Drowning is a global health challenge, claiming an estimated 359 000 lives each year. Commensurate with causes of death of a similar magnitude, such as maternal mortality (303 000 deaths) and malaria (429 000 deaths) it is a neglected public health issue. The causes of this neglect are hypothesized to be many: under-reporting of deaths; lack of recognised ownership of the issue within government; poor framing of the issue by advocates. Whilst these factors all contribute to the low profile of the issue, it is clear that the lack of evidence-based interventions is a significant barrier to effective action. The drowning prevention community has tended to be made up of action-led organisations and driven by technical expertise with little engagement in formal evidence. NGOs in general have tended to be more comfortable producing ‘tacit knowledge’ – that which is intuitive and unarticulated and gained through practical experience over ‘explicit knowledge’ – that which can be codified and acquired by formal study. Explicit knowledge has tended to be the domain of universities, who as publicly funded, professional bureaucracies operate a near monopoly on its production. This binary understanding of ‘knowledge’ and the purposes of its production may be overcome by establishing closer collaboration between NGOs and universities focussed on the co-production of knowledge for mutual benefit. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a UK-based NGO that works on drowning prevention and water safety in the UK and in LMICs such as Bangladesh and Tanzania. Over the passed 3 years the RNLI has embarked upon a range of partnership models with academia. This has presented many challenges, such as competing concepts of evidence and differences in ways of working. Close collaboration has also led to mutual benefit and more rapid uptake of research by RNLI and presents future opportunities for effective collaboration between NGOs-Academia
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