Musings on research, international development and other stuff

Nerds without borders – Nhan Tran


Today’s nerd without borders is Nhan Tran of the World Health Organization. Take a look at
posts 1 and 2 as well.

Nhan Tran photo

Dr Nhan Tran – the best dressed man in global health?

1. What flavour of nerdy scientist are you?
My training is in health systems research and a lot of my academic work previously focused on understanding how policy and decision-making processes are influenced and/or informed, how research can be used to inform the scale up of interventions, as well as how to establish and use surveillance systems and the data generated by those systems.

2. What do you do now?
I am Manager of the Implementation Research Platform, that is led by the Alliance for Health Policy & Systems Research within WHO.    Through the IRP, we are trying to support research that can help inform the implementation of effective health interventions—particularly those that can prevent maternal and child mortality.  In addition to supporting direct research, the IRP is also exploring innovative ways to strengthen the capacities of individuals such as programme managers who are directly responsible for implementation, to use data and evidence in their daily work.

One of the interesting things that we are doing is to try to facilitate greater engagement between those who conduct research, and those who can benefit from the knowledge and insights generated by the research.   This is especially important for implementation research as the work of the researchers is directly tied to the problems faced by implementers and there is thus a need to bring the two groups together.

As the Manager of the IRP, I oversee the implementation of the portfolio of activities carried out by partners.   As a platform that engages with global actors, I also have the task of establishing and maintaining linkages with a wide range of stakeholders including donor organizations, multi-lateral organizations, as well as local governments, to help coordinate and align priorities and approaches so that we as a global community can be more effective our efforts to improve health.

3. What has research got to do with international development?
I think research has a huge role in international development—though that role is changing.   Early on, there was a need for research to shed light on the disease burden and to identify trends to help inform where investments were needed.  Research was also needed to develop and test interventions that could be used in diverse contexts.   As a result of this work, we now have a good understanding of the health burden and equally important, we have among our arsenal of tools, evidence on numerous interventions that can help to prevent deaths and improve health, which is critical to development efforts.

While intervention research is still important, the more needed research is research that can help inform the implementation and scale up of these effective interventions and the strengthening of health systems.  This is why investments in health policy and systems research, including implementation research, is so important.  Without this research, we will not be able to optimize that benefits of the interventions and technologies that have been developed and tested.

What is important to note however, is that, unlike burden of disease studies or intervention research, the conduct of health policy and systems research must take place within real-world contexts and linked to policy and programme decision-making.  As research that is more oriented towards problem solving than the testing of a hypothesis, it must be linked to implementation processes and very importantly, it must engage implementers and other decision-makers.    It is only through a collaborative approach to research and decision-making that the challenges of implementation will be overcome.

4. What have you been up to recently?
We recently launched a guide to implementation research – Implementation Research for Health: A Practical Guide that is aimed at bridging the divide between researchers and decision-makers (including practitioners and implementers).  The guide speaks to the value of collaboration and provides framework for implementation research as a collaborative endeavour.

The Guide is available at: (

5. What advice would you give to other science types who want to work in development?
Development is an evolving field and in order to succeed one has to be willing to evolve and change in order to be responsive to the needs of the field.  While having career targets and goals are important motivators and allow us to measure our own progress, its equally important to recognize that these targets and goals often change. Opportunities often arise when they are least expected and benefiting from such opportunities requires a willingness to sometimes deviate from the path that one has set.

6. Tell us something to make us smile?
A husband feared his wife wasn’t hearing as well as she used to, and he thought she might need a hearing aid. Not quite sure how to approach her, he called the family doctor to discuss the problem. The doctor told him there is a simple informal test the husband could perform to give the doctor a better idea about her hearing loss.

“Here’s what you do,” said the Doctor. “Stand about 40 feet away from her and in a normal conversational speaking tone, see if she hears you. If not, go to 30 feet, then 20 feet, and so on until you get a response.”

That evening, the wife is in the kitchen cooking dinner, and the husband was in the den. He says to himself, “I’m about 40 feet away, let’s see what happens.” Then in a normal tone he asks, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

No response.

So the husband moves closer to the kitchen, about 30 feet from his wife and repeats, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

Still no response.

Next he moves into the dining room where he is about 20 feet from his wife and asks, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

Again he gets no response.

So, he walks up to the kitchen door, about 10 feet away. “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

Again there is no response.

So he walks right up behind her. “Honey, what’s for dinner? ”

“Ralph, for the FIFTH time, CHICKEN!”

Hope you enjoyed the post – tune in again tomorrow for another nerdy interview!


6 thoughts on “Nerds without borders – Nhan Tran

  1. Pingback: Nerds without borders! | kirstyevidence

  2. Loving this series, Kirsty. I couldn’t get that link to the IRP guidance to work, but I think I’ve found it at:

    Is that the right one? Looks interesting. David, as usual, has been busy it seems!

  3. Pingback: Nerds without borders – Anna Paterson | kirstyevidence

  4. Pingback: Nerds without borders – Alex Ademokun | kirstyevidence

  5. Pingback: Nerds without borders – Beth Scott | kirstyevidence

  6. Pingback: Nerds without borders – Justin Sandefur | kirstyevidence

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