Reinterpreting Responsiveness for Health Systems Research in Low and Middle-Income Countries

Bridget Pratt, Adnan A. Hyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ethical concept of responsiveness has largely been interpreted in the context of international clinical research. In light of the increasing conduct of externally funded health systems research (HSR) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), this article examines how responsiveness might be understood for such research and how it can be applied. It contends that four features (amongst others) set HSR in LMICs apart from international clinical research: a focus on systems; being context-driven; being policy-driven; and being closely linked to development objectives. These features support reinterpreting responsiveness for HSR in LMICs as responsiveness to systems needs, where health system performance assessments can be relied upon to identify systems needs, and/or responsiveness to systems priorities, which entails aligning research with HSR priorities set through country-owned processes involving national and sub-national policymakers from host countries. Both concepts may be difficult to achieve in practice. Country ownership is not an established fact for many countries and alignment to their priorities may be meaningless without it. It is argued that more work is, therefore, needed to identify strategies for how the responsiveness requirement can be ethically fulfilled for HSR in LMICs under non-ideal conditions such as where host countries have not set HSR priorities via country-owned processes. Embeddedness is proposed as one approach that could be the focus of further development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-388
Number of pages10
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Country ownership
  • Developing countries
  • Health systems research
  • Research ethics
  • Responsiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy
  • Health(social science)

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