Developing a district level supportive supervision framework for community health workers through co-production in South Africa

BMC Health Serv Res. 2021 Apr 14;21(1):337. doi: 10.1186/s12913-021-06350-2.


Background: One of the key challenges of community health worker (CHW) programmes across the globe is inadequate supervision. Evidence on effective approaches to CHW supervision is limited and intervention research has up to now focused primarily on outcomes and less on intervention development processes. This paper reports on participatory and iterative research on the supervision of CHWs, conducted in several phases and culminating in a co-produced district level supportive supervision framework for Ward Based Outreach Teams in a South African district.

Methods: Drawing on a conceptual framework of domains of co-production, the paper reflects on the implications of the research process adopted for participants, generation of research knowledge and recommendations for practice, as well as lessons for research on the supervision of CHWs.

Results: Through the research process, participants reflected and engaged meaningfully, honestly and productively across hierarchies, and were able to forge new, dialogic relationships. The iterative, back forth feedback, involving a core group of participants across phases, enabled additions and validations, and informed further data collection. The culmination of the process was consensus on the key issues facing the programme and the generation of a set of recommendations for a local, context-specific framework of supportive supervision. The process of engagement, relationships built and consensus forged proved to be more significant than the framework itself.

Conclusion: The co-production approach can enable local impact of research findings by providing a bottom-up collaborative platform of active participation, iterative feedback, knowledge generation and mutual learning that can complement guidance and frameworks from above. Although time consuming and not without its limitations, this approach to research has much to offer in advancing understanding of CHW supervision.

Keywords: Co-production; Community health workers; Participatory research; Supervision; Support; WBOT.

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Workers*
  • Humans
  • South Africa