Building the future of Knowledge Translation in the Global South: perspectives from Latin America and the Caribbean

SERIES Knowledge translation in the Global South: reflections on the future 10 items

The Global South has cultural, socio-economic and political factors that shape the way knowledge translation (KT) is developed in its countries. Specifically, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have stories of colonisation that have framed the languages we speak and the way we communicate. One of the shared challenges affecting the implementation and sustainability of evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) is that many of LAC’s countries have recent and fragile democracies, some facing instabilities threatening the continuity of policies with constant loss of institutional memory. Politics is often seen as the opposite of scientific evidence, and while the COVID-19 pandemic demanded cross-sectoral collaboration, some of the KT structures established are already being dismantled without a proper record of lessons learned.

The World Bank classifies most LAC countries as Upper Middle- and Lower Middle-Income categories, but this doesn’t quite reflect the profound inequalities (related to gender, race, ethnicity and wealth) and social gaps (discrimination and fragmentation) that unite us and put the equity and the implementation debate at the centre of any KT effort.

In LAC, we value policy-relevant research evidence, such as systematic and living reviews, as well as local qualitative evidence and tacit knowledge as inputs to the decision-making process, recognising the need to engage stakeholders to understand and incorporate local perspectives. We also fostered initiatives of collaboration, networking and solidarity that are already building the future of KT in the Global South. This past year, the Africa Evidence Network and the LAC Evidence Hub partnered in joint activities towards improving one key aspect of KT: broader citizen and stakeholder participation.

Regional civil society organisations claim discontent towards the centralisation of policy-making and are demanding greater instances of participation. In LAC, we adapted many methodologies to improve diverse stakeholder engagement in KT, such as the Universidad de Antioquia’s stakeholder and citizen dialogues on children policies; the Brazilian stakeholder online consultations on stigma against formerly incarcerated people; Trinidad & Tobago’s stakeholder dialogues on strengthening human resources for health and the provision of targeted access to sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents; and the Chilean Ministry of Health’s Evidence to Decision framework for Evidence-informed Policy Recommendation on a national food programme for children

We have also recognised the challenges of effective evidence communication, given that our populations face different levels of literacy, and tried to answer creatively to ways of searching and understanding information (social networks, radio, TV, and community leaders, among others). These experiences show it is unlikely that we can ‘import’ northern tools and methods without giving them twists and turns to better fit our contexts.

There are key drivers for more inclusive, diverse, equitable KT in the Global South:

  • Government and funders commissioning evidence synthesis, gap maps and stakeholder engagement opportunities that are led by regional teams and focus on the main shared social challenges, preferably by multi-country diverse teams in terms of gender and race.
  • Providing/supporting capacity-building initiatives that are equity-focused, such as the course that Instituto Veredas and the Brazilian Coalition for Evidence developed for early-career researchers from underrepresented groups that wish to pursue KT as a field of practice.
  • Supporting Global South collaboration and partnerships by providing or facilitating simultaneous translation, translation of KT products, free access to scientific databases and travelling costs for meetings.
  • Promoting regional evidence-to-policy ecosystems as platforms that foster intersectoral alliances, including actors from the government, academia, social organisations and citizens, such as the Caribbean Centre for Health Systems Research (CCHRSD)’s initiative on strengthening the EIDM capacity at four social sector ministries in Trinidad and Tobago. 
  • Giving platforms to publish documents that focus on lessons learned in Global South countries, specifically KT products and qualitative insights co-authored with civil society representatives.
  • Providing training and tools to amplify social participation through the development of culturally-sensitive media content, collaborative websites with content in accessible formats, vouchers for internet connection or itinerant consultation in remote places.
  • Developing/valuing culturally responsive indicators for monitoring, evaluation and learning of KT, that are sensitive to the iterative and informal nature of relationship and trust building and what constitutes success in different contexts.
  • Moving towards institutionalisation of EIDM processes and methods at government level and adapting KT mechanisms to the specific needs of decision-makers, as did the Evidence-Informed Health Policies Unit at the Ministry of Health in Chile.