Kabir Sheikh, Asha George and Lucy Gilson
Health policy and systems research (HPSR) is a transdisciplinary field of global importance, with its own emerging standards for creating, evaluating, and utilizing knowledge, and distinguished by a particular orientation towards influencing policy and wider action to strengthen health systems. In this commentary, we argue that the ability of the HPSR field to influence real world change hinges on its becoming more people-centred. We see people-centredness as recognizing the field of enquiry as one of social construction, requiring those conducting HPSR to locate their own position in the system, and conduct and publish research in a manner that foregrounds human agency attributes and values, and is acutely attentive to policy context. Change occurs at many layers of a health system, shaped by social, political, and economic forces, and brought about by different groups of people who make up the system, including service users and communities. The seeds of transformative practice in HPSR lie in amplifying the breadth and depth of dialogue across health system actors in the conduct of research – recognizing that these actors are all generators, sources, and users of knowledge about the system. While building such a dialogic practice, those conducting HPSR must strive to protect the autonomy and integrity of their ideas and actions, and also clearly explain their own positions and the value-basis of their work. We conclude with a set of questions that health policy and systems researchers may wish to consider in making their practice more people-centred, and hence more oriented toward real-world change.