SuRe kick-off: Promoting synergy among the projects

3 November 2017

Mid-September, the SURe kick-off meeting of the three granted projects took place in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a fruitful first exploration of the common ground of, and potential synergies between , the projects. The SURe programme focuses on the effectiveness of the NWO-WOTRO activities that stimulate the use of existing knowledge on knowledge brokering and unlock this knowledge to beneficiaries.

Group picture SURe kick-off

After the opening of the meeting, Han van Dijk explained the objectives of the meeting, emphasising that she looks forward to promote synergy between the three SURe projects. In an introduction round, the participants, representing the four projects, briefly presented themselves, after which more informal talks allowed a more in-depth ‘getting to know each other’.

During the kick-off, NWO-WOTRO Science for Global Development was presented by Han van Dijk, coordinator of the SURe programme. She explained that NWO-WOTRO funds research that focuses on SDGs and LMICs, promoting research across disciplines, impact on policy and high quality and scientific rigour.

NWO-WOTROs view on knowledge brokering

Knowledge brokering is defined by NWO-WOTRO as the set of activities and processes used to facilitate the exchange or sharing of knowledge and technology between different parties in the knowledge processes (demand and supply, generation and use), with an eye to supporting co-development and improving the innovative capability of individuals, organisations and networks.

Conditions and funding instruments include international and transdisciplinary PPPs that co-design research, and specify their impact through a Theory of Change (ToC) and develop knowledge sharing and research uptake strategies. 

Pathways to impact go via outputs (direct results of research), outcomes (changes in behaviour, actions, relationships and practices resulting from research uptake) and impact (changes in economic, environmental and social conditions at which a project or programme is aiming. The latter recognises that change is complex and depends on a variety of actors and factors, of which research is only one of many. The change process is not linear, but all work towards impact.

Knowledge sharing and research uptake requires a strategy consisting of context analyses and stakeholder engagement, internal and external communication, quality assessment, capacity development, and learning and evaluations (regularly adapt ToC, impact pathway and RU strategy).

The SURe research programme

SURe—together with the Knowledge Platforms (KPs) that NWO-WOTRO collaborates with—provides the opportunity to improve and extern knowledge-brokering activities. There are a lot of instruments, but we know little about the effectivity of these instruments. There is a lack of knowledge on the effects of knowledge brokering. There is a quest for scientific underpinning in particular by bringing together existing knowledge.

The SURe call is based on the wish to screen the knowledge available on approaches for knowledge brokering. Existing EPPI document is relevant but also has knowledge gaps. The aim of SURe is to strengthen the evidence base of knowledge-brokering approaches / activities. Objectives include: (i) to provide new insights, based on scientific research, regarding knowledge brokering approaches / activities in order to enhance the outcome (and impact) of research, and (ii) to unlock those insights in such a way that the Knowledge Platforms, NWO-WOTRO and researchers can apply the knowledge.

SURe focuses on the WOTRO research component within the Dutch knowledge-for-development system and maximise the use of existing knowledge on knowledge brokering and unlock this existing knowledge to beneficiaries. Therefore there is a central role of the systematic review. Creating synergies between the projects is important.

Project presentations

Maarten Kok - Evidence for Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH)

The project involves a large consortium network involving Cameroon, Jordan, Nigeria and the Netherlands, aiming to translate evidence into better SRH because there is a lot of research into SRH and translating this evidence into action remains a challenge. In several countries knowledge translations platforms have been set up and several strategies have been implements to synthesise and contextualise evidence through evidence briefs and other organisations of deliberative dialogues. Evaluations show that the combination of deliberative dialogues and evidence briefs is highly appreciated by stakeholders and leads to intentions to act, but whether results are really used and contribute to action remains unclear, while institutionalizing donor-dependent knowledge platforms is challenging. The questions therefore are (1) how to increase the likelihood of translation into action (e.g. through translation ‘champions’ and align it with local needs?, (2) how to assess the use of knowledge through contribution mapping and deliberative dialogues?, and (3) how to facilitate the institutionalization of responsive KT platforms by mapping functions and components, and sponsorship constellations? 

For whom: the involved country hubs, Share-Net International, KIT, NWO-WOTRO, Cochrane International and Cochraine Africa network, and WAHO. Deliverables include publications, capacity building in Nigeria, Jordan and Cameroon, knowledge platform scan, deliberative dialogue (protocol with guidance for translation strategies) and contribution mapping (with protocol for RU dialogues).

Questions about the focus on SRH, whether it is possible to develop a manual on deliberative dialogue (yes), the goal and focus of the systematic review (based on evidence question), comparison between countries (to make context specificity clear), and making the presentation available (will be done). Deliberative dialogue is a kind of policy dialogue to discuss the problem (based on a synthesis or SR) and priorities in a meeting, taking contexts into account. Presentation with a protocol for deliberative dialogue will be shared.

