Evaluation of stakeholder engagement in global health research: Lessons learnt from the RESPIRE programme in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and Pakistan
Stakeholder engagement is being increasingly recognised as an important pathway for health research impact. Despite its role in health research, it is often not practised systematically, and when implemented, it is rarely evaluated. We aimed to address this gap by implementing stakeholder engagement in a global respiratory health research programme across ten partner organisations in four countries and evaluating this process and its outcomes. RESPIRE set up a funded platform, with two expert leads and two research fellows, that trained and supported a dedicated stakeholder engagement champion in each partner organisation with overarching templates and resources. Champions, skilled in or familiar with health research and interpersonal communication, worked closely with researchers within their organisation to map, prioritise and engage relevant stakeholders throughout the research studies. Partners engaged stakeholders including patients (through advisory groups and design workshops), healthcare providers (through continuing medical education and training), and policymakers (personal communication, meetings, and workshops). We analysed project and quarterly stakeholder engagement reports, end-of-project evaluation forms, notes from meetings with champions, and accounts from partner organisations to evaluate stakeholder engagement in RESPIRE. Outcomes ranged from raised patient and public awareness of respiratory health issues in India, building a culture of patient involvement in health research in Malaysia, improved capacity of frontline workers and providers across four countries, raised demand for pulmonary rehabilitation in Bangladesh, and integration of evidence into national child health policy and programme in Bangladesh. Lessons learned were:
(1) Effective stakeholder engagement requires institutionalisation i.e., dedicated budget, systems, personnel, and time;
(2) Stakeholder engagement needs to be valued across senior leadership and team members and practised throughout the study and beyond;
(3) Overarching templates are useful, but a contextual, needs-based and locally driven approach is vital. Stakeholder engagement is arduous and time-consuming, yet crucial for relevant research, successful implementation, and evidence translation.