over a year in the Foundation’s IA2030 programme. 

Surprisingly, one global immunization technical expert shared his concern that thousands of professionals learning from each other to strengthen their resolve and action might amount to “just a bunch of hot air”. This will only be the case if the global immunization community fails to respond and support, even as it proclaims a genuine willingness to recognize local voices as credible knowers. In another blog post, I’ll share some thoughts on what it might take to rise together.