The Ministry of Health and Medical Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran has undertaken a reform of its health system, in which-lower level managers are given new roles and responsibilities in a decentralized system. To support these efforts, a United Kingdom-based university was contracted by the World Health Organization to design a series of courses for health managers and trainers. This process was also intended to develop the capacity of the National Public Health Management Centre in Tabriz, Iran, to enable it to organize relevant short courses in health management on a continuing basis. A total of seven short training courses were implemented, three in the United Kingdom and four in Tabriz, with 35 participants. A detailed evaluation of the courses was undertaken to guide future development of the training programmes.
The Kirkpatrick framework for evaluation of training was used to measure participants' reactions, learning, application to the job, and to a lesser extent, organizational impact. Particular emphasis was put on application of learning to the participants' job. A structured questionnaire was administered to 23 participants, out of 35, between one and 13 months after they had attended the courses. Respondents, like the training course participants, were predominantly from provincial universities, with both health system and academic responsibilities. Interviews with key informants and ex-trainees provided supplemental information, especially on organizational impact.
Participants' preferred interactive methods for learning about health planning and management. They found the course content to be relevant, but with an overemphasis on theory compared to practical, locally-specific information. In terms of application of learning to their jobs, participants found specific information and skills to be most useful, such as health systems research and group work/problem solving. The least useful areas were those that dealt with training and leadership. Participants reported little difficulty in applying learning deemed "useful", and had applied it often. In general, a learning area was used less when it was found difficult to apply, with a few exceptions, such as problem-solving. Four fifths of respondents claimed they could perform their jobs better because of new skills and more in-depth understanding of health systems, and one third had been asked to train their colleagues, indicating a potential for impact on their organization. Interviews with key informants indicated that job performance of trainees had improved.
The health management training programmes in Iran, and the external university involved in capacity building, benefited from following basic principles of good training practice, which incorporated needs assessment, selection of participants and definition of appropriate learning outcomes, course content and methods, along with focused evaluation. Contracts for external assistance should include specific mention of capacity building, and allow for the collaborative development of courses and of evaluation plans, in order to build capacity of local partners throughout the training cycle. This would also help to develop training content that uses material from local health management situations to demonstrate key theories and develop locally required skills. Training evaluations should as a minimum assess participants' reactions and learning for every course. Communication of evaluation results should be designed to ensure that data informs training activities, as well as the health and human resources managers who are investing in the development of their staff.