The first step in writing and refining your IR proposal is drafting the introduction section. This involves drafting an overview of your research problem and conducting a systematic review of existing materials and literature. This provides a rationale for tackling the problem and highlights the significance of the problem. You will also develop general and specific research objectives, a statement of the problem and your research question(s).
After completing this section, you will be able to:
The introduction to your proposal should:
The introduction content is summarized in Table 1.
The introduction is essentially a focused review of the pertinent existing knowledge, including published studies, project reports and other literature. It builds an argument for conducting the study, including general and specific research objectives, the statement of the problem, and research question(s). This rationale might be based on a need identified by the community, policy-makers and/or programme managers. In sum, the proposal introduction provides a clear, succinct description of what the research is and a rationale for why the project should be carried out and be supported.
The rationale should indicate why the research should be undertaken including the scientific, public health and policy relevance of the problem to be investigated, as well as the magnitude, frequency, affected geographical areas, ethnic and gender considerations of the problem. The introduction should also list other available options to address the research problem, and make a case as to why the chosen approach should be undertaken. It should also indicate how the results will be used, why it is likely to affect health care and health systems/policies, and who will ultimately benefit if the project results are used appropriately.
To accomplish this, succinctly write about each of the items listed below. Just start writing and do not worry about how your ideas sound initially or about perfecting what you write. During the proposal development process, you will continually change, elaborate, delete and edit the introduction as you progress with researching and discussing the topic provided.
There are four components to a good title:
The title may not differ significantly from that of other research proposals, but the topic it addresses will reflect a need identified within the community. It is possible that you may also include “Implementation research” in your proposal title in order to highlight that you are applying for a research grant that is specific to IR.
Every IR proposal needs a robust rationale to present the case to policy-makers and/or funding agencies outlining the benefits of committing scarce resources to the proposed research project. The introduction section of the proposal must therefore strongly justify why the research problem you have identified is important and worthy of support. Justification should also be provided explaining how the selected research problem aligns with the national research agenda. To provide this justification, it is useful to begin by providing evidence through a systematic analysis of existing information.
An IR project has its origin in the recognition of a problem that impedes the effective implementation of an intervention, strategy or policy, and that requires specific new understanding in order for the problem to be addressed.
If, for example, a malaria control programme has concerns over low levels of bed-net ownership in a given district – and yet its stores are filled with undistributed bed-nets – the programme may best be served by strengthening the distribution of the bed-nets rather than embarking on research to explore the problem.
To confirm that the problem identified constitutes an appropriate research project, you can ask the following questions:
To ensure that you have identified a legitimate problem in need of research and worthy of funding, strategically situate your proposal so that it:
These three considerations should be emphasized in the introduction of your proposal and help formulate the rationale for conducting the research. Reflecting upon these considerations is also important in helping you first think broadly, and to subsequently narrow your focus to identify research objectives within that broader context.
The term ‘statement of the problem’ may be misleading as it usually comprises of a self-contained paragraph, rather than a single statement. Here are some brief, additional suggestions to help ensure clarity:
To help you narrow your focus on, clarify and describe the core research problem from a broad perspective, it helps to consider the viewpoints of different stakeholders and to begin identifying the factors that may have contributed to the problem.
The research team should now be able to develop an overview of the problem and, through a systematic analysis of existing resources and literature, provide a rationale for why conducting the proposed research would provide answers, solutions or alternative strategies to the identified problem.
Follow the steps below to help narrow the focus and identify specific research objectives within the broader context of the research problem:
a. Clarify the viewpoints of all stakeholders.
e.g. In relation to an increased defaulter rate among TB patients:
b. Specify and describe the core problem.
e.g. In relation to an increased defaulter rate among TB patients:
c. Identify the factors that may have contributed to the problem and clarify their relationship to the problem.
e.g. In relation to an increased defaulter rate among TB patients:
Focusing on the core research problem may be best carried out by means of a problem analysis diagram depicted in Figure 4.
In IR studies, because the research problem is identified by and articulated by people who implement programmes, the tendency is to phrase the IR objectives in the typical way that programme objectives are stated, e.g. “to increase the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) coverage from 45% to 80%”, rather than as research objectives, i.e. “to explore factors contributing to the poor EPI Coverage.”
In addition, you need to consider whether the research is:
Point out how the research will add value by doing something new or expand/improve upon something already in existence. You need to convince readers that you are not duplicating something that has already been done.
Consider how the research results are urgently needed by policy-makers, implementers and health care providers in order to provide evidence to create a change, implement an intervention or put a stop to current practices.
IR projects should typically address topics of high interest to local and national authorities. It is advisable to involve policy-makers in the project design to ensure political acceptability and facilitate implementation of study results.
Explain the likelihood of the adoption of the recommendations resulting from the research and how the findings will be used to improve health and health care. Demonstrate that you have done your homework and are aware of resources available, as well as any additional resources needed to facilitate implementing the recommendations.
