An evidence leader’s thoughts on evidence-use in Africa

By Velia Manyonga, Head of the Research Division at the Parliament of Malawi

 

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Velia Manyonga is the inaugural recipient of the Africa Evidence Leadership Award offered by the Africa Evidence Network. Based in Malawi and working with parliamentarians there, we asked her some questions about why she applied for the award and what she hopes to achieve through her participation at EVIDENCE 2018. Here, Velia writes about her hopes for the future and why events like EVIDENCE 2018 are so central to making evidence-informed decision-making a reality in Africa.

 

AEN: What two things motivated you to apply for the Africa Evidence Leadership Award? 

VM: Three reasons compelled me to apply for Africa Evidence Leadership Award. Firstly, when I noted that the recipient would receive a space in the EVIDENCE 2018 to deliver a keynote on their work in supporting evidence, I regarded this as an opportunity for me to appeal to evidence network members to support parliaments in Africa to use evidence in decision-making. Having worked for parliament for seven years, I have seen how evidence drives decisions that can help countries achieve Sustainable Development Goals. Parliament plays a critical role in legislation, oversight, representation, and resource allocation for all sectors. Without evidence, parliamentarians would end up passing inappropriate laws; allocating inadequate and inequitable resources to some sectors compared to others; and advocacy on critical areas would be a challenge. Delivering a keynote address at EVIDENCE 2018 would enable me to advocate for supporting parliaments with evidence-use for decision-making.

Secondly, I was amazed to see that part of the award was for the winner to attend another high-profile course or event on evidence-informed decision-making. I found this to be a great opportunity for me to learn different practical perspectives on how evidence is used in program implementation for various sectors.  I feel that enhancing my own capacity to support evidence-informed decision-making in Malawi will allow me to share this capacity with others on my team. I was also excited to view the landscape maps presented at EVIDENCE 2018 as these sum up evidence-use in decision-making throughout the evidence ecosystem in Africa, as well as its related challenges for various stakeholders. This is where I felt I would learn different practical strategies to manage challenges in evidence-use.

Thirdly, when I knew that the award was aimed at showcasing individuals as leaders and influential contributors in evidence-informed decision-making, and I found this to be an opportunity to showcase how the Parliament of Malawi – despite having members from different political and academic backgrounds – is striving to make evidence-informed decision-making a reality in our country.

AEN: How did you feel when you were shortlisted? 

VM: When I was told that I was shortlisted, I felt honored that parliament’s work in evidence-use would be recognised. Being a highly sensitive political institution, most stakeholders think that the decisions being taken in parliament are political. This makes most program implementers perceive parliament as an institution composed of groups pursing their own political agenda.  Shortlisting me gave me the reassurance that the Africa Evidence Network believes in evidence-use within real-world contexts like parliaments.

Furthermore, the shortlisting gave me the energy that as long as we strive to create demand and supply for evidence-use in decision-making, that work will still be recognised despite the challenges faced. Finally, I also felt that I was a winner and that the aim of the award was achieved to some extent in the sense that when the Africa Evidence Network membership voted, they could see that the Parliament of Malawi is championing evidence-use in decision-making. But you don’t only see this from my work – all of the shortlisted candidates are excellent examples of how Africa is championing EIDM.

AEN: Name three ways you believe that you or your work will benefit from receiving the award? Why are these three things important to your work?

VM: The Africa Evidence Leadership Award will benefit me and my work since the award will expose me to many other contexts where evidence is being used for decisions. Exposure to evidence-use contexts is important because I will learn from others’ experiences how the use of evidence can be advocated despite prevailing challenges. Knowing different approaches of dealing with the challenges will help me to deal with the everyday challenges we face in supporting parliament to use evidence.

The Award will also benefit me by linking me and my research colleagues in my department with individuals not only from Africa but across the continent; individuals who are responsible for the production and use of evidence in decision-making. Networking and linking up with such people will help me to gain insightful skills to support evidence-informed decision-making in Parliament.  For example, our work is sometimes hindered by the Members of Parliament’s busy work schedules and their demand for evidence at short notice. The Members of Parliament also come from different academic backgrounds which makes it a challenge to package the evidence in single way. The different academic backgrounds of members require different ways of packaging the evidence for them to appreciate and use it. The exposure to different experiences and expertise in this field that I will gain from receiving this Award will help me address these challenges.

 AEN: What is the one thing that you are most looking forward to about attending EVIDENCE 2018? 

VM: I am looking forward to listening to the success stories and case studies in evidence-use from across Africa. More importantly, I would like to understand how researchers and policy-makers are overcoming the challenges they encounter as they advocate for evidence-use in their settings. I am regarding this conference as an eye opener where I will come up with big dreams on strategies of presenting evidence to Members of Parliament to support them in legislation, representation, oversight and resource allocation.  I want grasp ways I can create demand for evidence-use when the Members of Parliament from my country do not have time to engage with researchers.

I am also excited that the EVIDENCE 2018 themes on “engage, understand and impact” will focus diverse topics such as quality education, communicable diseases, climate resilience, and good governance. As a researcher working for parliament which deals with all these sectors, this diversity of topics will equip me with evidence-use models from different development sectors which I can easily adapt to support the Members of Parliament in my country from education, health, and climate change Parliamentary Committees.

 AEN: What one thing would you like to see after attending EVIDENCE 2018? 

VM: From this conference, I look forward to see the Members of Parliament from my country, regardless of political background, demanding evidence to support their debates. I look forward to seeing them holding the executive to account using nothing but evidence.  I look forward to seeing them disseminating information to their constituents using evidence.  In short, after EVIDENCE 2018, I look forward to seeing evidence-informed decision-making in action.

 

Be sure to register for EVIDENCE 2018 on 25-28 September in Pretoria South Africa to hear Velia Manyonga speak about her experience of championing evidence-use in Africa. Not yet an AEN member? Join now and receive our monthly newsletter as well as access to evidence-informed decision-making capacity-sharing content from across the world.