African researchers advance in evidence-based decision making
By Ruth Stewart and Siziwe Ngcwabe, University of Johannesburg
Johannesburg, Sept. 19 (The Conversation) The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges facing African countries, including poverty, inequality and unemployment.
There are solutions. But they must be based on the best available evidence. This enables governments and policymakers to ensure that scarce resources are allocated with care and transparency where they can do the most good.
All over the world, there is a community working to develop and support mechanisms that increase the use of research in decision making.
This is called evidence-based decision making. The community works in several ways. For example, it develops approaches that bring together and synthesize evidence for the effectiveness of specific interventions. One example concerns COVID-19 vaccines. It also helps researchers and policy makers better understand the systems in which they work. This allows for more effective partnerships.
The African research community is at the forefront of shaping evidence-informed decision-making and then adapting it to real-world political contexts. Across the continent, evidence teams are responding to demands within political systems to provide evidence that is useful – and used.
During the pandemic, there has been a striking mobilization of the evidence community in Africa to meet the growing demand for evidence to inform decisions.
For example, African specialists played a central role during the pandemic. In a partnership, evidence leaders from around the world have come together to bring together the best available evidence to fight COVID-19.
This is just one example among many.
A team of researchers from the Africa Center for Rapid Evidence Synthesis in Uganda is systematically gathering evidence for policy makers. They bring together the best available knowledge on an issue in a timely manner to directly address the needs of decision makers.
Their recent work includes briefings on protecting health workers from COVID-19 and introducing local lockdowns.
They are also increasingly providing training and support to similar teams across the continent and beyond on how to deliver responsive evidence services to governments.
A number of other sensitive evidence services have emerged in recent years. Examples include those of the ministries of health in Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe. These addressed political issues around issues such as health financing in Burkina Faso’s health system and misinformation about COVID-19.
In Ethiopia, the central government has decided to declare the use of evidence as a mandatory function. This now requires the integration of evidence into policy-making processes.
The provincial governments of the Western Cape and Gauteng in South Africa have also invested in data governance and knowledge for decision making at the subnational level. This allowed responses tailored to priorities, including the pandemic.
Evidence and policy teams are also working to meet a wider range of demands for evidence. These include issues related to tackling disinformation about COVID-19. Other initiatives aim to inform transport policy. Some support the development of small businesses.
In each case, collaborative teams of policy makers and researchers strive to gather and contextualize the best available evidence to improve policy outcomes.
Sometimes, evidence-informed decision-making means going the extra mile to ensure that research evidence reaches the intended audience.
A Cameroonian team demonstrates this in its Tori Dey initiative. They organize and coordinate oral fireside performances in local languages to communicate the best available evidence on important issues. Their target audiences are citizens and decision-makers.
The African evidence community has built strong relationships beyond traditional borders. This allowed researchers to mobilize quickly and efficiently. This has been demonstrated by the Africa Evidence Network’s Evidence-Based Decision Making Center during COVID-19. Evidence for decision making has been shared in different African contexts.
These examples demonstrate the creativity and ingenuity of policymakers, practitioners and researchers in the evidence community in Africa.
Three other characteristics of the functioning of this community deserve to be underlined.
First, different actors connect to form communities of people dedicated to supporting the increase in the use of evidence in decision-making. They do this by joining local, national and continental associations. The Africa Evidence Network is the most important of these.
Then, crucially, they use these communities to inform and learn from each other. Each African country is distinct. But people living and working on the continent as part of its Evidence Community share a unique and collaborative way of working towards a common goal. Events like EVIDENCE 2020 ONLINE and Africa Evidence Week 2021 attract considerable levels of engagement and participation.
Finally, the evidence community in Africa is advocating for the continent’s voice in the global movement. It gave many others the chance to show their excellence. Examples include sharing evidence-based advice in the fight against COVID-19 and the annual Africa Evidence Leadership Award. (The Conversation) NSA