Are you interested in submitting a proposal for a new Health Systems Global Thematic Working Group (TWG) but are not sure what to expect? We asked our current TWG leads a few questions about their experiences to give you a flavour of the role of TWG lead. Below are their responses.
What do you most enjoy about leading your TWG and working with the TWG members?
Creating networks and making connections
Many TWG leads responded that one of the things they enjoyed most about the role was the connections they made with like-minded individuals across the globe, along with the knowledge that they were contributing to the growth of the network.
“The possibility to contribute to the sustainability and continuity of the TWG, and to know people (and have friends) in different parts of the world.”
“To work, over a longer period of time, with a group of people who share a passion for a specific sub-set from the (very) broad field of health systems – outside the more usual money- (consultancy or project) or employer-driven frameworks.”
“Sharing experiences and learning from each other is something I really cherish. Being a network facilitator, seeing the TWG community grow and create useful knowledge products is so rewarding.”
Building the field and sharing learning
TWG leads also highlighted that they enjoyed playing a role in the facilitation of a group that enables collaboration and sharing of learning, as well as the diversity of ideas, opinions and shared vision. Leads also valued the contribution to building the field in their area.
“Having a sense of contribution towards field building for HPSR, supporting to develop and build capacity for teaching and learning in HPSR.”
“It has brought some visibility and credibility to my ideas, which I thought I was alone in defending (because they typically do not correspond to institutional thinking, within the development industry at least). The feel of like-mindedness is pleasant.”
“We enjoy many things about leading the TWG but two standout experiences have included providing a platform for informal conversations that enable sharing learning and collaborative opportunities between members from diverse backgrounds; and … supporting initiatives … that help new or earlier-career members ‘find their voice’ and showcase their work.”
Being part of something bigger
The role of being a lead of a TWG also brought the opportunity to be a part of something bigger, engaging with HSG, with its global reach and reputation.
What sort of activities get members excited to be involved, and what do you think is the best way to engage members?
Over the course of a year, TWGs undertake many different activities. So which ones were the most engaging for TWG members? Many TWG leads stated that concrete and specific activities tend to gain the most engagement, including activities related to the Global Symposia, blog series, webinars and calls for contributions to journal special issues.
“Organized sessions or thematic sessions for the symposium (because it is a concrete task) and coaching of new TWG members.”
“Our TWG had a fantastic response to the development of a special issue on Medicines in Health Systems for Health Policy and Planning. Many members are excited about the idea to work on a second special issue.”
“We have had an excellent response to invitations to participate in co-authorship of research papers; the drafting of blogs; participation in webinars; helping curate HSR symposium sessions or act as rapporteurs; as well as applying for ‘small grants’. Members have also become increasingly active contributors to our fortnightly newsletter update, sharing publications, events, initiatives and opportunities.”
“There is likely no “best” way to engage members – different activities and opportunities excite people differently. Social events that allow familiarity and network building have led to greater willingness to engage in other activities such as webinars, abstract reviews, mentorship etc.”
Some TWG leads also recognized that not all members will play an “active” role in the group:
“My experience with members is that they get excited about anything that allows them to showcase their own work… but they would like the TWG to do “magic” for them. As soon as they realize that getting engaged takes significant additional efforts from them, they fade away.”
“TWG members primarily join as an expression of wanting to be part of a community of people with similar interests. For most this ‘feel’ needs to be maintained, but varies by individual – things like webinars, meetings do help, but quite a few members seem to be ‘fine’ with a rather passive participation. Should be respected!”
Other leads highlighted the benefit of asking TWG members to take on specific tasks:
“Directly asking members individually to take on specific tasks is more likely to get a positive response than a general question put out to the entire membership.”
What governance mechanisms work well, and what are key governance challenges?
What works well
A number of TWG leads stated that having a collaborative approach to leadership, with each lead taking on different responsibilities, was the most efficient and rewarding way to work:
“Having a leadership team rather than one lead person, as you pool skills and ideas that can be implemented in a variety of ways.”
“A strong understanding and mutual respect between different TWG leads regarding shared responsibility for all TWG tasks, paired with respect and understanding that TWG leadership must be balanced with other responsibilities.”
Other TWG leads shared the following experiences of what worked well:
“The current governance set-up of EV (with a regionally representative governance team, a secretariat, taskforces and partner institutes, especially the host partner, playing roles) has worked fairly well. The mix of new energy and ensuring enough continuity (and institutional memory) also worked quite well.”
“Decision making informed by an intent to be as participatory and consultative as possible, with an active bias towards providing opportunities for members in low-resource settings wherever possible.”
What are the challenges
Challenges highlighted by TWG leads included the heavy reliance on the leadership to initiate and steer activities, maintaining engagement of members, and trying to ensure inclusion and representation.
“Organising increased participation / direct involvement of more members, in a way that is within capacity and time of members as well as TWG leadership to genuinely absorb.”
“Heavy reliance on the leadership to initiate and drive most activities and the difficulties of building more sustained engagement from members who are often already overcommitted. This makes finding a balance between the ‘aspirational’ and ‘sustainable’ in terms of leadership-driven TWG activity a challenge.”
What one piece of advice would you give to new applicants and new TWGs?
Much of the advice put forward by TWG leads centred around ensuring that leads share out responsibilities (between themselves but also within the wider membership) and make connections (with interested members and other TWGs):
“Be passionate and clear about the TWG, engage people who are interested and feel a sense of contribution towards the development of the field. Also, work as a team and complement each other in achieving the TWG goals.”
“Try to give responsibilities to different members: I think that a challenge for TWG leaders is to coordinate activities and not to be the ones that do the majority of the work.”
“Get young professionals involved in the work of the TWG. Be willing to invest time.”
“Make friends with the secretariat! They wield more power than you think ?. Connect to other TWGs early on – build cross-thematic networks. Having leads come from different places and speak different languages made it easier to increase accessibility to different opportunities for members.”
Other advice included to ensure regular turn-over of leadership to ensure fresh ideas (but not to lose the institutional knowledge!), keep expectations realistic and devise achievable workplans that include regular communications with members:
“Four-year cycles seem the maximum. After that, good to take up advisory roles, and pass on the baton. And for the new members, do go through the documents (institutional memory) of the TWG, so that you don’t have the same discussions as before (or at least learn from them).”
“Don’t put your expectations too high, TWGs will not do the work for you. However, don’t give up on your passions and interests. Use the TWG as a leverage to crowd in like-minded people and identify “pearls” in the larger academic/practitioners’ community.”
“Devise an achievable workplan and have buy-in from steering committee members and possibly a sub-group to deliver it. Think about timings and the amount of time the group can voluntarily contribute to it. It is crucial to have a coordinator who has the time, zeal and commitment to support TWG activities.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of consistent, low-key communication for building a sense of community and for providing for low-risk opportunity for all types of members to contribute.”
Submit a proposal
We hope that these insights from existing TWG leads help you to get a better idea of the benefits of being a TWG lead, and some good advice to help inform your proposals.
The deadline for submissions for the call for proposals for Health Systems Global TWGs is 26 February 2021 23:59 GMT. Find out more about the call and how to submit in our call for proposals.