Explain how the research will be beneficial to members of the community being studied. How will the research findings be shared with the target group? Can informed consent be obtained from the research participants? How will you take into account the condition of the participants?
a. Overall objectives
Different funding agencies use varying terminology to describe and characterize objectives, goals, aims etc. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably.
b. Specific objectives
Specific objectives are a breakdown of general objective(s) into measurable action statements that outline what will be done, where and for what purpose. Here are some brief suggestions for framing specific objectives:
After formulating your specific objectives ask yourself the following questions: Are the specific objectives clear, defined in operational terms that can be measured, realistic? Do they demonstrate what the research will do, where and for what purpose?, and, how will the research results will be used to solve the research problem?
An IR question aims to achieve one or more of the following:
This information is required to formulate adequate policies, adapt or plan an intervention, and assess progress and the need for adjustments.
As your team conducts its own implementation research, remember that the research question determines the methods, and the purpose determines the design. IR questions address the design, implementation and outcomes of programmes. IR also explores the following questions: Are there any unintended consequences? Why is it happening as it is? IR questions are driven by implementation problems and should be designed for action-oriented research in collaboration with stakeholders.
In light of this, IR questions:
Table 2 provides examples of how various research and IR domains – such as epidemiological, clinical efficacy and programme effectiveness – respectively address a question of zinc deficiency and diarrhoea.
Formulating IR questions
A programme may generate multiple implementation problems and questions, simultaneously. This can be overwhelming, so it is important to prioritize IR questions, to ensure efficiency and the responsible practice of IR. The criteria shown in Table 3 help with prioritizing IR questions.
The review of literature synthesizes the relevant and most up-to-date information on the proposed research topic and frames the research question(s) being investigated. A literature review should demonstrate that you have read the existing work in the field with insight, thereby providing the reader with a picture of the current state of knowledge and of major questions in the subject area that are also being investigated.
A thorough literature review enables you to avoid duplicating existing research by discovering what research has already been conducted on a given topic. Reviewing the existing literature will help you refine your statement of the problem, analyse various approaches already used in related studies, and assist in forming a convincing rationale for your research. By reading your overview, readers should be convinced that you are familiar with the topic and that you have carried out extensive background research in the field.
A literature review:
You should strategically situate your research problem in the existing knowledge and literature, in order to establish a rationale for why it is important that your identified problem should be researched. Writing this kind of rationale is the first step in developing the synthesis of existing knowledge for an IR proposal.
Conducting a literature review involves reviewing the existing knowledge and carrying out library searches to find relevant resources (i.e. research articles, research studies, reports, government documents, and white papers), reading, and then organizing and synthesizing the information into a succinct overview of the topic. You may find that you need to read about the topic for several days or weeks before beginning to compile or collate available information. At some point, however, you do need to begin to draft the review content. Often you will find that once you begin to write, the process can feel overwhelming and you need to go back and do some more reading. You need to look for major concepts, read with a purpose, be a critical reader and try to write while still reading and reviewing. Writing, reading and re-writing is typically an iterative process. As such, developing a comprehensive synthesis of the existing information can be a protracted task.
Ultimately, a literature review should aim to:
The review of literature is not merely an expression of the research team’s opinion of an issue or topic, but instead presents an objective argument based on existing information, including published literature. An effective synthesis doesn’t depend on, or elaborate upon, one or two studies, but synthesizes the existing information from various sources. It should be well written with one paragraph logically flowing into the next. A literature review does not simply describe or summarize the content of cited articles/publications, but critiques research studies for methodological shortcomings, as appropriate.
It may have been acceptable previously for proposals not to provide a strong synthesis of the existing knowledge due to the research team’s location and lack of access to libraries and resources. That is no longer the case now that anyone who has access to the Internet can explore most of the existing literature. Several search engines, such as Pubmed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed), Hinari (http://www.who.int/hinari/en/) and Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com) will be helpful in this regard. You can also work with a librarian, or assign a specific member of the project team to help you find and access the information you need.
The ideas included in the review of literature should have a logical flow and should be properly cited using the reference style (e.g. Chicago, Harvard etc.) required by the agency to which the proposal is being submitted. There are various software programmes available to help manage, store and use references effectively (e.g. EndNote, Mendeley). If possible, install the 30-day trial EndNote software or the free Mendeley software onto your computer.
It is essential that you use and cite references properly and consistently, and in accordance with the applicable style guide. Not adhering to the conventions of proper referencing suggests sloppy organization and may hamper the chances of a proposal being successful. Moreover, if you do not reference properly, you run the risk of plagiarizing content and/or ideas, which can have severe career and academic ramifications. There are programmes that can help you check against plagiarism during your write up. An example is Desktop Plagiarism Checker (https://desktop_plagiarism_checker.en.softonic.com/).