Many of us who work in improving health, governance, education and other spheres would love to have the space to write about what we’re learning and share it with others. Time is a precious commodity however and most of the time our deadline-driven operational work consumes any time we might allocate to thought and writing. Writing this blogpost of 700 words, never mind a policy brief or a journal article which require much more rigor, will take two of us a day of effort combined, possibly a little more.
After 10 years of implementation of Results-Based Financing in health in Africa, and its implementation in more than 30 countries, there are innumerable practitioners who have much to share about what they’ve learnt along the way. And there are so many fellow practitioners who would be interested to learn from other experiences. However budding writers face not only the time constraint, many have also never been trained in the practice of writing formal articles for publication as grey literature or in peer-reviewed journals. Nor are many aware of the range of publishing venues and criteria for acceptance of articles.
With the goal of addressing these issues, the World Bank in partnership with the Royal Tropical Institute in the Netherlands has run a series of “writeshops” to train local RBF practitioners to write articles on the topic of their choice. The format is five or six days in length, with ten to twenty participants, ideally drawn from as many different actors from decentralized and central levels as logistically possible. In writeshops held in Burundi, Cameroon and most recently Burkina Faso, the participants have drawn from national RBF regulators, purchasers, regional health units, health facility managers and verifiers.
A participant from Burkina Faso summarizes the argument she is making in her article to her colleague, who plays the Minister of Health
The facilitators of the writeshop first take participants through the goals of documenting learnings and experience, and outline the differences between this type of documentation and conducting full-blown impact evaluations. Albeit that participants are not discouraged from conducting the latter, the explicit goal of the writeshop is to have participants produce finished articles within a short timeframe, in order to make sure that they see the drafting process through to the end.
Participants are then asked to suggest topics they would be interested in writing about, and common themes among those topics are highlighted in plenary. This serves three purposes.
- First it reduces the number of articles which the group is attempting to produce to a manageable number.
- Second it allows for co-authorship of articles and for each article produced to have been the product of several minds rather than one.
- Third it allows participants with common interests to collaborate, rather than having multiple articles produced on similar themes.
The participants think through who their target audience is, what is the structure of their article and what are the arguments they will make. They collect any data or information they may need to support their arguments. They are given until the middle of the third day to produce their first draft, which may consist of a series of bullet points, or may be in prose. At this point each group (of which there may be four to six, dependent on the number of participants) exchanges their article with another group for a quick peer review.
The peer reviewers provide their comments which the co-authors then integrate into their articles. This process of peer review is repeated once more before the end of the week if there is time, and the co-authors are encouraged to produce a working draft before the end of the writeshop. At this stage the articles are generally about 70% finished. Knowing that participants will go back to their day jobs the following Monday and that finalization of the articles will likely be lower priority than essential daily work, the facilitators and co-authors agree a timetable for production of the final version of the articles and submission to the facilitators for review.
This format has successfully produced a dozen articles covering various elements of the rich experience of Burundi, Cameroon and Burkina Faso in RBF implementation. More importantly it has transferred a key skillset to nearly 60 very capable writers who will now have the ability, if not always the time, to produce further articles.