Engaging policy audiences

Lessons learned from hosting policy dialogues with government assemblies in Ghana

By 14/07/2016

Over the last year, the Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS) has organised a series of policy dialogues on the use of research-evidence in development and project planning. And the results so far have been fascinating…

So what are policy dialogues?

A policy dialogue usually involves ‘people from different interest groups sitting around one table to focus on an issue in which they have a mutual – but not necessarily common – interest’.

They can focus on a particular policy issue, for example, this is what our Zimbabwean partner ZeipNET has done: exploring the evidence base of different policies through a series of events.

But we decided to look at a common theme across all dialogues: the decentralisation of development in Ghana. We asked the different stakeholders to talk about if, when and how they use evidence in development planning and projects.

People invited to our policy dialogues ranged from Planning Officers from host and adjourning Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies; libraries, research and academic institutions; and think tanks and other civil society organisations, like the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations and Ghana Trades Unions Congress. So far, we’ve held policy dialogues in Cape Coast, Ho, Koforidua, and Kumasi.

Four things we’ve learned so far:

  1. There are varied levels of evidence use
    While some Assemblies engage selected types of evidence (such as data, research, indigenous knowledge and expert knowledge), others such as the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly were understood to be engaging almost all types. Unfortunately, however, some Assemblies have engaged varied evidence types – like citizen knowledge – but then ignored them in development planning. This means that we have to make much more effort in ensuring Assemblies consistently base decisions and planning on robust and varied evidence sources.
  2. Ghana has inadequate platforms for sharing research
    Collectively, these discussions have agreed that there are inadequate platforms for policymakers (and planning officers) to engage with researchers and evidence producing institutions in Ghana. Events like these are a start, but from the dialogues, calls have been made for increased collaboration with researchers.
  3. There’s a lack of institutional support for evidence use
    There have been cases of non-commitment by heads of institutions in the use of evidence, sometimes for political purposes. However, the high level of buy-in from Heads of Assemblies, most evident by cost sharing in hosting the policy dialogues, shows hope that this is starting to change. We consider this situation an opportunity to introduce the Evidence-Informed Policy Making (EIPM) intervention at the local government level.
  1. We need more resources for evidence-related activities
    The limited availability of funds for engaging high quality evidence like research and expert knowledge has also been a common topic of discussion at Assemblies. As well as limited capacities for accessing evidence and knowledge from available evidence sources.As part of the VakaYiko project, we’ve been running trainings for civil servants on evidence use. So far we’ve trained 67 Civil Servants and 22 Parliamentary staff. We’ve also contributed to the development of this toolkit for evidence informed policy making.

But from the dialogues, calls have been made for further capacity building at the local government levels on the use of research evidence.  As mentioned above, this is something GINKS is hoping to do. All things being equal, we are working to bring all stakeholders from our Civil Service, Parliamentary Service, and Local Government Service strands of work, together in a forthcoming National Stakeholders workshop.

In 2013, GINKS started implementing the VakaYiko project with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) on Building Capacities for the Use of Research Evidence (BCURE). In this project, we have benefited from close collaboration with our consortium partners made up of INASP, ODI, ZeipNET, HSRC, and the Research department of the Parliament of Uganda.