Edith van Ewijk - Putting heads together  in Ghana, South Africa, Netherlands

The reasons for this project is that there is still limited knowledge on (i) the conditions for joint learning in learning platforms, (ii) knowledge co-creation, research and tacit/embedded practitioner knowledge uptake, (iii) set up of learning platforms difference between science-steered and practitioners-steered learning platforms, (iv) sustainability, ownership and local embeddedness of learning platforms. The research questions ask (i) how do KPs enhance knowledge exchange and learning through knowledge brokering, (ii) which factors influence knowledge co-creation and learning processes in learning platforms under different institutional and national contexts and how does this influence knowledge co-creation and joint learning?, and (iii) how can knowledge brokering and learning processes be embedded in local institutions for sustainable institutional change? Research methods include systematic review and qualitative research (participatory action research and document and stakeholder analysis) comparing researcher- practitioner- and policy led platforms and different country contexts.

A question was posed about Participatory Action Research, why a focus on that as an outsider? Focus on small changes, e.g. in the form of targeted knowledge products. How will priority setting take place? A.o. based on the SR and what the researchers in the projects bring up. And how will you select from the info that people share with you? Look at interactions and relationships between the different platforms! (e.g. intended network of ARF projects in Ghana.

Sarah Cummings and Suzanne Kiwanuka  - The unusual suspects

Most research on research uptake (RAPID, Golden Standard report) focuses on policy, research and practice. Private sector is still mostly neglected, whereas it is an increasingly important actor in development as reflected in the discourses on sustainable development goals and public-private partnerships and  Creating Sharing Value strategies of companies and social entrepreneurs. This project will therefore focus on the private sector through a conceptual lens of social capital  (structural, cognitive and relational; bridging, bonding and linking) as linking heterogeneous actors. RQs: What is current and potential role of private sector in knowledge brokering and research uptake, (ii) what are the challenges and what lessons from PS can be used to improve knowledge brokering for development practice, policy and research?, (iii) to what extent is the social capital concepts facilitate new insights into knowledge brokering with the private sector? Activities: scoping review, online survey and consultation with knowledge brokers, and validation workshops. Focus areas will be on water, food & agriculture; social inclusion; reproductive health; security and private sectors. Operational definition of private sector is: profit-driven segment of a national economy, owned, controlled and managed by private individuals or enterprises rather than the government. Operational definition of knowledge brokering: set of activities and processes used to facilitate the exchange of knowledge (demand, supply, generation and use).

Questions are about the broad scope of the research and need to focus (answer: focus on private sector actors engaged in knowledge brokering in platforms); why a focus on the private sector and how private sector is understood (different definitions in different countries; will include private hospitals, private consultants, health consultants, service providers); go beyond the PR story when interviewing private sector actors; and ask more “how” questions rather than “what” and “to what extent” questions; be aware that the health sector is complex; how to involve the other SURe projects.

Systematic Review (SR) in SURe

The afternoon presentations and exchange sessions were preceded by an introduction on SR by Ruth Stewart, who will support the project in developing the projects. Her presentation was followed by a discussion on the elaboration of o protocol.

Mirjam Ros - “Putting heads together”

Outlines the concept of learning platform as an alternative for and contestation of conventional interpretations of research uptake (focus on learning, knowledge brokering and co-creation). From there, the search question is provisionally formulated as ‘What factors help or hinder effective knowledge sharing, learning and co-creation in learning platforms?’. The methodology largely follows the protocol described by James Reed et al. 2016 in the field of environmental management. She further explained the PICO (population, intervention, comparison, outcome) and identified potential challenges such as time, good planning, defining good in- and exclusion criteria in order not to “drown” in the literature, and limited opportunity to include stakeholders at this stage and within time and budgetary limits of the exercise (although some researchers are currently in the Netherlands and can be included in refining of the search question, relevant keywords, etc.). Google Scholar will be used to define the search strategy and then it will be applied to the necessary databases.


  • There is a challenge in interacting with other projects
  • Suggestion to do a panel review once the preliminary results are available. For example, such as ShareNet have done with a WHO panel
  • Researchers might be missing as potential stakeholders but luckily many of them in the Netherlands

Suzanne Kiwanuka - “The unusual suspects”

Most important: defining a clear protocol, including definition of concepts;  conceptual framework for knowledge brokering and how private sector activities fit in; define the databases to be used (including Google Scholar); in- and exclusion criteria (not necessarily PPPs; focus on knowledge platforms); intension to do double screening (verifying whether team members use the same exclusion criteria); a data extraction template will be used for the review; mapping to describe the studies included; content will be checked on alignment with the conceptual framework; difference between different sectors will be looked into, as well as challenges and opportunities and unintended consequences of private sector knowledge brokering identified in the literature. This is a scoping review.


