By Thesandree Padayachee
Where are we going?
As expected, the opening plenary of Evidence 2018 set the scene for a high energy conference which would encourage participation and provide ample opportunity for networking and critical reflection. The keynote speaker Mr Mark Heywood from Section 27 in South Africa, interrogated evidence within the context of a post-truth world and encouraged evidence producers to pay attention to the evidence needs of civil society as much as the needs of policy-makers. He made a compelling case for evidence producers to consciously support the needs of advocacy organisations and embrace them as partners in the fight to overcome deeply entrenched social inequities that persist in Africa and around the world. Professor Ruth Stewart’s welcome address ended with a quote that set the scene brilliantly: “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together.”
Ms Sarah Lucas from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and Mr Diakalia Sanogo from the International Development Research Centre, Dakar led an important conversation on how delegates could begin to chart the future for evidence-informed policy-making. Their discussion outlined key issues around the untapped potential for collaboration on the African continent, the collective need to acknowledge that different types of evidence are required at different points in the decision-making cycle, and to appreciate that there will always be a need for multiple sources of evidence. They responded to the persistent challenge faced by evidence producers in gaining the attention of policy-makers by advising delegates to push forward and find new contextually relevant ways to institutionalise the use of evidence by decision-makers. Their challenge to delegates of Evidence 2018 was to take themselves out of their comfort zones of familiarity and embrace the potential for collaboration at the conference, continuously moving forward by consciously applying collaborative problem-solving approaches.
How will we get there?
During the course of the day the word collaboration served as a discussion point in almost all the sessions I attended; but what does the word really mean and have we fully interrogated what is required for it to be successfully realised? A quick google search simply explains it as, “working with someone to produce something” and it is further described as “a working practice whereby individuals work together to achieve a defined and common business purpose.” It is also synonymous with words like cooperation, alliance, partnership and participation, all of which guide us towards a shared understanding that action with an intended purpose precedes its realisation. The networking sessions at Evidence 2018 served just that purpose; an opportunity to engage with others to exchange information, develop new connections and discover shared interests. I observed a genuine effort on the part of delegates to make the best of this unique (and fun) opportunity to make new connections which I hope will be nurtured and shaped into meaningful friendships and valuable partnerships over time.
Reflections from a first time attendee.
I recently joined the Africa Evidence Network in response to my personal need to find other like-minded people who shared my interest in evidence-informed decision-making, and explore collaborative links with organisations contributing to the important business of knowledge translation. As a mid-career health systems researcher, my choice of conference in the past tended to be those that narrowly focussed on the South African public health agenda. While such conferences serve an important role within the public health arena, they also sometimes serve to perpetuate the silos within which the development community functions. Evidence 2018 plays a pivotal role in overcoming these sector-specific silos, allowing for refreshingly diverse engagement which is both international and Afrocentric in its focus. When my fellow Queen Elizabeth Scholar, Mr Zafeer Ravat, explained the cross-cutting multi-sector nature of Evidence 2018 in exploring evidence-informed decision-making, I took it on good authority that this was the place to be. I am very thankful to the Africa Evidence Network for affording me a fee waiver so that I could experience this uniqueness first hand. My experience thus far has been inspiring and thought-provoking. I look forward to the rest of Evidence 2018 (and the amazing food and jelly babies on tap)!
Thesandree Padayachee is the Programme Manager in Health Systems Research Unit at Health Systems Trust. The is a Queen Elizabeth Scholar through the McMaster Health Forum and the winner of the Evidence 2018 registration fee waiver for participating in this year’s annual member survey. Look out for her blogs over the next few days as she shares her experience of Evidence 2018.