You are an avid reader of the blog ‘Health Financing for Africa’? Then you are probably familiar with the philosophy and the regional activities of the Communities of Practice (CoPs). In this blog post, Jean-Paul Dossou, Patrick Makoutodé and the whole facilitation team of the new Benin hub express their ambition: to launch a national platform, a "hub", in other words, intended to further develop and boost the activities of the various CoPs, and embrace a CoP-style approach at country level, in Benin. If you are active in this country, do not hesitate to join this collaborative project ! If you are based elsewhere, this blog could be a source of inspiration.
A Brief History
Before presenting our vision, let’s provide a quick brief history of how we got this idea in the first place.
Benin established an early link with the CoPs. The first step had to do with the FEMHealth project. This research project, which focused on the policies of free maternal health care, played a major role in the launch of the CoP Financial Access to Health Services (CoP FAHS). Benin was one of the four countries involved in the research, through the ‘Centre de Recherche en Reproduction Humaine et en Démographie (CERRHUD)’ or the Centre for Research in Human Reproduction and Demography. In this context, one of us, Patrick Makoutodé had been designated as focal point of the "CoP FAHS” for Benin. At the time, the CoP strategy at the country level was quite unclear. Very clear though, was the fact that the focal point had facilitated the enrolment of several Beninese experts in the CoP. True, other important actors also directly joined the CoP, such as the Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Health and the Coordinator of the ‘Programme de Renforcement de la Performance du Système de Santé au Benin’ (Health System Performance Strengthening coordinator) in Benin who currently prove to be strong supporters of the CoP hub project. Several Beninese experts also quickly joined other CoPs, more in particular the CoP Performance Based Financing (Benin has a nationwide ambition for its RBF strategy), the Health Service Delivery CoP and the CoP Planning and Budgeting of Health Systems .
The idea of a ‘hub’ emerged on the 28th of February 2015, during a meeting between experts based in Benin and CoP facilitators who just happened to be in Benin at the time (Bruno Meessen, Michel Muvudi and Carine Bruneton). On that particular Saturday morning there were several “triggers”.
First, all national experts in the room (there were officials from the Ministry of Health present, but also researchers and actors from decentralized levels) acknowledged that in our country, the management of knowledge concerning the health system is currently failing; during our discussions, we suddenly began to realize that the Benin situation is actually very similar to the situation which motivated the launch of CoPs at regional level: we operate in silos, we rarely share our respective knowledge,…. The new vision presented by Bruno Meessen was another trigger: we saw in the new strategy promoting collaborative projects an opportunity to start something by ourselves. Finally, Michel Muvudi made an inspiring presentation on a project led by a group of Congolese experts: to launch a CoP hub for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This inspiration remained with us like a seed that only waited to sprout. We thought: why not us too? The next step was obvious: we would meet again soon; this time, a whole day would be devoted to the launch of a national “CoP” initiative.
The Benin hub: vision and first activities
There are words or expressions that you think you “know” naturally, while their real meaning is actually quite different. Indeed, when we heard Michel, we imagined a hub as a derivative or diminutive of the French word “hublot" (a porthole), the small moving window of a ship or the sealed one of an airplane. Likewise, we imagined the Benin hub as a window, an opening, a light of the CoPs shining on Benin.
It was only later that we discovered the meaning of the word "hub" as used in aviation, that is to say a busy airport that airlines use as a transfer point to get passengers to their intended destination. Well after that still, we discovered the computer meaning of the word "hub", a common connection point for devices in a network. These last two meanings of the word ‘hub’ are truly in harmony with the verb "OPTIMIZE", the key aim of our initiative. More in particular, the Benin CoP hub aims to promote and exploit the different energies and different opportunities from the CoPs to optimize their impact on the health system of our country.
In practice, this is what Beninese experts gathering on 18th April decided.
1- Our hub of CoPs will embrace the CoP philosophy: it will be a national organization gathering the expert members of the HHA Communities of Practice (CoP), active in Benin. The general objective is to apply the "recipes" of CoPs (horizontal dialogue between experts, continuity in the learning agenda ...) to promote knowledge transfer in the country. Our hypothesis is that in this way we can contribute to better implementation of health policies.
2. At the meeting of 18 April 2015, these experts organized their discussions around three collaborative projects that will be open to all experts: 1) revitalization of Technical Working Groups (TWG) of the Ministry of Health; 2) realization of the Wiki RBF Benin and 3) organization of an international conference on Results-Based Financing in 2016.
The game is on
The proposed revitalization of TWG has already been presented to the Extended Executive Committee of the Ministry of Health. This has generated much interest at the highest level. The TWG are indeed essential knowledge management tools for the Ministry of Health, but they are barely functional at present. Our ambition is that current expert members of TWG and those who are not yet members but are interested in this collaborative project will contribute via strategic thinking and advocacy for evidence-based health policies, initiation and contextualized knowledge management agendas, and monitoring of their transformation in health policies.
The RBF wiki project will be launched soon at the regional level by the CoP PBF. Informed by Bruno on 28 February, we decided to take the lead and already started organizing ourselves. More specifically, Beninese experts must commit to producing synthesized knowledge on RBF in Benin and to putting this knowledge online (freely available, that is). The experts who join this wiki-project will be involved in the production, archiving and putting online of documentation articles on various key aspects of RBF in Benin. As far as we are concerned, this pilot initiative can later be extended to other major themes of health in Benin.
The organization of an international conference on RBF in Benin in 2016 is just as exciting. The conference will build on current RBF knowledge in Africa. Interested experts will be involved in all phases of the organization both in terms of practical organization of the event as well as in producing high quality content. This ambitious event could still be preceded in 2015 by a smaller meeting on social media as a strategy to support local health systems (in partnership with the Health Service Delivery CoP).
The facilitation team which launches this hub is aware that the challenges are many and that the process will require energy and stamina. Our secret pill: a big dose of enthusiasm and a strong belief that we can turn it into practical ideas.
We will all have to take up an important stewardship role and maximize the opportunities offered by new technologies, but also develop a rigorous and quick learning process. The lessons we learn will improve the process continuously. This is an essential capability of learning organizations, indispensable if we aim for better performance of health systems. So we will have be quick learners, but we feel more than ready for the challenge.
Benin emerges! If you are active in Benin and interested to join us, we invite you to read the project form on this important collaborative project for our health system. We hope many of you will join us.
Access to the project form : Click here
Translation : Zakariaou Njoumemi
Acknowledgements: We express our sincere gratitude to all experts who actively participated in the meetings of 28th February and 18th April 2015 at the Institute of Applied Biomedical Sciences in Cotonou (Benin).