Lessons from the three years of the VakaYiko EIPM programme
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After three years, 11 countries, 1,164 people trained and 26 public engagement events held, the VakaYiko programme has come to an end. VakaYiko partners have seen a new Research and Policy Unit established in the Zimbabwe Ministry of Youth, supported Parliament of Uganda’s first Research Week, embedded a new evidence course in a civil service college in Nigeria, and produced a framework for understanding how contextual factors affect evidence use in policy making.

A space for reflection

INASP is bringing together 40 VakaYiko partners and stakeholders in Accra next week to reflect on our approaches to capacity building for evidence-informed policy making (EIPM). Representatives from ministries, parliaments, think tanks, universities and NGOs in 12 countries will be gathering to share our experience. We’ll be discussing everything from evidence for gender policy in Sudan to building networks for EIPM in Peru. Follow our discussions using the hashtag #VY2016.

What have we learned?

VakaYiko aimed to try out different approaches to building capacity for evidence use, across a wide range of country and institutional contexts. Here are five key things we’ve learned—and you can read more in our new report on lessons learned from our programme.

  1. Evidence-informed policy making is relevant and important to policymakers in a wide range of political and economic contexts. It’s not only for rich countries or for ‘open’ democratic systems. We relied on trusted local partners with credibility and political savviness to understand how EIPM applies in these different contexts and frame it in an appropriate way. We also tried hard to make our EIPM Toolkit relevant and practical in resource-constrained environments. But we wish we’d included a research component to our programme which could have analysed EIPM in our different country contexts more deeply.
  2. A broad definition of evidence is essential. We looked at four different kinds of evidence: data, citizen knowledge, practice-informed knowledge, and research. This was a good fit for the researchers and policy analysts we were working with, many of whom are relying mainly on statistics and stakeholder consultations for their evidence. Research often comes at the bottom of the list: it’s seen as time-consuming, expensive and inaccessible to many. So an approach to EIPM which rests solely on complex, highly academic tools like RCTs, systematic reviews, and evidence gap maps would not be relevant in many of the contexts we’ve worked in.
  3. We started with an assumption that there were at least three levels of capacity needed for EIPM: individual civil servants with the skills to access, appraise and use evidence; organizational processes for systematically gathering and using evidence; and a wider enabling environment of engaged citizens. We’ve now added a fourth cross-cutting dimension: networks. Networks within and between government departments, as well as between different parts of the research system, are fundamental to building capacity for EIPM. In addition to our public engagement strand of work, we used our approaches at all the other levels to strengthen networks—for example, inviting external speakers from other parts of the research-to-policy system to training workshops and training different departments within one institution together.
  4. A holistic approach which addresses multiple levels of capacity at the same time is most effective. In some countries, we focused on just one level: for example, training or organizational processes. In other countries, we focused on multiple levels at the same time, combining events with pairing schemes, or training with policy dialogues. In cases where multiple levels are targeted at once, it’s important to ‘join up’ the different components though—for example, having pairing scheme participants as speakers at events. And while our results show that developing core skills of civil servants through adult learning approaches is a fundamental part of strengthening capacity for EIPM, in future we would combine these trainings with more in-depth organizational work.
  5. Navigating Payment by Results effectively. Our programme was funded under DfID’s new ‘Payment by Results’ (PBR) model, which was a new way of working for many of us. Several partners felt that PBR’s tight timescales and specific pre-defined milestones inhibited the kinds of flexible, adaptive working which is important for working with public institutions in highly politicized contexts. However, over the years we became more accustomed to PBR models, adjusting our internal systems and processes and developing new ways of phrasing milestones to allow for maximum flexibility. We benefited from an open and reflective relationship with our DfID advisor.

What’s next?

VakaYiko has been granted a short extension from DfID. We’ll be using this to work more deeply at an organizational level in the Ministry of Youth in Zimbabwe and the Parliament of Ghana, through a series of strategic workshops on evidence use. We’re also welcoming two new partners: the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs, who will be coordinating a learning exchange scheme between our 3 Parliaments (Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe), and the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), where we will be piloting our EIPM Toolkit.  We look forward to sharing our learning via our new newsletter (sign up here, ticking the ‘Evidence-Informed Policy Making box) and free webinar series (details and sign-up via the newsletter).

In the longer term, supporting the use of research and knowledge is a key part of INASP’s strategy for the next five years. We will be sharing more about what that means over coming months in our vision of research and knowledge at the heart of development.

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