Africa Evidence Network – Latest News

October 30, 2015

The latest evidence related news from Africa:

The annual South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) reviews the attitudes of citizens of the country to various issues. A recent report by the Human Sciences Research Council examined the South African public’s attitudes towards science, astronomy and the Square Kilometre Array Telescope, as well as their knowledge and awareness of these topics, based on the 2013 SASAS data. There is a growing interest by policy-makers in the relationship between the South African public and science. This is based on the assumption that a positive relationship between the public and science can support economic and social development, assist in consolidating democracy and citizenship, and improve the quality of life for individuals.

The Conversation’s article written by Samuel Oti highlights how the lack of civil registration and vital statistics contributes to health inequities in Africa. Evidence shows that African countries record less than 75% of their births and deaths. As a result, African governments are unable to respond to health needs or monitor the millennium development goals without these vital statistics.

The GSMA features a blog written by Jennifer Frydrych which reveals a groundbreaking case study that demonstrates the benefits of payment digitisation in Cote d‘Ivoire through the use of mobile money transactions. It is recorded that 99% of the country’s secondary school students successfully paid their annual school fees digitally.

The African Evaluation Journal has published a special edition focusing on health evaluations in Africa. It features a nine-paper series which includes six English articles, two French articles and one review. The papers showcase African-led evaluation work around key issues currently facing many countries, such as the Ebola epidemic and HIV/AIDS treatment.

The South African Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation released the 2014 Development Indicators which track progress made in implementing key government interventions in South Africa. Some of the key performing areas are: life expectancy, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, Early Childhood Development facilities, number of households and tourism.

Find out more in the latest Africa Evidence Network newsletter.

Spotlight on the Zimbabwe Evidence-Informed Policy Network (ZeipNet)

Nyasha Musandu from ODI recently had a chance to sit down with Ronald Munatsi, Director of the Zimbabwe Evidence-Informed Policy Network (ZeipNet), to discuss the role of ZeipNet in facilitating the mainstreaming of evidence into policy-making processes in Zimbabwe. ZeipNet are part of the BCURE Vaka Yiko project.

To find out what Ronald had to say, follow the link here: http://www.researchtoaction.org/2014/12/qa-spotlight-zimbabwe-evidence-informed-policy-network-zeipnet/

Reflections from the VakaYiko annual consortium meeting

In the final week of July, the VakaYiko consortium came together for their second annual meeting in Accra. This brought a number of partners into one room, with representatives from INASP, the Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS), the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). For the first time (and hopefully not the last!) DFID were also invited to take part in the meeting, which was an offer I could not refuse as a technical adviser to the programme.

This meeting was fascinating for me to see how the relationships have emerged over the past two years, both within the consortium and in the three countries where VakaYiko is currently working – Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe – all of which present different opportunities and challenges for evidence use. We also managed to get out and visit the Ghanaian Civil Service Training Centre, which is helping on the frontline to equip policy makers with the skills to use evidence.

A whole range of topics were discussed over the course of the week, including comparing different capacity-building approaches, the role of VakaYiko at the interface of research and policy, how the Ghanaian government is using evidence, the meaning of research evidence and understanding evidence to policy linkages. We also learnt how important punctuality is, thanks to a video from the Head of the Civil Service, Nana Kwesi Agyekum Dwamena.

Three things really stood out to me during the week:

The multifaceted policy maker

The fundamental aim of the BCURE programme, which VakaYiko is a vital component of, is to increase the use of research evidence in policy-making institutions, such as central government Ministries. One way that we think this might work is by supporting individuals who work in government, through training, mentoring and building working relationships with the research sector. However, as part of this process it has become tempting to for us to talk in generalized terms about how BCURE works with ‘policy makers’. This often leads us to lose sight of the subtleties and nuances of the jobs that people actually have who work in government.

I am not sure I have ever met a ‘policy maker’ or ever will do, but I have met plenty of technical advisers, programme managers, evaluators, research analysts and economists who play a vital role in the multifaceted nature of policy formulation. It was really impressive to see how the VakaYiko partners have supported many of these types of individuals through programme work. A particular example is the knowledge that GINKS has built up through analysing the action plans that government officials write up following training sessions to demonstrate how they will apply learning in their day-to-day work. This is helping to improve knowledge across BCURE of how individuals contribute to policy formulation, at what stages research can inform this phenomenon and what impact this can have.

