#Evidence2018 Day 1: A chance to re-connect and find common purpose

 By Thesandree Padayachee

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The pre-congress offering to delegates of #Evidence2018, hosted by the Africa Evidence Network at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria, South Africa did not disappoint. The delegates, from countries across Africa and the globe, were provided with a unique opportunity to participate in a range of practical workshops and symposiums that provided a glimpse into what is sure to be a relevant, practical and inspiring conference. While the official opening of #Evidence2018 took place today, the pre-conference programme provided a plethora of opportunities for delegates to interact with each other, share experiences and reconnect with the issues that give us common purpose within the field of evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM). The Conference theme year is ‘Engage, Understand, Impact’, and the programme promises to focus delegates’ attention around four high-priority development areas in Africa: quality education, communicable diseases, climate resilience, and good governance. Underpinning this theme is the overarching goal of encouraging and promoting the use of EIDM in Africa and creating a platform for shared learning and collective problem-solving around interventions that will address poverty and inequality on the African continent.

Working together to make a greater impact  

Professor John Lavis and Dr Kaelan Moat facilitated a workshop that sought to uncover how research organisations can more effectively transfer research knowledge to decision-makers. Their skilful facilitation elicited insightful dialogue and stimulated rich discussion around the fundamentals of the policy-making process. An important point made by Professor Lavis was the need for organisations to be “self-aware” about how and where their respective organisations fall within the mix of processes that unfold throughout the decision-making cycle. The skills required often include policy analysis, political analysis, systems analysis and evidence synthesis; the reality unfortunately being that it is rare to find them all in one organisation. Delegates attended the session rallied around the need for organisations to become better at working more collaboratively to create greater and more sustainable impact in the EIDM space.

Structured collaborative efforts  

Building on the need for greater collaboration amongst organisations interested in creating and responding to demand for evidence, was an interesting session on the Global Evidence Synthesis Initiative (GESI) facilitated by Professor Sandy Oliver from the EPPI-Centre. The GESI was launched in 2016 to enhance the capacity of low- and middle-income countries in synthesising evidence, and using synthesised evidence to support practice and policy across a variety of disciplines including, but not limited to, Agriculture, Economics, Education, Environment, and Health. The GESI Secretariat which is hosted by Center for Systematic Reviews on Health Policy and Systems Research at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon has created a global network of established evidence synthesis centres which aims to serve as a platform for the sharing of expertise and experiences and facilitating collaborations between them. In addition, GESI works to attract funders interested in supporting the GESI Network.

Co-production: Towards collaboration and shared learning  

The seminar hosted by the Africa Centre for Evidence at the University of Johannesburg and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in South Africa explored the potential synergies between evidence maps and rapid response services to support EIDMthrough the lens of a dynamic trio: Dr Rhona Mijumbi-Deve, Dr Laurenz Langer and Harsha Dayal. These three colleagues shared their respective learning about trialling different approaches to rapid evidence synthesis which have shown encouraging results. Once again, the need for stronger networks and greater levels of collaborations across sectors was emphasised.

The day’s proceedings gave a clear message that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts; a fitting end to an exciting and energising pre-congress programme.

Thesandree Padayachee is the Programme Manager in Health Systems Research Unit at Health Systems Trust. Thesandree was 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.