John Mugabi Bagonza, Director of the Department of Research Services at Parliament of Uganda, shares the Department’s model with VakaYiko colleagues from Ghana and Zimbabwe at the 2016 VakaYiko Symposium in Accra
– Guest Post by Sunday Olishe Etrima, Research Officer-Parliament of Uganda
INASP’s Evidence-Informed Policy Making team is working with the Parliament of Uganda to improve the use of evidence in decision-making.
Uganda’s constitution places a huge mandate on the Parliament of Uganda to make decisions that serve the interests of the nation and its people. But this is only possible if parliamentary decisions are supported with valid, relevant and well-researched evidence. In other words, decisions must be informed by technical advice built on a strong foundation of evidence and analysis.
In the Parliament of Uganda, it is the duty of the Department of Research Services (DRS) to ensure that parliamentary decisions are backed with evidence. The DRS does this in a number of ways:
Building capacity to providing to Members and Committees of Parliament
The DRS has recently repositioned itself with the aim of providing and promoting more evidence and quality analysis to Members, Committees and Staff of Parliament. As part of the repositioning, the DRS has evolved from a small unit of only twelve staff within the Department of Library, Research and ICT, to being a fully-fledged Department with 39 staff members. This has enhanced the capacity of the DRS to provide evidence to facilitate parliamentary work and addressed some glaring evidence supply deficiencies.
Generating its own multidisciplinary evidence
The DRS is an evidence generation unit in its own right, housing economists, statisticians, accountants, lawyers, social workers, engineers, political scientists, agriculturalists, environmentalists and mineral experts. The DRS’ key research products include fact sheets, regular research reports, bill analysis reports, committee issue briefs, policy analysis reports, committee field visits, and meeting notes. In addition, new products such as constituency profiles, one page summaries and talking points for Members of Parliament (MPs) have been developed and are highly in demand by MPs.
Although proactive research on topical issues is very much encouraged, the DRS generally produces evidence in response to demand from different individuals or organs of parliament. Clients include individual MPs, Committees and Offices of the Parliament. Research requests are placed through the Director of Research Services and the work is assigned to the relevant researcher(s). It should be noted that research outputs are on the increase: in the first quarter of the Financial Year 2016/17, the DRS produced 129 more reports than planned, exceeding its target by 64%. This clearly demonstrates increased demand for research products.
Stimulating demand for evidence
Where there is less demand for evidence, the DRS also focuses on stimulating it, chiefly among Members and Committees of Parliament. This has been done through various strategies, perhaps the most prominent and recent of which was a ‘Research Week’ in August 2016 held to raise awareness of DRS research services among new members of Parliament in the tenth Parliament. Another approach is making presentations to MPs and Committees on the importance of using evidence in their legislative, oversight and representative roles.
Ensuring the quality of in-house research
It is DRS’s strategy to continuously improve the quality of the evidence it generates. For instance, over the past two years, researchers have received training in bill analysis, policy analysis, report writing, committee briefing, science communications, data visualization, and other areas as part of a deliberate effort to build staff capacity in the department. This training was made possible with financial resources from the Parliamentary Commission and development partners such as INASP. As a result, the DRS’ capacity to generate more and better-quality evidence has improved significantly. The knock-on effect is that the department has earned the trust of the Parliamentary Commission, and now executes assignments in-house that were previously done by externally hired consultants. For instance, the DRS currently undertakes training needs assessment for the Institute of Parliament Studies.
Building strong systems to support evidence generation and use
Lastly, the quest of the DRS to ensure better use of evidence in Parliamentary work is rooted in building strong systems to support increased supply and demand for evidence in the legislative, representative and oversight functions of the Parliament of Uganda. To this end, the DRS has developed research guidelines and manuals to support its mandate. It is also developing a website and workflow system to share its products internally and externally, and finalizing collaborative arrangements with key research institutions and think tanks to create a pathway to allow the enormous amount of evidence produced by such institutions to be used in the policy arena.
That’s not to say there aren’t still some challenges: increasing number of MPs and Committees of Parliament that increases demand for work, limited funds to finance field studies among others. However despite these issues, the DRS is making good progress, and we hope to see increasing engagement with quality, relevant evidence by Parliament going forward.