Critical factors that affect the functioning of a research and evaluation capacity building partnership: A causal loop diagram
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Introduction: Public health policy and practice is strengthened by the application of quality evidence to decision making. However, there is limited understanding of how initiatives that support the generation and use of evidence in public health are operationalised. This study examines factors that support the internal functioning of a partnership, the Western Australian Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Applied Research and Evaluation Network (SiREN). SiREN aims to build research and evaluation capacity and increase evidence-informed decision making in a public health context.
Methods: This study was informed by systems concepts. It developed a causal loop diagram, a type of qualitative system model that illustrated the factors that influence the internal operation of SiREN. The causal loop diagram was developed through an iterative and participatory process with SiREN staff and management (n = 9) via in-depth semi-structured interviews (n = 4), workshops (n = 2), and meetings (n = 6).
Results: Findings identified critical factors that affected the functioning of SiREN. Central to SiREN’s ability to meet its aims was its capacity to adapt within a dynamic system. Adaptation was facilitated by the flow of knowledge between SiREN and system stakeholders and the expertise of the team. SiREN demonstrated credibility and capability, supporting development of new, and strengthening existing, partnerships. This improved SiREN’s ability to be awarded new funding and enhanced its sustainability and growth. SiREN actively balanced divergent stakeholder interests to increase sustainability.
Conclusion: The collaborative development of the diagram facilitated a shared understanding of SiREN. Adaptability was central to SiREN achieving its aims. Monitoring the ability of public health programs to adapt to the needs of the systems in which they work is important to evaluate effectiveness. The detailed analysis of the structure of SiREN and how this affects its operation provide practical insights for those interested in establishing a similar project.
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