By Dr. Chowdhury Jalal, Senior Technical Officer, Operations and Evaluation Research
I have always wondered why micronutrient deficiencies, or other similar global nutrition problems, have been so difficult to eradicate when the right motivation and plentiful resources to do so are available.
At the beginning of my career, when I started working as an academic researcher for a development organization that took up challenging ideas, I thought this was my chance. Very soon the day would come when I would be running out into the street screaming ‘Eureka! Eureka!! I found the solution’.
All I would have had to do would have been to ensure funding and devise a program that would bring micronutrients to the mothers of young children for free. Who would not want to give to their children micronutrients essential for growth and development, especially when it is coming for free? And there you go – no more hidden hunger.
We would all love to see changes happen so easily; see micronutrient deficiencies vanish from the face of the earth. Unfortunately, solutions for real life programs do not work that way. It took me quite a few years to learn that, as I worked more and more with the programs, interacted with field staff and community members who were the intended beneficiary of the programs.
Making a positive difference in people’s lives, be it on nutrition, health, or wellbeing, requires scientific understanding of the issues and possible solutions to the problems encountered, and application of that knowledge within the context of real life.
This context is inclusive of, but not limited to, elements built over many decades, perhaps even centuries, of individuals, families, societies, and communities, such as:
- Personal characteristics
On-the-ground program personnel who work day-to-day to improve the lives of people have a wealth of knowledge about the community they serve. They best understand the factors that play key roles in decision-making by community members and are the most knowledgeable about the dynamics that may affect a program’s implementation efficiency and effectiveness, which are unforeseeable by an outsider.
Often times, however, we fail to acknowledge this essential resource and tend to prescribe solutions based on theoretical knowledge or ‘evidence’ generated from academic practice. This evidence is essential but by itself contributes little to making the solution comprehensive.
The right blend of theoretical knowledge and practical understanding is crucial in prescribing community-based interventions as a solution to any problem or deficiency. Without this there will be no real acceptance or uptake of the program by the community regardless of the effort put into developing the program and the impact therefore will be implausible.
Constant interaction between mutually inclusive academia and program personnel in the designing, implementation and evaluation of programs is therefore absolutely critical to success.
MI’s Research and Evaluation Unit (REU) not only posits itself between these two essential groups, but also plays a pivotal role in bringing closer the global actors of both sides to bridge the gap. Not as easy as it may sound to do so particularly when, recognized by each other or not, both sides stand on solid grounds of experience.
Through scoping research and program implementation, MI sets the ground for constant interactions between these groups to improve understanding of each other’s perspectives and adjusting to their own.
Appreciating the potential, REU takes advantage of this opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the implementation colleagues in the design, implementation and evaluation of programs.
Learning through this process helps us in future designing of more context-oriented programs and building scientific rigor to our research methods – all in the best interest of the vulnerable population for who we work.