Strategic communication

Sustainable partnerships in a jungle secures ecosystem vitality

By 19/11/2021

Core messages:

  • It is possible for small and medium-sized evidence ecosystem actors to deliver enduring results
  • Sustainable partnerships are the guarantees of any lasting impact within our ecosystem
  • Irrespective of the pathways from which these partnerships start, they should be nurtured for the long haul to achieve enduring results

The evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) ecosystem across Africa celebrated the second Africa Evidence Week (#AfEW2021) from 13-17 September, 2021. Like a jungle, there was variety in abundance: producers, users (national, subnational, and multilateral public policy officers), as well as intermediary service professionals.

One of the sessions was a reflection among partners on the contribution of my organisation, PACKS Africa, towards institutionalising EIDM practices in Ghana. This blogpost is a summary of the reflections on how sustainable partnerships are central to lasting impact within our ecosystem.

Introducing PACKS Africa and the session

PACKS Africa was started in March 2017 as a youth-led, pan-African think tank that provides macro-level support to government agencies in capacity development for improved evidence use. As PACKS turns 5 in 2022, and we approach the end of our first strategic plan, this session aimed to showcase our successes and struggles.

Panelists for this reflection represented organisations that benefited from PACKS interventions, as well as northern funders and implementation partners.

Dr David Appiah, former Country Representative of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in Ghana, chaired the discussion; and other AEN colleagues joined the reflection.

5 years of initiatives

Dr Head recollected a priority-setting workshop on infectious diseases, an evidence-informed policy making (EIPM) training workshop, a pilot project to assess growth of EIPM opportunities, and a research project to support response and planning for COVID-19; as most were in collaboration with the MoH, these were corroborated by Mr Nyakutsey.

Emily touched on collaborations like the VakaYiko project that aimed to build capacity for evidence use across government agencies, pilot diagnosis of the Context Matters framework with the EPA, and co-facilitate sessions during an EU-organised EIPM masterclass seminar.

Mr Nyagsi discussed WFD-funded diagnosis on research usage at the Parliament of Ghana and how transparency, openness, and inclusion are key Open Government Partnership (OGP) concepts within the legislature. Following contributions to forming the Inter-Departmental Research and Information Group (IDRIG), PACKS Africa supported annual celebrations of its research and information week. The first was in 2017 where we developed communication template documents, and the second was in 2019 when we jointly hosted Africa Evidence Week events in Ghana.

Outcomes and emerging impacts

Within the EPA, co-piloting the Context Matters framework as a diagnostic tool was itself a learning process. Mr Appah-Sampong recalled how the change plan, developed with active staff participation, altered perspectives on evidence-related artifacts within the organisation. In effect, a new department was created to coordinate activities related to research and evidence. The EPA has equally improved retrieval of relevant resources through the change plan while taking advantage of revised reporting templates to enhance EIDM.

For the MoH, the timely research results from the Southampton partnership informed a national strategic response plan to COVID-19. In concert with previous efforts, a more strategic relationship was created to address capacity constraints.

Access to, and coordination of, evidence within the Parliament of Ghana has improved drastically. Communication of these resources has improved, typified by the volume of publications showcased during the IDRIG research and information weeks. Beyond PACK’s involvement, Dr Appiah recognised collaborative efforts among parliamentary support organisations convened by WFD.

My personal reflection

I never imagined that we would contribute so much in just five years. We could not have achieved all of it just from the monetary value of portfolios we manage – since they have been scanty throughout. The most obvious factor for this scale of achievement is the sustainable partnerships we nurture within our ecosystem. Partnerships evolve along different pathways; for PACKS, these started from informal relationships, built on shared values, trust, and service.

When Michael Head reached out to me through recommendations from INASP, it was not to put a grant proposal together. We shared a common interest – enhancing opportunities for evidence use in global health. Our work has since moved beyond Ghana to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Togo. Likewise, Emily observed mutual interests in capacity strengthening across levels, analysis and research, building trusted relationships, and having productive discussions and learnings across initiatives, like we have done with the EIPM toolkit and Context Matters framework.

Similarly, our engagements with beneficiary organisations have not been about show. Currently, we don’t have official relationships with these government agencies, although we aim for those ultimately. Value-laden personal relationships, founded and sustained on trust, have secured these results. From this experience, Dr Appiah observed that ‘some small and medium-sized CSOs like PACKS Africa deliver results better than big organisations’. We appreciate personal commitments and leadership of our contacts within these institutions.

Our partnerships are built for the long haul. A number of issues stand out for EIDM within these different government agencies. EPA, for instance, reported difficulty in managing inter-sectoral networks – linked to the institution’s chances for EIDM practice. The research department within the MoH, like other similar agencies, remains unproductively organised. Calls therefore by these agencies for institutionalised support fit very well with our appeal that ‘partnerships that deliver results should be strengthened’.