AEN’s key highlights in 2018

By Precious Motha, Africa Evidence Network Co-ordinator

As 2018 is drawing to a close, as the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) Secretariat we remember a few of the many activities we undertook during this year. We couldn’t have achieved them without the help and support of our members and partners!

Building our member community

This year the AEN welcomed 738 new members from across the continent, across sectors and across evidence producers, evidence users and evidence intermediaries. At the end of 2018 we have 2 000 members from 61 countries, with the overwhelming majority of our members from 42 African countries. This Network is Africa’s leading platform in bringing together the widest range of EIDM stakeholders into one space. The AEN’s influence on the EIDM global community is growing rapidly. The Network’s website received close to 10 000 visits per month and over 30 000 downloads by the end of 2018. Currently on social media the AEN’s Twitter account @Africa_evidence has over 4 000 followers.

Key activities this year that contributed to the growth of the Network are the Africa Evidence Leadership Award and the Evidence 2018 conference.

The first award in EIDM in Africa made at Evidence2018

For a while now we have wanted to highlight the growth of innovation and leadership in evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in Africa. Supported by funding from the William and Floral Hewlett Foundation , the AEN this year established the first Africa Evidence Leadership Award (AELA) for EIDM in Africa. The aim of AELA is to recognise and honour people who have raised awareness of EIDM in Africa, and also to showcase Africa’s excellence to the global stage. The recipient of the award received a space in the biennial Evidence 2018 conference programme to deliver a keynote address on their work, had the full cost of their attendance at our 2018 conference covered, and was given a set travel grant for attendance of a high-profile course or event on EIDM anywhere in the world. Since the launch of the award in April, the EIDM community embraced this award with much enthusiasm and the Secretariat received numerous applications from government officials, civil society, and researchers – among others – across sectors in Africa. The AEN members and the advisory group whom spans not only Africa but the globe, played a role in vetting applications. Ms Velia Manyonga, Head of the Research Division at the Parliament of Malawi, is the first recipient of the award. In addition to the winner of the AELA, two honourable mentions were selected for their impressive work in EIDM in Africa: Dr Patrick Okwen of Cameroon, and Ms Jennifer Mutua of Kenya. Ms Manyonga received her award at the AEN’s biennial conference in September.

Africa Evidence Network Chairperson Prof Ruth Stewart with the 2018 Africa Evidence Leadership Award winner Ms Velia Manyonga at the Evidence 2018 conference at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria, South Africa.

Africa Evidence Network Chairperson Prof. Ruth Stewart with the 2018 Africa Evidence Leadership Award winner Ms Velia Manyonga at the Evidence 2018 conference at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria, South Africa.

A big part of the Secretariat’s year, with the help of our conference organiser Conference Consultancy SA, was about planning for Evidence2018. And what a conference it was! Grounded in the theme “Engage, Understand, Impact” this year’s conference had four strand themes, on quality education, communicable diseases, climate resilience, and good governance. A total of 213 delegates (from 32 countries, including six countries outside of Africa) registered for Evidence 2018. For the first time we had an online conference running parallel with the physical conference in Pretoria. The online conference not only streamed some of the session live, but also hosted a studio that brought interviews with amazing particpants to our online audience of 308 people from 52 different countries (incuding 44 African countries). The live studio was made possible with funding from the University of Johannesburg and its Humanities Faculty. We also continued with bursary winners presenting landscape maps, and the AEN now host the world’s largest collection of maps about the African EIDM ecosystem. You can access our conference report to read more.

Listening to our community and supporting our members

As our membership continues to grow, so has the need for stronger governance arrangements. This year the AEN Secretariat formed two governing structure, namely the Advisory Group and the Reference Group. We are piloting these structures to see what fits best in helping us run the secretariat. The purpose of the Reference Group is to act as a sounding board for new ideas and emerging findings from member survey, whilst the Advisory Group is to engage with the AEN’s strategic direction. In establishing these two groups, the AEN took an open approach by releasing an open call for application for the Reference Group, whilst the Advisory Group was by invitation. The Reference Group has 15 members, whom are: Mr Enock Musungwini of Zimbabwe, Dr Asahngwa Constantine of Zimbabwe, Dr Julian Bagyendera of Uganda, Dr Godson Gatsha of Botswana, Dr Ermel Johnson of Burkina Faso, Mr Omvia Dennis Kaggwa of Uganda, Mr Deo-Gracias Houndolo of Benin, Mr James Kariuki of Kenya, Ms Velia Manyonga of Malawi, Mr Wiseman Ndlela of South Africa, Dr Jean Providence Nzabonimpa of Zimbabwe, Mr Ronald Munatsi of Zimambwe, Mr Filmon Hailu of Ethiopia, Ms Jennifer Mutua of Kenya and Ms Pfungwa Nyamukachi of South Africa. The Advisory Group has five members, namely Prof. John Lavis of the McMaster Health Forum, Ms Beryl Leach of 3ie, Hon. Olfa Cherif of the Parliament of Tunisia, Dr Rhona Mijumbi-Deve of Makerere University on Uganda, and Ms Norma Altshuier of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Reference Group has met three times virtually this year, and the Advisory Group had two virtual meetings and a face-face meeting during the Evidence 2018 conference.

The Network continues with its on-going consultation with its members by conducting annual surveys. This allows the AEN to gather views and perspectives from individual members on the current services and priorities for future directions of the Network. The 2018 survey report findings indicate that the AEN membership find great value being part of the AEN. Secondly, members value the Network’s role in connecting people working in Africa to one another and in sharing relevant information about EIDM in Africa. The responses also revealed that members would like to see the AEN undertake more capacity-building activities on the continent in the form of face-to-face workshops that allow members to share real-world examples of EIDM in action.

But wait, there’s more!

The William and Floral Hewlett Foundation has generously extended the AEN Secretariat’s funding until 2020. The Network is well placed to reflect and evaluate the progress towards its goals, refine our strategic plan, and further priorities our medium- and long-term goals.

Early in 2019 we will continue with the AEN webinar series that we started this year – look out for dates and topics in our newsletter and our social media sites. And let us know if you have a topic you’d like to discuss via a webinar.

We hope that you also had a good year growing in understanding and relationships. Why not let us know via Twitter or LinkedIn what your highlights of the year were, and what you are planning for 2019 for EIDM in Africa. Because #AfricaLovesEvidence!