Health policy and systems research (HPSR) is centrally concerned with people, their relationships and the actions and practices they can implement towards better health systems. These concerns suggest that HPS researchers must work in direct engagement with the practitioners and practice central to the inquiry, acknowledging their tacit knowledge and drawing it into generating new insights into health system functioning. Social science perspectives are of particular importance in this field because health policies and health systems are themselves social and political constructs. However, how can social science methodologies such as action research and narrative and appreciative enquiry enable such research, and how can methodologies from different disciplines be woven together to construct and make meaning of evidence for 'this' field? This article seeks to present 'methodological musings' on these points, to prompt wider discussion on the practice of HPSR. It draws on one long-term collaborative action learning research project being undertaken in Cape Town, South Africa. The District Innovation and Action Learning for Health System Development project is an action research partnership between two South African academic institutions and two health authorities focused, ultimately, on strengthening governance in primary health care.Drawing on this experience, the article considers three interrelated issues: The diversity and complexities of practitioner and research actors involved in co-producing HPSR; The nature of co-production and the importance of providing space to grapple across different systems of meaning;The character of evidence and data in co-production. There is much to be learnt from research traditions outside the health sector, but HPSR must work out its own practices--through collaboration and innovation among researchers and practitioners. In this article, we provide one set of experiences to prompt wider reflection and stimulate engagement on the practice of HPSR for people-centred health systems.
Keywords: Action learning; HPSR; governance; methodology; reflective practice.
Published by Oxford University Press in association with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine © The Author 2014; all rights reserved.