By Natalie Tannous
What an exciting time to be working in evidence-informed decision-making in Africa! The journey that the Africa Evidence Network took us on during Evidence 2018 last week has inspired, motivated, and invigorated each of us. And believe me when I say that Evidence 2018 ended with a bang.
Feedback from strand leaders
The first plenary of day three was chaired by the Scientific Programme Committee Chairperson, Dr Yvonne Erasmus. During this session, we were treated to presentations by the four strand leaders of the conference: Danielle Mason, Dr Patrick Okwen, Sibonelo Mbanjwa, and Dr Rose Oronje. Danielle Mason shared a number of points around what came out of the quality education strand at Evidence 2018. One highlight that she mentioned were the synergies and learning that exist between education and health systems on the topic of evidence-use in Africa. Dr Patrick Okwen – the communicable diseases strand leader - stressed the importance of networking opportunities. He emphasised that as a community with an interest in evidence-informed decision-making in Africa, we are stronger when we stand together. Sibonelo Mbanjwa as the climate resilience strand leader pointed out the importance of inclusion when undertaking evidence-informed decision-making in Africa, while Dr Rose Oronje challenged us to move the conversation about practical ways of using evidence for governance forward at other meetings on the continent. With time to engage, the session chair encouraged members of the Network to interrogate the points raised by the strand leaders even more and reflect on ways in which they could advance suggestions by the strand leaders within their respective contexts.
During the final tea break of the conference, I really enjoyed watching the studio interview with Professor Sandy Oliver for Evidence Online 2018 about her reflections and impressions of Evidence 2018. She shared what work she thought still needs to be done on the continent to support our growing community of researchers, citizens, civil servants, and others.
Final say – an award winner, a professor, and a big picture ending
The closing plenary was really exciting, with Africa Evidence Network senior manager Siziwe Ngcwabe officially handing over the first-ever Africa Evidence Leadership Award to the inaugural winner, Velia Manyonga from the parliament of Malawi. Siziwe shared with us the amazing growing understanding that we are gaining through platforms like Evidence 2018 and the landscape maps it produces of the evidence-informed decision-making ecosystem in Africa. It is truly marvellous to see not only how the community is growing but also how that community is getting to know itself better and connect better with itself and others in the world.
Velia Manyonga then delivered her keynote address as part of the award. She shared with delegates her experiences of supporting evidence-use among members of parliament in Malawi and spoke specifically about what she sees as solutions to overcoming barriers to evidence-use in the future. As the inaugural winner of the Africa Evidence Leadership Award, she spoke to the importance of persistence when attempting to engage with parliamentarians around using evidence to inform their decisions. She will be attending this year’s Global Evidence and Implementation Summit in Melbourne from 22-24 October.
Professor John Lavis of McMaster University followed on after that to provide attendees with a five-year agenda for supporting evidence-informed decision-making. His presentation focused on learning across issues and contexts to foster innovative approaches to evidence-use in Africa. One point that came out strongly in his talk focused on the necessity for different evidence groups, like the AEN, to work together to push the agenda of evidence-informed decision-making in Africa further.
The final address in the closing plenary was delivered by Dr Shanil Haricharan, one of the co-chairs of Evidence 2018. He provided the rapporteur feedback for the entire event, talking to the issues that arose during the conference. He referred to the evidence ecosystem as having multiple actors with different feedback mechanisms occurring between them, and the importance of events like Evidence 2018 in bringing those actors together. He also stressed to us as actors within that ecosystem the importance of immersing ourselves in the subject of evidence-informed decision-making so that we are able to support it better.
Delivering on excellence
As it always has been in the past, this year the Africa Evidence Network pulled off an amazing event. A carefully-constructed programme, thought-provoking speakers, and space with sufficient time to really engage not only with innovative content but with one another. The standard of event that the Evidence conferences sets is really high; we hope to share with you all soon when and where Evidence 2020 will be happening. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t yet attended an Evidence conference to come and join us; they are Africa’s leading event for evidence-informed decision-making. I look forward to the next time we can link arms together around the baobab that is evidence-informed decision-making in Africa.