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Publishing in peer-reviewed journals especially from programme work remains very limited in low-income countries, and several arguments have been advanced to change this situation. In this viewpoint, we propose an additional argument for publishing operational research from programmes as a better form of accountability. We urge in this article that for those involved in programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation including donors, if you do not publish articles from your programme or research project, you have not accounted well enough.
La publication dans des revues, notamment de résultats provenant du travail des programmes, reste très limitée pour les pays à faibles revenus et plusieurs arguments ont été avancés pour changer cette situation. Dans cette perspective, nous proposons un argument supplémentaire pour la publication de la recherche opérationnelle des programmes; il s’agit d’une meilleure forme de responsabilité. Nous soutenons que les auteurs impliqués dans la conception des programmes, l’implémentation, le suivi et l’évaluation, y compris les bailleurs de fonds, qui ne publient pas des articles sur leur programme ou leur projet de recherche, ne sont pas assez bien responsabilisés.
La publicación en revistas con revisión por pares, especialmente de trabajos perteneciente a programas, continúa siendo algo muy limitado en países en vías de desarrollo, y se han dado varios argumentos para intentar cambiar esta situación. En este punto de vista proponemos un argumento adicional para apoyar la publicación de la investigación operativa proveniente de programas: es la mejor forma de rendir cuentas. Argumentamos que aquellos que participan en el diseño del programa, en su implementación, monitorización y evaluación, incluyendo a los financiadores, y no publican artículos sobre su programa o proyecto de investigación, no han rendido cuentas adecuadamente.
In this viewpoint, we agree with Zachariah et al. (2010) on their arguments for publishing as a quality-control standard, an opportunity for implementers to contribute to policy change, a way of sharing knowledge in more compressed and easy to read formats. Publishing contributes to wider dissemination of knowledge and to building skills of the individuals involved in the process of writing and revising the manuscript throughout the publication process, which we argue provides a unique learning experience. In addition to the benefits of publishing in peer-reviewed journals as advanced by Zachariah et al. (2010), publishing has the additional benefit of promoting accountability to various programme stakeholders and beyond.
In this article, we define accountability as ‘the obligation a person, group or organization assumes for execution of authority and/or the fulfillment of responsibility. This obligation includes (i) providing an explanation for the execution of authority and/or fulfilment of that responsibility, (ii) reporting on the results of that execution and/or fulfilment, and (iii) assuming liability of those results’ (Artley 2001). Indeed, many programmes, by government, international or local organizations, in health or other facets of community development, involve the use of vast amounts of resources (financial, human as well as time) by both programme implementers and beneficiaries.
Thus, we argue that publishing articles from programme interventions is, in fact, a better way of accounting for the resource spent than the dominant practice among programme implementers of compiling voluminous reports for the stakeholders, largely donors. Producing programme reports is labour–intensive, and most times such reports are not easy to comprehend. Whereas most projects, especially those that are donor-funded, conduct baseline and end of project assessments, findings from such studies are neither widely shared nor accessible to inform learning, policy formulation and revision. This, we believe, constitutes lack of genuine accountability on the part of all actors involved in programmes, donors inclusive. This lack of accountability leads to lost opportunities for learning by beneficiary communities, programme implementers, policy makers, donors and the academia. It also leads to further resource wastage, for instance, by conducting other baseline studies often capturing the same issues that were documented by other actors. This, in turn, leads to community research fatigue and wastage of valuable time for all programme stakeholders.
For health-specific programmes, especially in low-income countries, encounters between health workers and their clients generate valuable information that is rarely analysed in real time to inform better service delivery. Health workers spend more time in filling multiple registers and compiling periodic reports. It would thus appear that we should see more publications in real time on the state and performance of health systems in Africa and other low-income settings to inform the development and strengthening of health systems. The routine data generated in these programmes would offer opportunity to evaluate what works and what does not and what should or should not be scaled-up. The sad reality is that this is not the case, as publications in peer-reviewed journals from programme work remain very limited. However, hope is not lost. There are some published articles based on review of programme data (Byamugisha et al. 2010; Mirkuzie et al. 2010) as well as activities of Civil Society Organizations (Unge et al. 2009; Rujumba and Kwiringira 2010; Kizito et al. 2011; Thomson et al. 2011).
As publishing in peer-reviewed journals is increasingly more valued and encouraged in the academia (Zachariah et al. 2010) even in low-income countries, fostering more collaboration between programme implementers and the academia should be promoted. This would provide a window of hope in ensuring that the benefits of publishing operational research as a way of accountability are not lost. This partnership should be aimed at building the capacity of programme staff through mentorship and shared learning to enable them appreciate the benefits of publishing and gradually gain the confidence to take on the task of publishing either jointly with staff in the academia or independently. Programme designers and donors should appreciate this unique form of accountability, allocate resources and put in place mechanisms to nurture and reward the publishing culture especially in the low-income settings. Our argument resonates well with a common saying within the academic circles that ‘publish or perish’. We propose an alternative saying for programme settings as: If you do not publish articles from your programme or research project, you have not accounted well enough. With commitment from all stakeholders, the benefits of publishing operational research results from programmes can be leveraged.