Clara Richards reports back from online discussions that aimed to define evidence informed policy making in Zimbabwe
INASP, working with the Zimbabwe evidence informed policy network (ZeipNET), is developing a course in evidence informed policy making (EIPM) aimed at policy makers in Zimbabwe. To help develop the content, we held an online discussion during the months of August and September with some relevant stakeholders. Among these stakeholders were senior policymakers from the relevant ministries and Parliament, members of academia and the private sector. The aim of the discussion was to get appropriate examples where evidence has been used in policy making. We also aimed to get an understanding of how evidence is interpreted in the Zimbabwean context.
As part of the discussion, participants defined evidence informed policy making (EIPM) in Zimbabwe. Some described it as the ‘conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current and latest research evidence to inform decision making’. Participants noted that the practice also includes the people’s values, norms and culture that are also supported by the experiences and expertise of the community or group of people.
Summing up this part of the discussion, EIPM has three pieces of the puzzle:
1. Research evidence;
2. Norms values and preferences; and
3. Experiences and expectations.
Some participants thought that the values and preferences were sometimes predominant in the process and found it very difficult to encourage more and better use of evidence in this context. Moreover, the pressures that exist in the process of policy making, such as time and urgency, also make the use of evidence very difficult.
The majority accepted the existence of these challenges but thought that there was a way to overcome them. Like in any country, politics is inherent in the process of policy making in Zimbabwe. However, the group agreed that evidence is used in policy making today, although sometimes very lightly.
Examples of research evidence are mainly found in health, economics and technology issues. Other areas use evidence as well, although different types. The discussion led to the conclusion that, in the midst of partisan politics and negative influences on decision making, one of the major objectives of evidence informed policy making is to promote transparency and accountability in government departments and give the skills to individuals to source the best evidence available, even if the decision is then to ignore it.
The formal and informal processes of policy making were also discussed. Many agreed that usually the informal processes are stronger than the formal ones in terms of policy making. Different stakeholders that are not necessarily “formally” part of the process have a lot of power in decision-making. These stakeholders include lobby groups, the private sector, and international players.
The group thought that, as complex as it may sound, there is need to recognize the informal side of the process, that is, to identify it clearly and include it in the process of making policy. This proposed approach will allow EIPM practitioners to see beyond the conventional linear policy making process, appreciate the realities on the ground and act accordingly. Besides getting policy into use, it’s important to get consensus with all relevant stakeholders; finding this balance is a huge challenge.
Regarding the types of evidence used, many times in the discussion and by the examples provided, participants referred to ‘citizen or participatory evidence’. The process of holding consultations, surveys, interviews and conducting needs assessment came up several times when describing the way that evidence is used in Zimbabwe. Desk reviews and research evidence were also mentioned, especially when talking about health issues. Experiences from other countries are also utilised but combined with internal consultations as well to make interventions relevant to the context. It seems that, depending on the field and the reason to get evidence, one type of evidence may be prioritised over another. It was clear from the discussion that often research evidence does not exist or is not available and therefore, public consultations prevail.
A point that followed on was that, although there are some examples of the use of evidence in the formulation of policies, it seems the implementation mechanism is sometimes inefficient and sometimes it takes quite a long time before such evidence is implemented.
In a follow-up blog post I will look at what the online discussions revealed about some of the ways that evidence is already being used in policy making in Zimbabwe.
The EIPM course will take place in Mutare, Zimbabwe, starting with module 1: an introduction to EIPM, which is being piloted in November. This will be followed around April next year with pilots of modules 2-5 that will cover how to search, source and assess evidence.