Background: Countries in the World Health Organization African Region have witnessed an increase in global health initiatives in the recent past. Although these have provided opportunities for expanding coverage of health interventions; their poor alignment with the countries' priorities and weak coordination, are among the challenges that have affected their impact. A well-coordinated health policy dialogue provides an opportunity to address these challenges, but calls for common understanding among stakeholders of what policy dialogue entails. This paper seeks to assess stakeholders' understanding and perceived importance of health policy dialogue and of policy dialogue coordination.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional descriptive study using qualitative methods. Interviews were conducted with 90 key informants from the national and sub-national levels in Lusophone Cabo Verde, Francophone Chad, Guinea and Togo, and Anglophone Liberia using an open-ended interview guide. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded and then put through inductive thematic content analysis using QRS software Version 10.
Results: There were variations in the definition of policy dialogue that were not necessarily linked to the linguistic leaning of respondents' countries or whether the dialogue took place at the national or sub-national level. The definitions were grouped into five categories based on whether they had an outcome, operational, process, forum or platform, or interactive and evidence-sharing orientation. The stakeholders highlighted multiple benefits of policy dialogue including ensuring stakeholder participation, improving stakeholder harmonisation and alignment, supporting implementation of health policies, fostering continued institutional learning, providing a guiding framework and facilitating stakeholder analysis.
Conclusion: Policy dialogue offers the opportunity to improve stakeholder participation in policy development and promote aid effectiveness. However, conceptual clarity is needed to ensure pursuance of common objectives. While it is clear that stakeholder involvement is an important component of policy dialogue, numbers must be manageable for meaningful dialogue. Ownership and coordination of the policy dialogue are important aspects of the process, and building the institutional capacity of the ministry of health requires a comprehensive approach as opposed to strengthening selected departments within it. Likewise, capacity for policy dialogue needs to be built at the sub-national level, alongside improving the bottom-up approach in policy processes.
Keywords: Coordination; Policy dialogue; Stakeholders.