Impact of SORT-IT courses discussed in three journal articles

Operational research training provided through a collaboration between The Union, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the World Health Organization is attracting significant attention. In June, three peer-reviewed journal articles discussed the potential impact of the courses offered by the 18-month-old Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT).

The courses now branded “SORT IT” are based on the outcome-orientated model developed by The Union and MSF in 2009, in which participants formulate a research project which is taken through to publication in a peer-review journal.

The vision, objectives and structure of the SORT IT programmes are described in a review paper in Public Health Action. The article outlines the selection criteria for applicants, along with milestones that participants need to reach to stay on a course and targets that the courses need to achieve to retain the brand of SORT IT. Now that this “blueprint” has been laid down, other organisations can decide if they would like to join this exciting initiative to build capacity for operational research.

What happens to participants after completing the course?  A second article in Public Health Action looked at the post-course experience of participants in the first eight Union-MSF courses, 92% of whom completed the work successfully. The findings were encouraging. After the courses, 62% of participants completed a new research project; 50% published another paper; and 43% facilitated at other operational research courses.  A significant proportion of participants continue to engage in operational research after completing a course, providing evidence of the long-term value of this capacity building model.

Does the research make a difference? A third paper, published  in Tropical Medicine and International Health, used  a self-administered questionnaire to assess whether the research projects undertaken by participants from these same eight courses had made a difference to policy and practice. The results found that  74% of the studies produced a reported effect that included changes to programme implementation, adaptation of monitoring tools and changes to existing guidelines.

“It is important to follow-up a training course with this kind of tracking,” says Prof AD Harries, Director of The Union’s Department of Research. “It should be a standard component of operational research capacity building, and SORT IT endeavours to do this  as part of its contribution to achieveing  the vision of The Union, namely ‘health solutions for the poor’.