The physical and socio-political positions of researchers have implications for health systems research in terms of the development of research questions, the way research is conducted, and its eventual impact. 

Positions can be informed by an individual’s personal characteristics such as age, ethnicity, sex, nationality, class and so on. But they can also be considered by how close they are to a system and those who make decisions. Some writers have talked of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ perspectives on research.

Some researchers do not state their position, assuming that their work is ‘apolitical’ or ‘objective’. This is a position that is not often afforded to minority scholars working on issues that they are personally affected by or those working on gender or women’s rights. These researchers are regularly asked to account for their positions and to justify their potential biases or accused of ‘identity politics’.

The resources by Foreman (2016) and Ooms (2015) explore unspoken or hidden normative presences in global health through which agendas are set and power relations reinforced. Walt (2006) explores how researchers’ positions shape research agendas and explicitly engages with how North/South dynamics effect health systems research processes. Simon and Mosavel (2011) apply an ethical lens to the issue of positionality, drawing on research in South Africa, and suggest conceptual tools for organising work in this area.

Muhammad et al. (2014) explore how participatory research might provide a mechanism for better acknowledging and dealing with researcher positionality. MacGregor and Bloom (2016) suggest several ways deal with researcher positionality, for example, self-reflection, stakeholder consultations, community engagement and setting time aside in the research process to reflect on positionality.