INASP’s Evidence-Informed Policy Making team has now been working for 7 years to build capacity for the use of research evidence in policy making in developing countries. As we near the end of our current programme, VakaYiko, started 3 years ago with partners in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. We are planning new initiatives and partnerships, we thought it was a good time to reflect on what is distinctive about our approach.
We define “evidence” broadly
At INASP evidence goes beyond peer-reviewed academic papers and randomised control trials (RCT). Following our partners in ODI’s RAPID team, we look at four different types of evidence used in policy making:
- citizen knowledge (eg. gained through stakeholder consultations)
- practice informed knowledge (eg. including evaluations)
- data (eg. from the national statistics office)
- academic research
Our approach supports skills and systems for gathering, appraising and using a combination of these different kinds of evidence.
We are not trying to promote one kind of evidence over another but to raise awareness about the strengths and weaknesses of different types so that individuals and organisations can decide for themselves what is useful and relevant.
We use adult learning techniques to address core skills
Core skills and adult learning are key factors for evidence use, as the Alliance for Useful Evidence explains in the excellent discussion paper, ‘Using Evidence: What Works?’, and these are key features of our approach.
We work with civil servants and parliamentary staff such as researchers and policy analysts who produce research papers, fact sheets, policy briefs and other outputs to support decision makers.
Often these people work in severely resource-constrained environments, under pressure to ‘answer’ complex policy questions in a short time frame. They need access to evidence and the skills to search for it effectively. They also need to be able to appraise evidence, judging its quality and relevance. And they need to be able to communicate this evidence to busy policymakers.
INASP has an in-house team of adult learning experts who guide the development of our face–to-face and online training. Our approach (as seen in our forthcoming EIPM Toolkit is grounded in adult learning principles. For example, participants collectively agree learning priorities and activities are selected in response to participant needs.
This means that our training can be quite different from what participants (and trainers) have experienced in the past—it requires a lot of time, commitment and reflection from both participants and trainers, and is seen as a joint learning exercise rather than a one way ‘transmission of knowledge’.
We build capacity at multiple levels
We use ITAD’s framework to understand capacity at four levels. There are four dimensions of change that brings us close to the capacity building. In some countries, we’ve focused particularly on one level, and in others we’ve tackled all four levels simultaneously.
ITAD framework adapted by Isabel Vogel from Inigo Retolazo
In practice, this means that in order to build capacity for systematic use of evidence in policy making, you need not only individuals with the skills to access and use evidence, but also organisations with processes for gathering and handling evidence; trusted networks linking researchers and policymakers; and a wider enabling environment of engaged citizens and civil society.
…through diverse approaches
The VakaYiko Consortium that we lead is made up of five core organisations and seven recipients of grants to explore innovative approaches. Together we have worked to build capacity for evidence use in 11 countries on three continents, at multiple levels of government and with different types of public institutions including parliaments, ministries, civil service colleges, and district assemblies.
We took the opportunity to explore a diverse range of approaches and contexts for EIPM, including:
- Strengthening research and policy networks, and raising awareness about the role of evidence in policy through events on topics ranging from how citizen knowledge can help inform planning in Municipal and District Assemblies in Ghana to evidence use in public policy in Peru.
- Providing strategic and operational advice directly to public institutions to support the development of processes and procedures for evidence use in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Uganda.
- Building capacity of our Consortium partners GINKS and ZeipNET, which are local civil society organisations in Ghana and Zimbabwe that act as brokers in the research-to-policy system.
- Training in EIPM for policymakers in seven countries, focusing on diverse sectors from gender in national labour and education policy in Sudan to the use of data in local service delivery in Nigeria.
- Delivering an online course run by Argentinian ‘think net’ Politics and Ideas, VakaYiko reached a further 13 Latin American countries.
- Mentoring, pairing and learning exchange schemes linking different parts of the research-to-policy system in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
We’re committed to learning and reflection
We are a small, reflective team, and we try to work in an adaptive and collaborative way to explore what we’re learning about evidence use in policy making. We’re guided by some key learning questions:
- Which of our approaches can be adapted and transferred to other contexts?
- What are the most effective ways to strengthen capacity within our Consortium?
- How can we ensure sustainability of our approaches?
- How do bureaucratic processes and systems affect institutional change? And what are we learning about securing buy-in for this change?
We try to be as open and transparent as possible, publishing many of our programme implementation documents on our website, and we’re always seeking opportunities to learn from colleagues in the sector.
We take a holistic approach to the knowledge system
Evidence-informed policy is only one part of a research-to-policy system that also encompasses research production, access and communication. At INASP we are in a good position to work on the knowledge system as a whole rather than targeting the ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ separately. We also recognise that sometimes it’s not useful to use these categories separately— in reality, producers and users are often merged or blended.
We’ve been working with different actors in the system for nearly 25 years, focusing on access, production and communication of research through partnerships in 21 countries with universities, library consortia, local journals and others. Our EIPM work completes this circle by working with users of knowledge (i.e. policymakers, media, and civil society). As we know, knowledge gets into policy when trust and links between these different stakeholders are developed.
The final version of the EIPM-toolkit is now available for download.