Managing health research capacity strengthening consortia: a systematised review of the published literature
BACKGROUND: Locally relevant research is considered critical for advancing health and development in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Accordingly, health research capacity strengthening (HRCS) efforts have intensified, increasingly through consortia. Yet, the knowledge base for managing such consortia is not well defined. This review aimed to ascertain the scope and quality of published literature on HRCS consortium management processes, management-related factors influencing consortium operations and outcomes, and the knowledge gaps. METHODS: Given the paucity of published HRCS literature, a 'systematised review' as outlined by Grant and Booth was conducted, modelling the systematic review process without restriction to research-based publications. A systematic search in PubMed and Scopus was carried out coupled with a manual search for papers using reference checking and citation searching. A quality appraisal of eligible articles using the Mixed Method Appraisal Tool was undertaken. Thematic synthesis was used to analyse the extracted data. RESULTS: The search identified 55 papers, made up of 18 empirical papers and 37 commentaries focusing on consortium-based HRCS initiatives involving LMICs and reporting management-related data. The review indicates increasing efforts being made in the HRCS field in reporting consortia outcomes. However, it highlights the dearth of high-quality empirical research on HRCS consortium management and the nascent nature of the field with most papers published after 2010. The available literature highlights the importance of relational management factors such as equity and power relations in influencing consortium success, though these factors were not explored in depth. Operational management processes and their role in the capacity strengthening pathway were rarely examined. CONCLUSION: Findings indicate a weak evidence base for HRCS consortium management both in terms of quantity and conceptual depth, demonstrating the need for an expanded research effort to inform HRCS practice.