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Politics of research-based evidence in African policy debates

By 18/03/2020

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Politics of research-based evidence in African policy debates: Synthesis of case study findings presents the findings of RAPID’s (ODI) ‘The Politics of Research Uptake’ project. Emma Broadbent examines the role of research-based evidence in African policy debates through the study of four different cases in Sub-Saharan Africa:

  • the eviction of street hawkers in Accra, Ghana;
  • the HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill in Uganda;
  • the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Zambia; and
  • the reform of the chieftaincies in Sierra Leone.

The research had three objectives:

  • Characterise the policy debates studied in order to provide a reference point for further work on policy debates in Africa.
  • Identify what factors affect research-based evidence use, including a consideration of different types of evidence used.
  • Identify implications for the research–policy discussion and ways to support the use of research in policy debates.

The paper has an interesting discussion on the nature of evidence. It claims that ‘no argument in relation to policy is based on no evidence, so the task is to think about what evidence it is based on’. This progresses into a discussion of the political nature of research use – how the context is essential to understanding the (potential) role of research-based evidence in policy and a consideration of other types of evidence (e.g. practical/community knowledge).

The role of research-based evidence is explained via a three-pronged framework, which is to debate (1) specific factors; (2) discursive and cognitive factors; and (3) proximate, agency-oriented factors.

The key findings of the study are summed up by the idea that although it appears research-based evidence is being used relatively often in policy debates, its role is not necessarily significant due to poor evidence ‘literacy’, that is policymakers are often unable to understand and use evidence.

The paper concludes with a section on implications and recommendations. This gives a really clear indication of the current situation regarding research-based evidence use in African policy debates, where the main hurdle is that there are significant incentives not to use research-based evidence (‘instrumentalisation of lack of capacity’).


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