Engaging policy audiences

An initiative to help African policymakers develop their capacity to promote the use of knowledge in policy

By 22/02/2016

While over the last few years there has been an increasing interest and institutionalisation of the use of knowledge to inform public decision-making, our work experience with political leaders shows that many of them need (and demand) to get to know concrete tools and ideas to foster effective changes within their agencies, as well as receive support to face political challenges implied in the promotion of a better use of research.

Considering this scenario, in 2015 Politics & Ideas (P&I) and the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) launched the online course “Leaders of change: developing Latin American policy makers’ capacity to promote the use of knowledge in policy”, as part of the VakaYiko consortium under the Building Capacity for Use of Research Evidence (BCURE) initiative.

The great amount of applications we received confirmed the demand for support in using knowledge in policy making. We came up with a very rich and heterogeneous group from Guatemala to Argentina, working at the national, subnational and local levels, and with diverse profiles ranging from a member of a public/ private corporation in Colombia, committed to strengthening research on rural issues, to a member of the National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation in Peru engaged with developing policies and tools related to science and technology.

The results of the course were very positive and are further reflected in the case study “Online course promotes the use of knowledge and evidence in policy”. Among other relevant outcomes, we can highlight:

  • Innovative content was produced and enriched by on-the-ground experience of policy makers
  • A solid group of committed policy makers within the region was shaped
  • A horizontal learning approach was tested with good ownership by the participants
  • New issues to address in future capacity-building activities were detected.

Regarding the third outcome, one might think that the lack of face-to-face meetings for participants would hinder their chances to interact and discuss challenges and share relevant experiences. However, we found that the online platform, combined with theoretical modules and practical exercises, plus a series of webinars and a live workshop, provided a good opportunity for participants to significantly develop their own and others´ capacities to tackle the complex interaction between knowledge and policy.

After reflecting on the outcomes of the course, P&I and INASP saw a major opportunity to expand this initiative to other developing regions. Several African and Asian policymakers, but also development organisations and donor agencies, contacted us when we launched the course because they believed it could be of benefit to them.

Although online learning is still a challenge for many organisations in Africa, we decided to pilot a similar format to assess the potential of bringing this new knowledge into their working spaces. For this purpose, by late 2015 P&I and INASP partnered with the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) in Kenya to deliver the new online course “Leaders of change: helping African policymakers develop their capacity to promote the use of knowledge in policy.

The call for applications is now open and the deadline to submit applications is March 2 (access the Terms of References). Through this call, P&I, INASP and AFIDEP will support, with full scholarships, the involvement of those public officials from Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe interested in promoting the use of knowledge in their organisations through their participation in this online course (limited places). At the moment, many interesting profiles have applied for the course, so we are very enthusiastic about the course’s potential contribution to public sector decision making.

The course will focus not only on supporting the development of technical ability, but also on how to approach frequent challenges that arise when seeking to strengthen the use of evidence, taking into account the political economy of these processes. In order to ensure a political approach, the design of the original curriculum for the Latin American course had the guidance of a Content Strategy Group made up of eight former or current senior policymakers (national and provincial ministers, secretaries and directors, among others) with a significant academic or research background from different Latin American countries.

The curriculum and the content of the modules have been discussed and adapted to African policy challenges with the collaboration of AFIDEP. Throughout the seven weeks of the course, participants will reflect on the inherent complexity of public policy processes, and explore different public policy models and their implications on the use of evidence, as well as the factors that affect its use in public institutions. They will also address the possible uses of knowledge, according to the different needs and opportunities that arise from the policy decision making process. Different needs for information according to the management level will also be approached, and the advantages and disadvantages of resorting to internally and externally-generated information will be considered. Helpful criteria for assessing evidence’s usefulness and quality will be approached, and the potential of information systems and M&E processes and tools will also be explored. Diverse decision-making styles that characterise public servants will be studied in order to identify the best strategies to provide them with evidence. Effective communication of information and knowledge will be addressed. Participants will also have the opportunity to present their own challenges and opportunities to promote a culture of a wider use of evidence in public organisations. More information about the content structure can be found in the ToRs.

We encourage those policy makers in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe interested in improving their capacities to promote the use of knowledge in their working spaces to submit their applications by March 2. For further information on the course’s background, objectives, learning methodology and content structure see the ToRs. For additional queries, please write to contact@politicsandideas.org.