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Health Policy and Systems New Year Seminars: transforming thinking, opening up windows for change, and building networks in Ghana

CHEPSAA support for HPSR courses

New Year seminars

The enthusiasm for health policy and systems work, the capacity to understand and conduct it, and the networks of people and organisations in support of it recently took an important step forward in Ghana with the inauguration of the Health Policy and Systems (HPS) New Year Seminars.

The two week long seminar series, which had its maiden run from 18-29 January 2016, brought together from all over the country more than 20 mid-level researchers with the aim of developing capacity for health systems leadership, practice and research. The participants worked in the health system in different capacities, including doctors, pharmacists and nurses, and represented a variety of organisations such as urban, rural and private hospitals, as well as district health teams.

During the first week of the programme, participants had the option of enrolling in Introduction to Health Policy and Systems Research and/or Leading and Managing in Complex Adaptive Systems. In the second week, Strategic and Reflexive Leadership Practice and Policy Analysis and Implementation were on offer. The Ghana Medical and Dental Council and Nurse and Midwifery Council have accredited all four modules.

Many of the participants opted to participate in both courses during the first week and some even stayed on for the second week – a heavy workload that saw them “suffer” under mountains of nightly reading!

Despite the demanding nature of the two weeks, the courses were very well received and the impact on the participants was sometimes transformational. One of the participants, for example, described this as “really adult learning”. Another reflected on what the modules meant for him “as a person”, noting the many parallels the courses offered to what people working in the health system went through in day-to-day life. The modules gave him a “sense of consequence – in every facet of life” and changed his thinking. A further participant stated that prior to the seminar he only had a “clinician” view of the health system, but that he could now demonstrate a clear knowledge of the “non-clinical aspect of the health system”.

Reflections such as these bring to life the educational notion of threshold concepts (foundational ideas that transform students’ understandings of the subject and the world forever), especially one of the key threshold concepts of these courses: the idea that the health system is knowable and changeable. It also means that those who engage in HPS leadership, practice and research only need a new window to open up on their problem solving. Exposure to new or different thinking, which connects health leaders to the systems they work in, can potentially change the wider system – especially since they have acquired new skills that make them realise that they are an integral part of the health system and thus have a role to play, or influence others to do so in changing the system.

The HPS New Year Seminars were sponsored by the University of Ghana, Ghana Health Service (Research and Development Division) and the Rockefeller Foundation.

They also involved collaboration with the Consortium for Health Policy and Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA). CHEPSAA provided some of the course materials from its collection of open access courses and also had a hand in building the capacity of some of the facilitators. In many instances, the courses adapted and built on CHEPSAA materials and drew on the curriculum development skills that were developed as part of the CHEPSAA programme. Some of the CHEPSAA activities that were adapted included the journal article critique activity, where Ghana-focused research involving materials from the Accelerate Project was used. This use of local content enabled the participants to consolidate the learning objectives of the seminar.

Interactivity is one of the hallmarks of the CHEPSAA courses and of how it approaches facilitation. During the first week we learned that despite the dense content, participants were able to pick up the key concepts quite quickly. This had to do with the practical, experiential sessions, which was a change to the more didactic lecture styles that most participants were used to.

The HPS New Year Seminars brought home the commitment of the University of Ghana and the government to strengthening the country’s health system, as is clear from the involvement of various senior organisational leaders. These include Prof. Kwadwo Koram, Director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (where the seminars were held), Dr Jemima Dennis-Antwi, President of the Ghana College of Nurses and Midwives, Prof. John Gyapong, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research Innovation and Development at the University of Ghana, who gave the keynote address at the closing ceremony, as well as Prof. Richard Adanu, Dean of the School of Public Health, and Prof. Edwin Afari, short course coordinator for the School of Public Health, who had the pleasure of giving participants their certificates to reward them for their hard work.

Overall, the New Year Seminars were an encouraging endeavour. In fact, Dr Moses Adibo, former Director of Medical Services and Deputy Minister of Health and a non-participant observer of the seminars, commented that his “hope in the health system has been restored by observing the participants over the week”.

The next phase of the seminar series will be offered in the summer of 2016. Most of the participants said they would encourage their colleagues to register early for the next session of the seminars - a small win indeed for building health policy and systems work in Ghana.

Authors: Aku Kwamie and Abdallah Ibrahim