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 health 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. Worldwide, 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 Africa, and rarely documented in the academic literature. In November 2018 the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) hosted an international meeting 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 usefulness of a practitioner network. The workshop was attended by 29 participants representing 21 institutions in 11 countries and comprised: engagement staff from Wellcome Trust-funded Africa and Asia Programmes (AAPs); facilitators of previously funded Wellcome Trust African School Engagement projects; collaborators of Wellcome Trust funded school engagement projects; and long-established UK and Africa-based School Engagement with research projects. 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 dicussions, and shares the possible function of a network of School Engagement practitioners. Four broad goals for schools engagement emerged: contributing to science education; capacity strengthening for health research; contributing to goals of community engagement; and health promotion. These aimed ultimately at improving health, but also at supporting development in low- and middle-income countries through promoting science-career uptake. Practitioners identified a range of benefits for creating a network to strengthen School Engagement practice: sharing experiences and resources; facilitating capacity strengthening; and fostering collaboration.