Posted by Maria Codina on January 4, 2018 at 8:46 am
It is clear that public health policies and programs to address HIV and AIDS should be informed by evidence (Piot, 2015); what is less clear is how to ensure that policy makers and other stakeholders have access to the relevant scientific evidence as they are deliberating policies and developing programs. While it is unlikely that policy and program decisions will be based solely on evidence from research (Kim, 2006); (Eyben, 2013); (DFID, 2014), the absence of strong research evidence also “makes it unlikely that government will adopt an innovation” (Spicer et al., 2014). Yet moving evidence from a study to policy, programs and practice can often take a decade or more (Dickson et al., 2011). For policy makers and programmers in Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMIC), accessing evidence from studies in the peer-reviewed literature can be costly, complicated and time consuming (Lavis et al., 2009). While initiatives to increase open access to journals are useful, abstracts of articles, which are freely available, may not have enough information to be able to understand the key elements in the program that led to successful outcomes. Furthermore, while individual studies are important, to inform programming, syntheses of bodies of evidence tend to be more useful (DFID, 2014).
What is the best way to get evidence in the hands of those developing policies and programs? Based on a review about how evidence is used in policy, program and practice decision-making, Hardee and Wright (Hardee and Wright, 2015) identify building cultures of evidence use as one of five categories of interventions to enhance the contribution of research to decision-making. Interventions to enhance cultures of evidence use have included strengthening capacity for evidence use; using intermediaries between researchers and decision-makers; building knowledge translation platforms; supporting rapid response mechanisms to provide evidence; making research directly available; and better packaging and communication of findings.
This paper investigates the outcome of an initiative to enhance use of evidence on HIV and AIDS programming for women and girls, using the components of building cultures of evidence use identified by Hardee and Wright (Hardee and Wright, 2015). The initiative, What Works for Women and Girls: Evidence for HIV/AIDS Interventions (hereafter What Works) that became www.whatworksforwomen.org, is a comprehensive review of evidence from nearly 100 countries of interventions for prevention, treatment, care and support to strengthening the enabling environment for which there is evidence of success (see Box 1). Launched in 2010, the website serves as a type of knowledge translation platform, and aims to make research available to users in an easily accessed format focused on policy and program implications of the research. In 2011, the website won the Gold Award for electronic publications from the Council on Foundations’ Wilmer Shields Award for Excellence in Communications for making a wealth of information easily accessible in a reader-friendly format. The website was also highlighted in an article by Heidari et al. (2011) as a compilation of important information on gender and HIV that made access to knowledge more widely available. Since tracking began in 2010, the website regularly receives between 4,000-7,000 pageviews per month. Visitors come from more than 200 countries and territories, with the U.S., India, Kenya, South Africa, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Nigeria and Uganda topping the list.
With an aim to increase use of evidence in policies and programs to reach women and girls, what difference has What Works made? Has evidence from it informed the policies and programs of donors? Has it informed national policies and plans? Has it contributed to the information used by civil society organizations? Has access to the website been suficient or were other activities needed to enhance the use of the evidence from the website? This paper reviews the evidence for how the What Works knowledge translation platform has made a difference in the global AIDS response. Lessons learned from this effort may assist others who are working to create cultures of evidence.