Initiating a network to support engagement between health researchers and schools: recommendations from an international meeting of schools engagement practitioners held in Kilifi, Kenya.
Davies A., Mwango G., Appiah B., Callery JJ., Duy Thanh V., Gumede N., Inglis R., McCracken S., Mkoola K., Montjane K., Ochanda A., Shonai C., Woods-Townsend K.
Engagement between health researchers and local schools, or School Engagement, has become incorporated into the engagement strategies of many research institutions worldwide. Innovative initiatives have emerged within Wellcome Trust-funded African and Asian Programmes (APPs) and elsewhere, and continued funding from the Wellcome Trust and other funders is likely to catalyse further innovation. Engagement between scientists and schools is well-described in the scientific literature (1-4), however, engagement between health researchers and schools is much newer, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and rarely documented. In November 2018 the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) hosted an international workshop in Kilifi, Kenya, drawing on an emerging community of School Engagement practitioners towards exploring the broad range of goals for School Engagement, learning about the breadth of evaluation approaches and exploring the potential usefulness of establishing a practitioner network. The workshop was attended by 29 engagement researchers/practitioners representing 21 institutions from 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia and the UK. Workshop sessions combining small group discussions with plenary presentations, enabled a range of goals, activities and evaluation approaches to be shared. This report summarises these discussions, and shares participant views on the possible functions of a network of School Engagement practitioners. A breadth of 'deep' and 'wide' engagement activities were described addressing four broad goals: contributing to science education; capacity strengthening for health research; contributing to goals of community engagement; and health promotion. While wide approaches have greater outreach for raising student awareness, deeper approaches are more likely enable informed student views to be incorporated into research. All activities ultimately aimed at improving health, but also at supporting development in low- and middle-income countries through promoting science-career uptake. Participants identified a range of potential benefits which could emerge from a practitioner network: sharing experiences and resources; facilitating capacity strengthening; and fostering collaboration.