Making your research accessible

Q&A: Spotlight on the Zimbabwe Evidence-Informed Policy Network (ZeipNet)

By 1 December 2014

Nyasha Musandu had a chance to sit down with Ronald Munatsi, Director of the Zimbabwe Evidence-Informed Policy Network (ZeipNet), to discuss the role of ZeipNet in facilitating the mainstreaming of evidence into policy-making processes in Zimbabwe. Here is what Ronald had to say!

1. What is ZeipNet?

We are a civic society organisation, established essentially to bridge the research policy divide. We coordinate overarching National processes that support the use of evidence in the policy-making process. We do this in partnership with government Ministries, including the Parliament of Zimbabwe. We also do this through capacity building and stakeholder engagement in the policy-making process.

2. What structures currently exist that support evidence-informed policy making in Zimbabwe?

To some extent there are structures, but they are not systematised and they do not function in a strategic manner. For example, if you look at Ministries, most Ministries have Research and Policy Development Units, but the various processes that support the use of evidence and policy-making are not well coordinated and structured. The concept itself is still hazily appreciated because even when we concluded the MOU’s with the Ministries that we are working with, we discovered that there is a loose definition of evidence-informed policy-making in these departments. So to this extent we are trying to build capacity within these respective Ministries so that they not only appreciate the concept as it is, but also try to increase the research appetite on the part of policy makers themselves, so that they demand research from whoever feeds them with information as far as policy-making processes are concerned. We also try to build the capacity of research intermediaries who support the policy-making process.

3. What kind of capacity building activities are you undertaking to build this culture of using research evidence in policy making?

We have three strands in our approach to supporting the use of evidence, the first being capacity building, mostly in the form of training workshops where we collaboratively develop content modules with the Ministries. We hold some sort of needs assessment before we build these modules and we engage them to identify real capacity development gaps, instead of imposing training programs on them. We collaboratively develop content and hold training workshops for research departments and other departments that are strategically positioned to provide research e.g. Librarians, Communication Officers and allied professionals within the Ministry.

4. How accessible is robust research evidence within Zimbabwe?

In Zimbabwe there is still a gap, there are existing think tanks of course, such as the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit (ZEPARU) that works with the Ministry of Finance. We also have other institutions like the Biotechnological Institute and the Zimbabwe Science Academy. In their various capacities they do carry out some research, that influences policy to some extent, for example, the establishment of the Debt Management Policy within the Ministry of Finance, was based on research carried out by ZEPARU and it actually influenced certain policies within the Ministry of Finance. There is something happening, but there is lack of coordination between the various think tanks or research institutions and the Ministries on the other end. There is not much linkage between the two entities. So we are also looking at ways of trying to coordinate Policy Making Institutions, Research Institutions and Think Tanks.

5. What are the challenges that you face overall in bringing about this evidence to policy interface within Zimbabwe?

Evidence-informed policy-making is still a very new concept for a lot of policy-makers. What I have seen to be the biggest challenge within Zimbabwe is how to make policy-makers appreciate the importance of the use of evidence in policy-making. Generally the culture has been that most of the policies have been driven by political ideology and not necessarily based on evidence. So the biggest challenge that we face is on how to make policy-makers appreciate the use of evidence while also trying to stimulate their appetite for research. It is not very easy. For example, if you talk to some policy-makers they take EIPM and our interventions as being politically driven, but it is purely a process to try to build their capacity, to not only appreciate the use of evidence but also to make them demand that evidence. If it starts at that level it becomes easier to inculcate the culture across the nation.

6. What kind of tactical tricks do you use to try and ingrain yourselves in government structures?

Essentially what we do is we try not to be as political as possible, so usually we target technocrats more than politicians, such as Ministers and MPs, because they are difficult to work with in as much they influence the policy making process. We deal mostly with technocrats who have a scientific approach to the policy-making process as opposed to politicians. We also try to work at the lower level, so that if along the policy making process, these individuals are fed with information that is really relevant and scientific they will appreciate it. For example, if you are to look at Parliament there is a Research Department that supports Portfolio Committees when they want to deliberate on a policy issue. They support them with scientific evidence and they also support these policy-makers with background papers when they are going to conferences or to communicate certain policies at various levels. If what these committees do is really appreciated, policy-makers will begin to realise the importance of all these other research intermediaries thereby stimulating their appetite for policy evidence.

7. What does success look like for ZeipNet?

Eventually we want to be a one-stop-shop when it comes to evidence. We want to end up being the point of call nationally, or even regionally, when it comes to evidence, supporting national processes where we are actually recognised as the institution as far as evidence-informed policy-making is concerned. We also want to see a situation where what we are developing now, in terms of capacity building and training, will actually be adopted as a national curriculum through institutions like the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Administration and Management (ZIPAM) which has a mandate to train civil servants at high level.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net