The Health Research Capacity Strengthening Initiative (HRCSI) was a
five-year (2008-2013) programme to strengthen health research capacity
in Malawi; it provided a range of competitive grants for professional
development, internships, undergraduates, Masters and PhDs, and for
institutional strengthening. The purpose of this evaluation is to
document the performance and impact of HRCSI, and to note successes,
challenges and lessons learnt for future capacity-strengthening
activities for health research in Malawi.
The evaluation was informed by published evidence and the experience of
the evaluation team. Information was obtained from face-to-face,
telephone or Skype interviews, supplemented by reports and databases.
Interview guides were based on published information about methods for
evaluating research-capacity strengthening at individual, institutional,
national, and international levels.
The start-up phase of HRCSI had been fraught with difficulties,
primarily due to over-ambitious assumptions about existing capacity in
Malawi for grant-making. HRCSI was reorganized in 2010-11 with extra
support and accountability introduced for financial and project
management. A key lesson is that sufficient time should have been set
aside to establish roles, responsibilities and relationships between
partners and for setting up systems.
The National Health Research Agenda (2012-2016) was widely regarded as
one of the foremost achievements of the HRCSI project, seeking to
harmonize health research priorities and provide evidence which aligns
with Malawi’s priority needs for policy and decision making.
The overwhelming view was that HRCSI produced a step change in the
number of high-calibre scientists in Malawi and in fostering research
interest among young Malawians. It supported around 50 MSc and PhD
students and over 400 undergraduate health-related projects, ranging
from basic science to biomedical and social science. Short-term grants
raised awareness and provided research exposure, longer-term grants
strengthened research capacity. Researchers were generally happy with
the research ethics committees, though there were some perceptions of a
lack of impartiality. Institutional levies on research grants were a
significant disincentive for some researchers. The whole process was
seen as non-corrupt but suffered from submission difficulties, poor
communication about application outcomes, and long delays were reported
in receiving the funding. HRCSI undoubtedly contributed to enhancing
mechanisms in Malawi for managing research processes and funding, and
has developed supporting guidelines and tools for the various stage of
the grant awarding process.
HRCSI supported research dissemination through national and
institutional meetings and academic media, and by sponsoring attendance
at conferences. Findings from several HRCSI-sponsored projects have been
published and around half of all projects were presented at conferences.
HRCSI also contributed to an initiative designed to bring together
policy makers, subject experts and researchers for the purpose of
catalyzing research uptake.
HRCSI funding ceased on 31 October 2013, followed by a one-year
‘consolidation’ phase. There was widespread recognition that it had
significantly increased research capacity in Malawi and was beginning to
develop a track record for health research grant-making. There was
overwhelming support for it to continue as a national research
management centre and with a long-term vision of it as a national hub
for grant management across all sectors. There was general agreement
that while much had been achieved in terms of strengthening the systems,
processes and leadership within the National Commission for Science and
Technology and creating linkages with the Ministry of Education, further
strengthening would be needed for HRCSI to be effectively integrated and
sustained in the long term.
Nyirenda, L.; Kwalamasa, K.; Bates, I.; Cole, D.C.; Fazal, N. HRCSI Programme Evaluation. HRCSI, Lilongwe, Malawi (2013) 67 pp.
HRCSI Programme Evaluation