By AEN Secretariat
The Evidence Conference Team hosted the Evidence 2018 conference held from 25-28 September 2018 at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria, South Africa.
Evidence is the biennial conference hosted by the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) over the last six years. Our last event – Evidence 2018 – certainly delivered on the high standard that delegates have come to expect of AEN events. Reflecting on the highlights of the event below, we share five reasons the Evidence events are a must-see for anyone involved with evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in Africa.
1) The AEN and Evidence events are Africa’s leading platform for EIDM
Evidence 2018 was a week of sharing knowledge, building new relationships, strengthening existing ones, and growing the evidence ecosystems in Africa. For three days from 26-28 September 2018 some of Africa’s EIDM thought leaders and finest minds convened at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s International Convention Centre in Pretoria for the third biennial Evidence conference. Mark Heywood, Executive Director of SECTION 27 in South Africa, opened the conference on Wednesday morning, making a case for ‘evidence as the fuel of activism’, whilst also asking ‘what do we do when the evidence is overwhelming but the action is underwhelming?’. Heywood concluded his keynote address in a captivating and challenging manner: he highlighted the use of evidence in decision-making not as an academic or technical issue, but as a political one.
2) The AEN and Evidence events lead the field in bringing together the widest range of EIDM stakeholders into one space
Evidence 2018 was structured to focus on four different areas of priority in Africa: quality education, communicable diseases, climate resilience, and good governance. As a result, the 222 delegates that attended the event represented different actors such as academics, civil servants and practitioners from these different fields across the continent and the world. Given the continued drive to improve the divide between researchers and decision-makers, the focus on governance and politics – in particular, the role it plays in EIDM across these different sectors – was hailed as one of the key commendable aspects of the conference. In addition, the conference provided an opportunity for synergies across these different communities and improved engagements across the diverse AEN membership as well as the chance to build new relationships within relevant stakeholders, institutions and professions in EIDM.
3) The AEN and Evidence events showcase Africa’s excellence to the global stage
In 2018, the AEN – supported through funding provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – launched the Africa Evidence Leadership Award to celebrate leadership and excellence in EIDM in Africa. The intention of the award is to share with the global community the innovation and leadership in terms of supporting EIDM in Africa. As such, the award was open to researchers, government officials, practitioners, or knowledge translation specialists: anyone who felt they could demonstrate their EIDM leadership within the evidence ecosystem was welcomed to apply for the award. The inaugural winner of the award was Ms Velia Manyonga, head of the research division within the parliament of Malawi. Given on an annual basis, the award is one way the AEN is raising the profile of Africa among the global EIDM community.
4) The AEN and Evidence events promote broad inclusivity through cutting-edge technological innovation
One of the challenges the AEN is always trying to address is that of including others in Africa unable to travel to South Africa for the last two evidence conferences. As a Network, we believe in the power of relationships and recognise that being part of conversations around EIDM in Africa are central to establishing and maintaining these relationships. As such, the AEN secretariat received funding from the University of Johannesburg to host an online conference in parallel to the physical event, the first of its kind in Africa. Evidence Online 2018 live-streamed selected sessions from Evidence 2018 to an audience of almost 300 online registered delegates, in addition to exclusive interviews with industry experts and leaders in the field. Evidence Online was a success in including those unable to attend the physical event in that questions and comments on live-streamed sessions from online delegates were fed into these sessions to ensure the conversations at Evidence 2018 had a farther reach and were more inclusive. Content generated from Evidence Online 2018 will be available on the AEN website.
5) The AEN and Evidence events host the world’s largest collection of maps about the African EIDM ecosystem
As an organisation whose main aim it is to connect people and EIDM activities all working to produce and use better evidence in Africa, the AEN makes concerted efforts to understand the EIDM landscape across the continent. The Evidence events represent one major mechanism for how we achieve this enhanced understanding of this landscape. Our member contributions to this initiative has resulted in us collecting 41 landscape maps from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The landscape maps focus on numerous sectors including health, monitoring and evaluation, legislature, metropolitan governance, social economics, environment, food security, population and development. These maps highlight the main role players in each of the respective evidence ecosystems, the gaps that exist in each ecosystem, and describe what characterises the relationship between research producers and users in these countries/or sectors. While, to our knowledge, our collection of African landscape maps is the largest currently in the world, gaps do remain. Currently, there are regional gaps that exist in North Africa, parts of West Africa, some Middle and Western parts of Central Africa as well as the upper parts of the West of Southern Africa. These are gaps we hope to fill using the Evidence events as platforms for gathering this information.
The next large-scale event in the biennial Evidence series will be Evidence 2020. With Evidence 2018 having achieved so much, the expectation is set for Evidence 2020. As the AEN continues to grow (with now close to 2000 members) and our network of collaborators increases, the possibilities for members to become involved in the Evidence events are ripe. We look forward to posting more highlights from future events with an ever-stronger Africa Evidence Network.