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HPSR Teaching Blogs

“A good health policy and systems teaching resource that I discovered in Vancouver"

Teaching tips and techniques for HPSR

For our last blog of 2016, we asked three of our collaborators from Sweden, the UK and South Africa to tell us about the most interesting health policy and systems research (HPSR) teaching resources they discovered at the recent 4th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Canada.

Their task was simple. Listen to presentations, look at posters, participate in sessions. However, don't do so purely from a research perspective. Also consider the information from a teaching perspective…and report back on what you discovered.



Strategies to demand responsiveness from health authorities: a participatory action research project with rural indigenous communities in Guatemala (presented by Walter Flores, Centre for the Study of Equity and Governance in Health Systems, Guatemala)

This work highlights how participatory action research exposes and helps us to understand power relationships between different health system stakeholders. It is about how people living in rural communities in Guatemala monitor local healthcare services and demand accountability.

The project is a good example of resistance to power and how technology, in this case photos and film, can force authorities to take responsibility for problems and issues they had previously avoided by, for example, ignoring complaints or denying that there was a problem in the first place. It shows how disadvantaged groups can be empowered by relatively easy solutions.

This case can be useful in teaching through the many dimensions it captures: power relationships, inclusion-exclusion dynamics, the urban-rural divide, methodological aspects, and practical solutions. The accompanying short documentary Citizens' vigilance of healthcare services and accountability: Guatemala captures people´s views on the need to use tools that generate audio-visual evidence for accountability.


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Student-led teaching cases from Western University

Teaching case studies form an important part of curricula for taught master's programmes and there is growing interest worldwide in developing an open access repository of such cases. In the Thematic Working Group on Teaching and Learning’s skills-building session, Dr Amardeep Thind from Western University, Canada shared their experience of developing teaching cases within the Schulich Interfaculty Programme in Public Health (MPH).

Western’s MPH relies extensively on what was described as an experiential learning method. Over half of the course contents is delivered using a case-based approach, which appears to be a unique feature of this programme. The teaching approach includes a three-step process which starts with individual case preparation, is followed by discussions within small groups of 5-6 students, and ends with reflection and discussion within a larger group.

Along with case studies developed by lecturers, Western has adopted an innovative model of building a catalogue of teaching cases in public health authored by its master’s students. Developing a teaching case study with accompanying teaching guidance notes is one of the final deliverables of the MPH programme. Faculty members select the best cases to form the annual Western Public Health Casebook. Although some cases are specific to the Canadian context, many represent generic health systems and public health issues and can therefore be adapted to suit post-graduate teaching programmes in other contexts.



The bridges that span resilient health systems: interdisciplines and intersections (organised session by South African academics and health system managers from the University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town, and Western Cape Department of Health)

In the teaching of post-graduate HPSR programmes, there is much focus on the interdisciplinary nature of the field and the importance of appreciating this. The organised session reflected this notion and was based on the premise that understanding and solving health system problems, which are inherently complex, require multidisciplinary and intersectoral approaches. A key message was that the ability to work across disciplines is an important competency. Individuals and institutions within health systems should therefore have the ability to act as ‘bridging spanners’.

The session drew on experiences and research of the Collaboration for Health Systems Analysis and Innovation (CHESAI), a collaborative of researchers and other stakeholders in South Africa, to provide examples of participatory approaches to working across boundaries. One of the focal areas was the teaching of interdisciplinary competencies. HPSR teaching programmes strive to produce researchers and practitioners that have the ability to communicate across varied disciplines. It is therefore necessary that curricula incorporate this aspect as a learning objective. So how then can HPSR be taught across disciplines? Practical ways would be, for instance, to use group work activities or the invitation of guest lecturers from other sectors to provide different perspectives.

As mentioned by the facilitators, this competency will enable emerging health policy and systems researchers and practitioners to facilitate innovation and translate research into practice. Participant institutions linked to CHESAI and the Collaboration for Health Policy and Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA) provide examples of curriculum development that incorporate interdisciplinarity and intersectorality as a core competency. Moreover, a key competency promoted in the CHEPSAA Emerging Leaders Programme was the ability to “work across disciplines and the confidence to defend the HPSR field”.