Having influence in the institutional landscape

It was really insightful to hear experiences from across the project countries about the nature of the institutional landscape, the wide range of factors that influence what government institutions spend their money on and how VakaYiko is supporting organizational transformations so that research evidence actually becomes a factor deemed worthy of informing the decision-making process.

Personally, I like the way that Chris Brown refers to the ‘policy agora’ and places the spotlight on the power inequalities that impact on evidence-informed policy making, which I think is looking at the UK context. At the meeting in Ghana, we heard about how the lack of institutional connections between the research and government sectors is hampering any form of knowledge exchange between the two. Simply put, the lack of interaction or any working relationship can seriously undermine any potential for a researcher to improve their uptake or prevent a government official from knowing how to commission policy-relevant research. In this context, it can often be beneficial to run policy dialogues, something that ZeipNET has been trying out in Zimbabwe to great effect. This mechanism also encourages a wider audience to engage with research evidence, be that civil society organizations, government bodies or the general public (who play a pretty big role in incentivizing evidence use).

Informing major development challenges

The final highlight I took away from the meeting was hearing from Dr Godfred Frempong, a research fellow at the Ghanaian Council for Scientific and industrial Research (CSIR). He was calling for the need for both researchers and policy makers to demystify their understanding of each other, as they often aim for the same goals. He demonstrated a number of policy failures in Ghana that had resulted from a lack of acknowledgement of existing evidence, primarily because the networks and consensus-building process surrounding government institutions did not involve any researchers. This can happen in any facet of policy, ranging from health to aquaculture to environmental management.

Aquaculture in Ghana

We also learnt about how the research sector is effectively dragged away from focusing on national priorities by the international donor community, who can sometimes set the terms of reference for irrelevant or less pertinent studies. This is a major issue for donors who want to address big and messy regional development issues, which may be more of priority in certain countries and less of a focus in others.

We’re only two years into the BCURE journey, which has presented many challenges to the partners so far, but the level of lesson learning taking place will substantially help everyone as we head into year three of implementation.

This is a guest post from DFID Research Uptake Manager Ed Barney

BCURE VakaYiko-funded climate policy roundtable takes place in Kenya

Funded by INASP’s VakaYiko project, the third Kenya Climate Change Science, Technology and Policy Roundtable was held on the 27th of May 2015 in Nairobi.

This roundtable brought together policy makers, community members, civil society, research organizations, academia, national government and local government representatives.

The session was moderated by Dr. George Mwaniki of ACTS and the panelists were:

  1. Hon. Dr. Wilbur Ottichilo, MP
  2. Mr. Stephen Mutimba – CAMCO
  3. Margaret Kamau –CDKN
  4. Dr. Samwel Marigi

Issues discussed included the extent to which Kenya’s interventions are anticipatory and/or reactive; linkages between science and technology bodies and technology transfer that would aid in mitigation (and/or adaptation) and inclusiveness in Kenya’s climate change bill and policy.

Find more information about the roundtable at: http://www.inasp.info/en/news/details/102/

Where do we access evidence? – Guest Blog by Ed Barney, DFID

where-do-we-access-the-evidence

When we develop policy, deliver programmes or carry out research we all take slightly different routes to finding the evidence that helps to shape our decision making process. Every individual has their own range of contacts, systems and networks that they often rely on to support their search for evidence. However, a very simple but persistent barrier that prevents us from using evidence is not being able to find it easily using online systems. This can lead us to relying on a few well known sources that effectively serves to limit the information that flows through to us.

In the organisation where I work – the UK Department for International Development (DFID) – the results from our 2013 Evidence Survey demonstrated that only 30% of staff agreed with the statement that evidence was ‘easy to find’. Indeed, staff identified that the two main barriers to using evidence in DFID were easily finding evidence and having enough time to consider evidence.

I will try to not make any false assumptions, but I would be happy to take a wild guess that the longer you spend searching for evidence, the less time you will actually have to consider it (unless of course you work in a mystery Utopian world that involves a lack of deadlines and bundles of spare time….in which case I would like to meet you to understand how you came to find yourself in this luxurious position).

Networks such as the AEN can provide great value by expanding our knowledge of the different online systems that exist to support better policy development. As a DFID Research Uptake Manager I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief outline of the systems that we fund to improve access to southern research and also provide links to some of the more well-known global resources that are available.