  • Border between private for non-profit is difficult to delineate.
  • To get hold of grey literature, contact authors and use website to locate.
  • Be aware that some knowledge platforms may have PPP arrangements
  • CSR is another challenge: the project needs to decide whether to include foundations and not.
  • There is a difference between informal and formal organisations with many different constellations. This project is concentrating on the corporate sector.

Rik Wehrens - “Translating evidence into better SRH”

Aim of the SR  is to identify practical lessons about the functioning of translation-into-action in SRH and their institutionalization in L&LMIC using  Critical Interpretative Analysis (CIS). Focus on building comparative understanding rather than aggregating data with a view to building new meanings for greater explanatory power and generating new knowledge. The idea is going beyond the original findings, generate new knowledge, and contextualize them. CIS because it allows the team to explicitly take account of theoretically and empirically relevant insights from fields usually neglected in systematic reviews; situate findings into different disciplinary traditions; and generate theory with strong explanatory power. Specific aims are (i) which types of translations-into-action strategies are identified as promising and/or successful in the literature, (ii) under what particular conditions are these strategies considered to be most successful in facilitation, and (iii) to what extent are these conditions and factors applicable to or adaptable to low and middle-income countries? Methodology based on Dixon-Woods et al. 2006. Step 1: establish relevant databases and existing reviews as well as relevant literature from adjacent fields. Not highly structural and protocol-driven, but more organic and iterative in order to include relevant materials that may be missing from a too narrow focus on methodological protocols. Step 2: prioritize theoretically and practically relevant studies and determine quality and in- and exclusion criteria. Not necessarily exhaustive but based on theoretical saturation. Step 3: Analysis leads to synthesizing argument, which integrates the evidence of collected material. Important: to adopt a critical and reflective approach to the literature, including consideration of contradictions and flaws. In sum: critical = questioning the ways in which different disciplines construct the issue and reflect on the assumptions in the literature; interpretative = approach not focused on summary of articles but on meaning and understanding; iterative approach. Synthesis = third order interpretations that build on the explanation and interpretations of the original studies; enables the generation of theory with strong explanatory power; enables the identification of most promising strategies.

Ruth Stewart (University of Johannesburg) about systematic review

Systematic reviews can serve different purposes, e.g. identify different perspectives; finding evidence/effects; etc. Important: focus, define a clear question; use clear definitions; clear inclusion and exclusion criteria. Guiding principles are: transparency, replicability and rigour (in process and methodological approach). 

Six key steps need to be taken toward SR:

  1. Clarifying  the problem and question (who are the stakeholders, form review team, develop review question and scope, ToC;
  2. Finding (searching & screening);
  3. Describing (coding and describing the evidence base);
  4. Appraising (relevance trustworthiness of evidence and extracted data (critical appraisal) - really  important in a policy context!;
  5. Synthesis (configuring or aggregating the results);
  6. Using evidence.

The added value of a SR is the synthesis. We synthesize existing knowledge to create new knowledge. You should think about how to organisze the existing information.

Th erole of ToC prior to review is incredibly useful; stakeholder analysis in this case not necessary but define you client; one or more question to guide the SR? Keep it restricted, or use mapping to then further zoom in on a smaller selection. Use existing review articles and check their inclusion and exclusion criteria as well as the top-20 articles. And think about using a questionnaire as the basis of analysing the texts.


  • Systematic or scoping review? Doesn’t matter, as long as you are transparent about what you are doing.
  • Theory of Change needed? Is useful! But maybe applies more to projects than to SRs, to which a conceptual framework might be more applicable. However it is useful to unpack the assumptions in your research and helps to make clear what you actually want to research, and that feeds into your SR. Helps you to think about inclusion and exclusion criteria and define the flow of logic.
  • Scope of reviews: important to have clear frameworks (should be part of the protocol), definitions (important to have a common understanding within the team), inclusion/exclusion criteria, and establish PICO (population, interventions, comparator, outcome).
  • Are there critical appraisal tools? There are a lot of them. Use one that someone has already used. EPPI!
  • Are there synthesis tools?
  • Are there software and report templates?
  • How to search if you have not access to databases? Work together and share results.
  • International teams are tough! Regular checks are needed that you are still on the same page (e.g. regarding the use of the same exclusion criteria).
  • Keep records of every step and every change; clarity is important!
  • Can we use conceptual reviews? That’s not really what you are asked to do.

Source: NWO