AEN Evidence 23

What is decoloniality and why does it matter?

By 15/09/2023

The first day of the Africa Evidence Network’s Evidence2023 conference set the tone for the following three days: challenging issues of equity, power and the appropriation of evidence. 

A key session, Decoloniality of Evidence, took on issues of power and ‘whose knowledge counts’. Adeline Sibanda, from the Mastercard Foundation, explored how colonial knowledge structures shape our understanding and formalisation of knowledge. She argued for the decoloniality of evidence so that EIDM (Evidence-Informed Decision-Making) becomes more relevant, impactful and effective for all communities across Africa.

What is decoloniality?

Although formal and explicit colonisation ended with the decolonisation of the Americas during the eighteenth and nineteenth century and the decolonisation of much of the Global South in the late twentieth century, its successors, Western imperialism perpetuate those inequalities (thank-you Wikipedia). 

Decoloniality of evidence acknowledges that colonialism persists in the way that African culture and knowledge production is undervalued. It persists in the ways in which our dominant systems of evidence and learning are structured and framed. Culture and context matter.  Knowledge is not created or produced in equitable ways, and certain communities, cultures, and individuals are not seen as ‘legitimate’ sources of knowledge. Sometimes, the experiences, wisdom, insights and understanding of their own contexts is not even defined as knowledge. 

Does this matter for researchers and anyone drawing on evidence for decision making?

Yes, it does. 

In research, the decolonial approach challenges the power dynamic between the researcher and the research user. It invites researchers to inspect their own powerful position and how predominant Western approaches can lack validity within the African context, leading to ineffective or harmful development policies.

Sibanda made the powerful case for the decoloniality of evidence to offer a more relevant way to conduct research in postcolonial societies which allows for the agency of the research user.

How does it enhance research utility?

Linked to the decoloniality approach, and crucial to relevant and effective EIDM, are the localisation, equity and inclusion agenda.

The localisation agenda: 

The localisation agenda is based on the rationale of ‘equity and ethics’, effectiveness and relevance.  It emphasises collaboration with and between local organisations to identify local area needs for evidence, and shifting power and resources to local people.

Some important ways we can contribute to the localisation agenda include:

  • Partnering with local entities (academics, government officials, research institutions and advocacy groups) before thinking of Global North partnerships.
  • Identify potential beneficiaries of the research and EIDM processes and involve them in dialogue from the onset to ensure that the research is relevant and usable.
  • Validate the impacts with the users in the aftermath of implementation to assess both the positive and negative, and the intended and unintended impacts of the research.

The equity, inclusion and trust agenda:

The equity, inclusion and trust agenda compels us to view evidence in EIDM differently. It considers that everybody who is affected by a research issue or agenda will provide a unique perspective, which leads to a more comprehensive analysis of evidence and the implementation of more effective policies.

The key lesson to learn from the decoloniality approach is that research should not just be created for and about people, but with the people they are trying to help. This involves inviting potential beneficiaries to the table, and co-create strategies that reflect their needs and are likely to make a beneficial impact.

Research to Action are communication partners for Evidence2023. Please click here to view more content relating to this event.