By Lindsay Walker, INASP Evidence-Informed Policy Making volunteer
Interview with Marale Sande, Senior Research and Policy Analyst with the Parliamentary Research Services at the Parliament of Kenya. Marale works collaboratively with Members of Parliament (MPs) as part of the Evidence Informed Policy Caucus, an informal committee of the House that aims to increase the awareness and uptake of evidence.
In this interview, Marale outlines her experience with championing evidence within a parliamentary setting.
What first motivated you to champion evidence use?
Before joining Parliament seven years ago, for close to four years, I was working with children in a Child Development Centre in Mathare Valley slums. It became apparent that societal problems including the children needs are multi-faceted and before you address them you must have concrete information to be able to identify first, the actual needs or challenges second, the options for intervention and finally the options for interventions that are likely to result in quick wins.
One of the things that required our intervention was the high rate of dropout among the girls in our programme due to teenage pregnancy. At least five girls dropped out of school every year, despite the fact that most were receiving sponsorship to cover their school fees. The primary research we initiated to determine the underlying reasons and how to effectively intervene revealed that the girls’ needs go beyond the sponsorship and economic empowerment in general. The research revealed that there was need for others social empowerment, spiritual development, and most importantly a comprehensive sex education, which at that time was controversial in many areas in Africa including Kenya.
Out of the research findings, we were able to develop a programme that targeted the specific areas that needed to be addressed. The programme dubbed the “African Girls Empowerment Programme” was therefore comprehensive and covered both girls’ sex education and awareness sessions, provision of other basic sanitary and underwear, in addition occasional counselling and mentorship sessions. Three years of the implementation of the programme recorded reduction in the dropout rates including a transformation among the girls in the program as more girls were seen to be more confident and aware of their surroundings. In fact along the way as a result of this transformation, it became apparent the boys had to be included in the comprehensive sex education sessions as teachers’ comments were that “as a result of the programme girls seemed more empowered in all aspects at the expense of the boys”.
The program was able to identify and fill the gap through research, and to me it was very important, because then we were able to target our interventions, cut down on costs by reducing wastage on interventions that were non-essential and most importantly enhance impact and outcomes.
That is when it dawned on me that if evidence matters at such a micro level – program level, how many more Kenyans are likely to reap the benefits of evidence informed policy making at a national level?
Tell us about the Evidence Informed Policy Caucus. What ensures that it is successful at championing evidence?
The Evidence Informed Policy Caucus (hereafter, Caucus) was conceptualized by the Hon. Dr. Susan Musyoka, a former MP, and Member of the Health Committee in the National Assembly. Her desire was to enhance the interest of Parliamentarians in using research evidence when making policy decisions.
The Caucus is an informal outfit run by the MPs and receives technical and logistical support from the Parliamentary Research service (the Research arm of Parliament) and the Clerks Chamber. We work together to undertake activities that enhance evidence use by Parliamentarians across both Houses. One of the main ways the Caucus members achieves this is to lobby their fellow Members of Parliament (MPs) by through issue-based policy cafés where they would meet other research think tanks. As Parliamentary staff, we do not have the same opportunity to do this, so the lobbying actions of the Caucus Members are instrumental to achieve our aim. These exposure meeting with research institutions are geared towards bridging the gap between research institutions and policy makers while building the capacity on how to use that particular evidence in the course of their work.
The support of the Parliamentary leadership, the Speakers and clerk of both Houses, has also been instrumental in ensuring the Caucus exists and achieves its set goals.
What have been the key challenges?
The biggest challenge for the Caucus is implementation of its activities. As the Caucus is an informal committee of the House, it may not necessarily receive funding like other Committees of the House
Because of this, the Caucus depends a lot on support from partners to implement its activities. This leads to a second challenge -MPs are very busy, with different demands on their time including serving their respective official Committees of the Houses alongside constituency needs. This means sometimes priority may be given to the official House business.
A third challenge is the turnover rate of MPs. At the most recent election, we had almost half of the MPs not being re-elected. Although the Caucus has achieved several milestones, this means we are back to the drawing board. So our immediate focus right now is to inform MPs about the existence of this forum which advocates for evidence use in the work of Parliament.
Finally, what would you advise others who want to champion the use of evidence in Parliament?
Issue-based cafés – and policy dialogues in the public domain are very critical in terms of sharing policy research evidence that is likely to influence policy. We realized that there is numerous research and evidence that policy makers are not aware exists. Our goal is therefore to bridge the unnecessary gap between the researchers and policymakers – the policy dialogues provide an excellent platform where this can happen. The Caucus has therefore incorporated policy cafes in it strategic plans.
I would also advise one to be goal-directed, patient but persistent– define the specific achievements you want to achieve at the end of each year and at the end of each Parliament. No two Parliaments or even sessions are the same. Each is going to be unique and experiences from one session should to inform how one proceeds into the next. It is not ‘a walk in the park’, but I think once you know what your end goal is, put in place commensurate strategies, depending on a particular Parliament, then you are good to go.
Lastly, MPs and Parliamentary staff will need to work together. As staff, we only provide the role of facilitator and hence much of the work depends on the MPs. You must identify an MP who is passionate about the whole thing and so they can run with it. It will be easier for them to advocate evidence-use amongst their fellow Caucus members and others. For our case, given the bicameral nature of our Parliament we have had to identify at least two Champions from either House as co-chairs of the Caucus.
With thanks to Marale Sande and Lisa Aissaoui for their time.