"capacity development should follow a more contextualised, human contact and personalised approach"

by Ndi Euphrasia Ebai-Atuh

Improving evidence uptake through blended learning and mentoring

Evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) is a huge challenge in various sectors in Cameroon including the health system. Previously, Cameroon Consumer Service Organisation (CamCoSO) would only share a standardised message with links to Cochrane website and Cochrane Consumer Network (CCNet). These would advise on tasks within the network of consumers, hoping that those interested will sign up, follow the Cochrane online training, and subsequently get recruited for refereeing tasks. CamCoSO has however learned that there is a need to contextualise capacity development (training of Cochrane consumer referees).

As a result of learnings at the Cochrane Colloquium Edinburgh 2018, CamCoSO resolved to improve the Cameroon consumers’ involvement in Cochrane evidence generation in view of improving evidence uptake. Traditionally, when one signs up to the CCNet as a consumer referee , he/she receives online training materials in the form of weekly emails with attached links over a period of 4 weeks. The materials are intended to equip the applicant with the required knowhow of consumer refereeing and general knowledge about CCNet and Cochrane activities as a whole. Upon successful completion of the 4-weeks training period, the applicant is then signed up to receive consumer input tasks.

Given the fact that consumers in most LMICs settings are not versed with online training modes and do not have regular and stable supply of internet and electricity, CamCoSO thought of the blended learning (online and face-to-face) and mentoring scheme. Blended learning is an alternative to solely online learning offered by Cochrane to consumer referees applicants. It is a combination of online, face-to-face, and mentoring sessions that is unlike the traditional Cochrane approach of solely self-study using online resources. These also assigns a mentor to accompany the consumer referee in his/her formation phase.

Sessions on capacity development to train Cochrane consumer referees

From November 2018 up until March 2020, CamCoSO had successfully run 3 face-face and mentoring training sessions for Cochrane consumer referees. Consumer referees are patients, carers or other members of the public who make use of health care evidence. They generally have little or no expertise in health care. This process took our number of Cochrane consumer referees from two in 2018 to six and refereed reviews/ review protocols from 3 to 25. The alternative approach to Cochrane’s solely online training for consumer referees offers a contextualised and personalised training approach. It also provides a more vivid human interaction during the capacity development process consisting of:

1. Sending out targeted requests for expression of interest via social media platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp)
2. Pairing of mentors and mentees into mentoring groups
3. Contacting applicants and providing them with more details on the mentoring scheme (modalities of the training, guidelines for mentee-mentor working relation
4. Organising introductory face-to-face mentoring session; to create acquaintance between mentees and mentors and briefly present Cochrane’s activities and how to get involve as a consumer.
5. Four weeks of dedicated mentor-mentee engagement with an average of 4 meetings: once a week and ideally following the mentees’ reception of his/her weekly email and training materials from the Cochrane Consumer Network (CCNet)

Challenges and lessons learned

Given that the blended learning and mentoring approach for the organisation consists of both online and face-face interactions, CamCoSO faced the following problems:
• Unstable power supply;
• Poor, unstable, and costly internet connections;
• Applicants’ lack of adequate computer skills to perform consumer referee tasks;
• The possibility of mentors and mentees not being able to meet face-to-face during periods of extensive lockdowns in the restive English-speaking zones of Cameroon.

The organisation is still currently facing all the above-mentioned challenges given, but the lack of adequate computer skills is beyond CamCoSO’s scope of influence. Some mentors go the extra mile of providing computer lessons from scratch (creating and accessing emails, navigating website pages and Google searching) for their mentees.

Next steps for CamCoSO

CamCoSO intends to extend this initiative to include as many Cameroon health care consumers as possible. The organisation also intends to:
1. Use more targeted approaches in recruiting consumer referees such as health service providers (persons and institutions), schools and churches.
2. Provide more support e.g., internet supply for mentors and mentees during the 4-weeks mentoring period.
3. Offer fast-tracked computer lessons for consumers who are interested in refereeing but do not possess adequate computer skills to do so.

In a nutshell…

CamCoSO strongly advises that capacity development should follow a more contextualised, human contact and personalised approach.

Ndi Euphrasia Ebai-Atuh is the co-director of Cameroon Consumer Service Organisation (CamCoSO). She is also an assistant lecturer in the Accounting department of the Faculty of Business & Management Sciences at the Catholic University of Cameroon (CATUC), Bamenda; as well as a systematic reviewer at Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa

Ndi Euphrasia Atuh, researcher at Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa and co-director of Cameroon Consumer Service Organisation (CamCoSO)
~ Ndi Euphrasia Atuh, researcher at Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa and co-director of Cameroon Consumer Service Organisation (CamCoSO)