In 2009, The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) developed an outcome-orientated model for operational research training in which participants formulate a research project which is taken through to publication in a peer-review journal. A program called the Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) was formed in collaboration with the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) at the World Health Organization. As a result, the Union-MSF courses are now branded as SORT IT courses.
A review paper in the journal Public Health Action describes the vision, objectives and structure of the SORT IT programmes that includes 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. A “blueprint” has been laid down and other organizations can now decide if they would like to partner in this exciting development for operational research.
A second paper in this journal highlights what happens to participants after they complete a course with information obtained from 92% of those who completed the first eight Union-MSF courses. 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.
A third paper in the journal Tropical Medicine and International Health assesses whether the research projects undertaken by participants from these same eight courses made a difference to policy and practice. In 74% of the studies, there was a reported effect that included changes to programme implementation, adaptation of monitoring tools and changes to existing guidelines.
It is important that this type of tracking after a training course has been completed is undertaken and becomes a standard component of operational research capacity building.