By: Steven Chen
Logos of QES, McMaster Health Forum, and McMaster University, courtesy of Google Images
The Responsive Evidence Synthesis Service (RESS) is our attempt to co-produce with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the Department of Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluations (DPME). It serves as a structured effort to deliver rapid products to decision-makers – evidence products that are both timely to policy agendas while remaining transparent and systematic. Further, the project is rooted in our desire to share in capacity building by offering this service in-house.
While this type of rapid response service is common in the healthcare field, it is certainly an early strategy to promote evidence-use in the environmental sector. Thus, the intentions behind the scoping review was to gather evidence in an effort to build an evidence synthesis service in South Africa. Given that this project is fairly unique in being a service from an LMIC and a service in the environmental sector, we were curious to explore current models being used internationally and seeing if there were insights that may be translated into the environmental field. In particular, we were curious to investigate methodological differences ensuing in rapid products produced, operational considerations, along with programme experience with end-users.
The scoping review has cascaded into a number subsequent projects (many of which Kathy has taken on the reins during her internship), including:
1) A protocol for environmental evidence systematic map
2) A repository for extracted information regarding rapid response programs internationally
3) A qualitative questionnaire exploring end-user perspectives on the use of rapid evidence syntheses in the environmental sector
It is remarkable seeing the initial ideas for the scoping review expand in so many ways.
Reflections from my time in South Africa:
In retrospective, I am grateful for the profound role this internship has had in bridging my perspective on environmental sciences with the medical sciences. As a medical student, we become utterly engrossed with health at the patient level. It is our priority to diagnose and treat the individual for health issues, often causing us to lose sight of surrounding concerns. This internship has sensitized me to consider health beyond the scope of the individual and of society. In theory, environmentalists are just as much practitioners of health as physicians; but in the context of our ecosystem and the well-being of our planet!
On a cultural level, coming to Johannesburg, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a city of vibrant sights, exotic scents, and buzzing music. Wherever I explored, I found myself intimately exposed to the country’s complicated history intertwined with its renewed outlook towards equality. It was humbling to discover such tenacity and grit in a society still tense from events in recent memory. The values behind the work in developing a rapid response service are a testament to South Africa’s growing priority to move forward. I am delighted to have been able to contribute a small part in reaffirming this culture of transparent, evidence-based policy decisions.
Steven Chen is a Queen Elizabeth Scholar in Health Systems Strengthening from McMaster University’s Health Forum. Steven completed his research internship at ACE from May-August 2018. He is currently an MD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Medicine.