Everyone is keen to know about the progress on the VakaYiko project, which aims to build the capacities of policymakers to use evidence from academic research and civil society in their work. This is a challenging endeavour and what we have achieved in the last two years are baby steps. However, they are solid steps and a strong base for building a culture that promotes the use of evidence. We can already see some results of our work and the ‘system’ starting to strengthen and move forward.
Leaders of change in Zimbabwe
One part of our strategy is to strengthen local organizations that can promote and encourage the use of evidence locally, which is starting to flourish. In Zimbabwe, VakaYiko consortium member ZeipNET has successfully engaged with two ministries and Parliament and has built up a relationship of trust. ZeipNET is also getting demand from other sectors of Government to help them improve the way they deal with evidence. ZeipNET’s impact is also regional; it is being approached by other countries in the region, such as Zambia and South Africa, to support different activities related to evidence-informed policy making (EIPM).
Zeipnet started off by being a two-person organization with Gilchriste Kdongwe and Ronald Munatsi. Gilchriste was working in a think tank called Zeparu (Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit) and Ronald was in Parliament; they both left their jobs to become public entrepreneurs and not there are now four people in the organization. ZeipNET’s particular strength is its take on the ‘systemic approach’ or ‘holistic’, networking and bringing different sectors of society together to discuss public problems and explore areas of collaboration; to work together is definitely the way forward.
First evidence-informed policy making course in the Civil Service Training Centre in Ghana
GINKS, the VakaYiko consortium member in Ghana, has gone through a transition in the last few years, from focusing on ICT for development to linking it up with themes that promote evidence-informed policies. GINKS tested the water and reactions by firstly liaising with different stakeholders and discussing the importance of using good-quality information to inform evidence, train decision makers to improve their literacy skills and network to expand the EIPM buzz.
The slow build-up ended up in embedding a four-module course in the Ghanaian Civil Service Training Centre (CSTC). That means that the public institution, with the remit to train civil servants in a number of topics, now owns the course. Trainers are familiarized with the content, external speakers such as academics and researchers deliver some of the sessions – therefore giving a chance to strengthen links between actors – and it is expected that 60 people will be trained per year. The Head of the Civil Service (the person who decides, amongst others, what curricula is included in the school) has not only supported the course all the way but is also pressing for higher level civil servants to be sensitized on the importance of using good-quality information to develop policies.
Some people have been inspired by the work done by GINKS and ZeipNET and by the training they deliver and want to improve their departments so that they can use evidence more effectively. The Ministry of Youth in Zimbabwe for example, has created a unit to handle research better. It has six staff members and they are committed to making an effort to use more rigorous information for their programmes.
In Ghana, one of the adjunct trainers at CSTC, who also works at the Research, Statistics and Information Management Directorate within the Ministry of Employment and Labour, is taking elements of the course to cascade the learning to his colleagues. There have been conversations about the need to expand this knowledge to local and regional governments, as one of the officers expressed: “This kind of course will be crucial for our staff at the district and regional levels if the Ministry’s proposed labour market information system is to be well implemented at that level.” Both ZeipNET and GINKS will be supporting these processes, now that they are stronger themselves, without having to depend on INASP to do so.
An organizational change strategy
In South Africa, the Department of Environmental Affairs, a relatively high capacity department in relation to evidence use, has shown full engagement from key policy managers and senior management to implement a change strategy to improve the way they handle evidence. After a series of in-depth diagnoses of their organizational and systemic context jointly facilitated by DEA and ODI-RAPID, people are becoming more aware of the problems and what might be done to alleviate them, the coalition of people who want to bring about change is expanding, and there are more discussions about evidence and policy, creating visibility about the topic.
Seeds for the future
Our small grants scheme has provided us with very good insights into the knowledge-policy interface and has disclosed a range of organizations that are doing great work to strengthen relationships and build capacities to use more and better evidence. Contexts were diverse and we have learnt about approaches that are seeds for future work. For example:
- South-south collaboration responds to high demand for EIPM course: High demand for the online course “Leaders of change: developing Latin American policymakers´ capacity to promote the use of knowledge in policy”. Led by Politics and Ideas, the course received more than 300 applications. The course was so popular that it is now being extended to four countries in Africa: Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
- Working and debate groups emerge and strengthen: In Kenya, roundtables organized by African Centre of Technology Studies (ACTS) contributed to the public debate surrounding the climate-change bill which in 2013 was denied Presidential Assent due to lack of sufficient public consultation with the scientific and research community. ACTS used this window of opportunity to link policymakers and scientists to discuss the environmental implications and inform the bill; the bill is still to be passed. Opportunities for researchers and policymakers to work together emerged, hence a job shadowing scheme started. In Peru, the Alliance for the Use of Evidence also brings different stakeholders together but on an ongoing basis rather than a one off series. Their meetings started with three attendees, the invited speaker (who is now the Minister of Health) and another two. Numbers have since been increasing steadily, now reaching 20 people. This group participates in private discussions and at the same time organizes public events, the most recent of which was attended by 199 people. The organization also has a growing following on Twitter and Facebook.
- Linking local and national government: In the Philippines, the University of Manila worked with local education authorities. One of the main outcomes is the realisation that they could play a role in bridging national agencies’ resources (including data) and programmes to the needs of the local governments by tapping into existing policies and programmes led by the national government. The university facilitated the link to improve the information sharing that is fed up and down the different levels of Government. The next steps are to incorporate the most important agencies in the discussion.
Other grantees are ongoing and we hope to share some more results soon.