There’s no point collecting data if you don’t use it to improve people’s health and lives. And yet far more good research data are generated than are ever used. This is in part because policy-makers take many things into account when making decisions about health programming. The scientific evidence for what is needed and what can be done about it are important in the process, but not as important as epidemiologists would like to think. As Elizabeth Pisani argues in this essay in The Lancet, we need to put our data in the context of the local political and economic situation; we need to “sell” it to those who can use it well. The most effective way of doing this is to involve potential end-users in defining research questions and interpreting results.

Many researchers are ill-equipped to do this. Some think of patients as sources of blood samples rather than research expertise, and many investigators are all but incomprehensible when talking about their findings. At Ternyata we translate research-speak into plain English (or Spanish, French, Indonesian, Chinese). We’ve learned the hard way that packaging data for different audiences must never be done at the expense of the truth. Some of the earlier documents cited on these pages were, we confess, guilty of excessive spin. We’ve learned to insist that every message is driven by the data, the whole data, and nothing but the data. But that doesn’t mean one size fits all; data get used well when each audience has access to the data and the messages that resonate best with them.

We provide training in data use for researchers and analysts. This ranges from developing scientific writing skills to training health policy makers to interact with the press. We also provide training to journalists who are expected to cover health issues.

Guidelines for the effective use of data from surveillance systems (.pdf 580kb) WHO/UNAIDS, Geneva, 2003

Part of the WHO/UNAIDS series of technical guidelines for HIV surveillance, this document gives guidance on how to use the output of national surveillance systems for advocacy, programme planning and monitoring and evaluation. It contains practical advice on data presentation and the packaging of data into compelling and actionable messages for different audiences, including politicians, affected populations and the press.

Perhaps the most important aspect of data use, however, is in ensuring that research, surveillance and programme monitoring data contribute to the active planning, management and improvement of health services. A draft manual discussing how best to do this in HIV prevention programming is available here:

DRAFT: Back to Basics. A resource manual for planning and tracking effective HIV prevention efforts in adults (.doc 701kb)

World Health Organisation. This is a DRAFT for field testing, not an official WHO document.
A short DRAFT manual that helps HIV prevention programme managers to understand which populations are most likely to be exposed to HIV in the local situation, and which prevention programme elements would do most to reduce that exposure. The draft manual comes with a spreadsheet for calculating exposure, and step by step instructions for using the spreadsheet. This manual is being field tested, and feedback is actively welcomed.