Priorities for Evolving the Field of Global Mental Health Innovation
As the field of global mental health innovation continues to expand and evolve, there are three priorities that should be at the top of our minds as we move ahead.
First, we have to prioritize sustaining and scaling mental health innovations that work well and are most impactful. This begins with reflecting on what exactly we have been doing all these past years, and assessing what has been most effective from both the theoretical and practical lens. This way, we will avoid simply turning to innovations that are rich in science and methodological rigor, but short on practice. We must also ask ourselves critical questions, such as: can we as practitioners select a few effective innovations and invest in sustaining and scaling them well, rather than developing a plethora of new “innovations” just so we appear innovative and responsive to increasing donor demands for innovation?
As well, we must focus on the consumers and their capacities to access and utilize mental health innovations. Here, scaling is key. We must ask: who are the consumers, and how can we best identify and work with them from the start to embed clear scale up trajectories? Plans need to strategically prioritize scaling up geographically and numerically, so that innovations are made available to more consumers. There should also be an emphasis on clearly identifying who the intended consumers are, as innovations that are developed through rigorous technical, scientific, and research streams may not outline this. Where consumers have been defined, it is often assumed that they will be reached (made aware of the innovations) through platforms where research findings are disseminated. Yet in most cases, traditional dissemination activities tend to be narrow in scope, occur at the end of the research cycle, and sometimes have little or no consequence for the main research objectives and outcomes. Importantly, a practice of deeply understanding the consumers is needed. Innovations are costly and require an immense amount of time, resources, and a specific set of skills to utilize them, which intended consumers might lack. It is paramount, then, that organizations work with consumers to learn about their capacities, and co-design innovations with them, so that the innovations can be utilized meaningfully. Otherwise, we may fall into the cycle of looking for new ways of doing things that make us stand out and give clout to our programmes, without actually serving the consumers we are aiming to support.
Lastly, let’s not forget that as we make these investments in innovating, mental health services users are still struggling to access even the most basic of needs and treatments. For the many years it takes one to design, test, and deliver an innovation, we have an ethical obligation to deliver basic services to those that need them the most.
Author: Patrick Onyango Mangen, CEO, REPSSI