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Building relationships

The overall aim of health systems research is applied; to make a positive difference to policy and practice. This requires mutual understanding throughout the research process between researchers and implementers (governments, NGOs, and communities). 

Strong respectful relationships – between investigators, between researchers and the communities and institutions that they work in, with policy makers, practitioners and other users of research – are key to research success and vital to ethical practice. In this section we have collected resources which illuminate how relationships can prompt ethical quandaries but also support identifying strategies to resolve them.

Some research projects are undertaken within collaborations or consortia which bring together implementing organisations from a number of countries or organisations. Parker and Kingori’s (2016) paper highlights for collaborative global health the importance of a series of factors that researchers see as essential in judging the merits of active participation in global health collaborations, including: respect for the needs, interests and agendas of partners; opportunities for discussion and disagreement; trust and confidence; and, justice and fairness in collaboration. This and other papers highlight that collaborations and consortia are shaped by a range of power dynamics and imbalances which researchers should be mindful of. Pratt and Hyder (2016) provide a checklist that can be used by trans-national research collaborations to determine where their governance practices strongly promote equity and where they may fall short.

The paper by Crane et al. (2017) addresses the issue of capacity building (which many donors demand as a component of research partnerships). Often the flow of resources, skills and knowledge is assumed to flow from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries within these frameworks. The paper explores how one capacity development intervention led to new risks and the weakening of local ownership and room for manoeuvre. It offers lessons for how these negative outcomes can be avoided.

The paper by Hyder et al. (2012) outline some of the ethical issues that come to the fore when researchers engage with low-resource communities over the longer term. These include: “fair benefits and long-term beneficence; community autonomy, consultation and consent; impacts on local health systems; economic impacts of research participation; ethical review processes; and institutional processes and oversight within research organizations.”

We have also included literature on ‘community engagement’ which is a package of interventions employed by research programmes to ensure that local views and beliefs are taken into account and ideally shape priorities and practice. These cover issues like consent, agenda setting and equity.