Robert Borst PhD research

Robert Borst, MA

Health research in action; the emergence and development of knowledge platforms

Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management,  Erasmus University Rotterdam,

Supervisor: Prof. Roland Bal


While originally trained as Medical Imaging and Radiotherapy technician, my attention was increasingly drawn to explorations of how health research contributes to better health. This led me to pursue a master’s in International Public Health (graduated cum laude in 2015). Subsequently, I have been active as lecturer in Methodology and Applied Biostatistics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, research associate in Health Care Research at Kingston University London & St. George’s University of London, and health systems researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Since September 2017, I am a PhD(c) in Global Health Governance at Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management.

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Health research is deemed essential for improving health worldwide. Especially since the late 1960s there has been an enormous surge in practices of health research. Concurrently, investments in health research have increased dramatically over the past 50 years. The Commission for Health Research and Development’s infamous ‘1990-report’ – published over 25 years ago – showed however that most health research does not necessarily contribute to better health. One of the underlying issues seems to be the misalignment between the health research that is conducted and the actions they actually bring about.


The notion that health research findings do not necessarily contribute to action calls for a better understanding of how health research processes get into being and evolve. Current explorations tend to disregard the contingent nature of knowledge production by speaking of fixed and demarked research outputs. Such approaches neglect the significant amount of work that is necessary to adapt knowledge to potential use and users. As a consequence, knowledge is seen as a black-box’s output that has to be sold to its potential users. Hence, some researchers even use the metaphor of health research being seen as a cannon that shoots knowledge into the world.


A deeper understanding of knowledge production can be found in the Science and Technology Studies (STS) literature. STS researchers conceptualise knowledge as co-produced and accumulated by multiple actors, often centring around a debated claim that has some validity at a specific time and place. This project aims to build upon such insights to gain understanding of how knowledge production processes in health research come into being, emerge, and evolve. Such insights may offer guidance in organising health research of which the results are likely to contribute to better health.


This project sets out to explore the following research questions:
• How do knowledge production practices in health research come into being?
• How are knowledge production practices ‘platformed’ or institutionalised (i.e. how do fluid practices solidify)?
• What are the functions and components of knowledge platforms?
• How are knowledge platforms in health research steered towards making contributions for better health?
• How are knowledge translation practices embedded in systems of legitimisation and funding?


Amalia Hasnida, Robert AJ Borst, Anneke M Johnson, Nada R Rahmani, Sabine van Elsland, Maarten O Kok (2016) – Making health systems research work: time to shift funding to locally-led research in the South, The Lancet Global Health (