The resources outlined below are open platforms that provide access to synthesised research, impact evaluations and policy briefings with a development orientated focus. Clearly, this is bias towards my preferences, not anywhere near exhaustive and requires comments from all of you to help us uncover the less well known platforms that provide access to rigorous evidence (this is not one for the ‘Google Lovers Club’ – though it is obviously often the best choice for a number of reasons).

One of the key questions about these ‘systems’ that I keep referring to is about how they actually support development practice and ultimately support efforts to reduce poverty. DFID is doing some thinking about the value of online research portals and repositories that we have funded, past and present, through an independent evaluation that we recently commissioned. The evaluation will investigate the information needs and information-seeking behaviour on the internet, of development practitioners. Despite significant programming efforts in this area in recent years we still have surprisingly little rigorous evidence about what works and why. We look forward to sharing the findings of the work early next year.

And finally, here is the list that I keep on referring too. Go forth and access evidence!

Service More information
3ie Provides access to a wide range of evidence including impact evaluations, systematic reviews and policy briefs. 
Cochrane Library  A collection of six databases that contain different types of high-quality, independent evidence to inform healthcare decision-making.
Campbell Library  The Campbell Collaboration is an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions in Crime & Justice, Education, International Development, and Social Welfare.
British Library for Development Studies (BLDS) Digital Library  Full text international development research papers from a range of southern organisations
BRIDGE Summarised and synthesised international development gender-related research products
Eldis

 

Full text international development research, organised by theme and country/region
ELLA Library of research on evidence and learning from Latin America and select publications from others on governance, environmental management and economic development.
Journals Online Journals Online (JOLs) are databases of journals published in a country or Region (i.e. Bangladesh Journals Online or Latin America Journals Online) covering the full range of academic disciplines.
PEAKS The DFID funded Professional Evidence & Applied Knowledge Services (PEAKS) provide access to online evidence resources in particular subject areas. Services are provided through four professional groups:

SciDev.Net Reliable and authoritative science and technology information for the global South, presented in engaging formats.
R4D Research for Development (R4D) is a searchable database for DFID funded research outputs and programme information. It contains over 45,000 records and outputs.This is a useful site if you are looking for evidence by region, country or subject. It contains a wide range of evidence products, including topic guides, systematic reviews and journal articles.

For comments and suggestions on additional online platforms, research portals, and repositories please email cfar@uj.ac.za

We would like to thank everybody who has suggested additional helpful online platforms over the last two weeks. Based on these, we provided an updated list below:

IDRC IDRC’s research database collects over 40 years of IDRC-supported research, which can be searched by development programme, region, and keywords.
Innovations for Poverty Action Database featuring IPA’s research, which mainly focuses on randomised controlled trials of a range of development interventions.
JPAL JPAL’s evaluation database features 626 randomized evaluations of development interventions. The database can be searched using keywords, filters, or the region-theme matrix.
 MamaYe Evidence database to  improve maternal and newborn survival in sub-Saharan Africa.
Oxfam Oxfam’s policy and practice website offers free access to over 3,750 publications including training manuals, research reports and policy briefs.
World Bank World Bank’s open knowledge repository provides free access to the bank’s public development research. 

Politics & Ideas

A new Politics & Ideas post by Ian Goldman highlights how the Presidency’s Department of Planning, M&E (DPME) in South Africa fosters the use of evaluation and research in policymaking. It recounts the history of DPME’s creation as well as some of its initial and current activities. For example, the results of a survey assessing how senior decision-makers in South Africa use evidence are presented.

BCURE Harvard launch digital training in India

The Evidence for Policy Design Harvard BCURE programme launched trainings with Indian civil servants on the use of evidence in policymaking. The course includes modules on policy analysis and cost benefit analysis, for example. It combines online modules as well as in-class components and involved more than 60 senior civil servants.

Click here to find out more about what happened across the Africa Evidence Network in April.

How are projects sharing lessons as they implement?

The INASP-led BCURE VakaYiko project aims to increase the capacity of policy makers to respond to research uptake needs. In a new blog, INASP’s Programme Assistant for the Evidence-Informed Policy Making programme, Shahenda Suliman, discusses some experiences from the VakaYiko programme of engaging with governmental institutions.

The blog article, which can be found here, provides a great outline of the realities of development. It comments on a number of key programming issues, such as the need for continuous engagement, how to work with processes and hierarchies, how to resist the constraints of the project design and the difficulty of sitting fees for civil servants.