By AEN secretariat
The EVIDENCE conferences are Africa’s preeminent event for all those in the region with a dedication to evidence-informed decision-making. This year’s event – EVIDENCE 2018 – promises to offer attendees space and time to engage with not only what is happening at the forefront of evidence-informed decision-making, but will also be an innovative, refreshing take on the standard scientific conference. Following in the footsteps of a great woman, the then-Minister of Science and Technology in South Africa Naledi Pandor who opened EVIDENCE 2016, this year’s opening plenary speaker will be Mr Mark Heywood of Section 27. The Africa Evidence Network secretariat caught up with Mr Heywood to find out why he’s looking forward to EVIDENCE 2018 and why this event is important for countries in Africa.
AEN: We’re so glad you did but can you tell us more about why you agreed to be the opening plenary speaker of EVIDENCE 2018?
MH: In an age where fake news and misinformation is more easily manufactured and disseminated, when evidence is manipulated to confuse policy-makers and the public alike, empirical peer-reviewed evidence becomes all the more important. Evidence is obviously also a crucial aspect of policy-making and evaluation. Democracy and constitutionalism depend on the generation, collection, assessment, and distillation of evidence. The invitation to be a plenary speaker is a chance to connect the dots between the scientific and activist communities. It is an opportunity to talk about how activism in South Africa has used evidence, and the issues on which it must continue to do so in future. It is an opportunity to challenge the members of Africa Evidence Network to rise to the great social issues of our time and do more to align itself with interventions that aim to tackle poverty and inequality in Africa.
AEN: In what ways does this conference overlap with the values of your organisation and your professional values?
MH: SECTION27 is a social justice organisation promoting accountability, good governance and the realization of human rights. It depends heavily on access to, understanding of, and the utilisation of evidence. In my professional life as a human rights activist I have always operated on the principle that advocacy must be evidence-based.
AEN: What value do you think a conference like EVIDENCE 2018 brings to a society like South Africa specifically, and more broadly, the African continent?
MH: EVIDENCE 2018 is an opportunity to start a conversation about why, when we have so much evidence available (perhaps more than at any time in history), we seem to take little account of it in planning. Why is this? What are the barriers to acting on evidence? Who needs evidence? How can we better and more popularly present evidence so that it is understood by ordinary people and not just elites? How can it influence active citizenship? The conference is an opportunity to debate these issues.
AEN: What are you hoping to see happen because of EVIDENCE 2018, ideally?
MH: Although evidence requires academic rigour, its place in decision-making is not an ‘academic issue.’ For example, when it comes to issues of health or climate change mitigation, it is literally a matter of life and death for many people. It seems odd that we have to assert the importance of evidence – but we do. So my hope is that the conference will be overheard by the public and policy-makers and will contribute to the restoration of evidence-based decision making, i.e. that it will have an actual impact.
Mr Heywood will be the opening plenary speaker; register now for EVIDENCE 2018 and catch his opening talk on 26 September at 11:00 at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research International Convention Centre in Pretoria, South Africa. Not yet a member of the Africa Evidence Network? Not a problem! Join us today.