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Empowering journalists as HPSR knowledge brokers

By Adie Vanessa Offiong
on July 28, 2017



Besides journalists being participants of the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR) can they also be empowered to report Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR)?


They usually begin with “Dear Colleagues,” “Dear Worthy Friends,” “Top of the day to you, I trust you are doing well,” and other such catch phrases. These are followed by several lines of flattery about how the journalist has been so good and diligent with reporting their events and promoting their course. Then comes the real reason for the (rather unappealing) introductory lines – “please kindly find space in your highly esteemed platform to use our press release… possibly in your next edition. Always grateful for your enduring help…”   (grin grin)

Sometimes I read through the press release and see how much of the meat has been lost and how embarrassed I would be to put my byline to a story emanating from such a release.

A couple of weeks ago, I  wrote about making journalists an integral part of the HSR symposium and why it is important for them to attend the event as active participants, not just merely covering it for news sake.

I did a search on Google for ‘media promoting hpsr’ and everything media that came up was social media. That terrified me a bit as I wondered for an instance whether social media had become an apt replacement for mainstream media. They are complementary but can’t replace them (even if Donald Trump thinks otherwise).

Rather than send a press release for an event, is it possible, and of course where permissible, that journalists are embedded from the onset in the program and have a chance to experience for themselves first-hand what the program is about?

In a way, like young researchers, many of us journalists could also use some coaching and training before a ‘state of the art’ HPSR symposium kicks off.  Health Policy and Systems Research is not a generic health genre and requires some level of informed perspectives, knowledge and expertise to do justice to reporting anything in the field. These are attributes that take quite some time before one gets a knack for them. If I do it correctly now, at least sometimes, then I’d say the forces are with me but I would not turn down the chance to be better equipped (even if I have been fortunate to attend the Vancouver symposium and can now immerse myself a bit further in HPSR during my IHP internship in Antwerp).

Academic sounding as HPSR may be, journalists can bring it down to the basics using a bottom up approach with human angled narratives that still do justice to the whole essence of advocating resilient health systems. And trust me, you would get more than the four paragraphs a run-off-the-mill press release would deserve. Such collaborations could even churn out a series of connected reports on a particular HPSR topic.

Working with journalists to produce HSPR-focused newspapers, books and related media could be way more impactful than solely relying on official blogs, websites or social media.

There could be online courses, there could be courses organized before (or even during) conferences – why not skills building workshops/days for journalists as well, before the symposium starts? Communities of practice could also organize training programs for journalists in their locations and/or regional and national hubs.

The impact of such goes beyond the newsroom and news publications. If done well, communities which are the targets of HPSR in the first place, will also end up healthier and safer. Certainly if you believe in the vital role of the media (to boost accountability, raising awareness of rights, …) to help egg on UHC in countries around the globe, as the UHC 2030 movement is gaining momentum, under the leadership of Dr. Tedros and many other UHC proponents, it’d be wise to also think a bit through the role media can play in the movement, and how to properly equip journalists. Such collaborations would be a beneficial way to address the gaps in journalists’ literacy and understanding of health policy and systems research and the need intensify the advocacy for strengthened health systems. Trained journalists can also play a role in bridging the gap between HPSR researchers and policymakers, thus playing a vital role in knowledge brokering towards more effective use of evidence in policy and practice.  Granted, journalists never want to be fully embedded, but you get the idea at least.

So what about a couple of workshops in Liverpool on ‘how to explain intersectionality, complexity, realist evaluation, strategic purchasing, … and other fancy HPSR jargon in a no-nonsense way to audiences across the world?’ Or perhaps some brainstorming on how to empower journalists on HPSR at the upcoming WHO symposium on health financing in Montreux, and ‘Public Financing for UHC: Towards Implementation,’ in early November?

We’re not all Joe Kutzins or Agnès Soucats… and chances are, our readers even less so. But understanding the UHC whizzkids’ logic a little better will certainly not hurt the global and national UHC case.