Reflections on the AEN Public Lecture: Evidence-Informed Policy-Making—an introduction to rapid response services and evidence maps to support evidence use

By Zafeer Ravat, Researcher at the Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE)



Image credit: Careermetis

On Friday the 3rd of August, the Africa Evidence Network hosted a public lecture at the School of Tourism and Hospitality, the University of Johannesburg, Bunting Road Campus. The lecture discussed two approaches that can facilitate policy-makers’ use of evidence: evidence mapping and rapid response services. The lecture was attended by many academics from various institutions, public sector officials, and private consultancies. Here, Zafeer Ravat, a researcher at the Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE), reflects on his impressions of the public lecture:

On a joyous Friday afternoon away from the office to attend what I found to be the perfect ending to a very insightful and mind-opening week. The lecture represented a celebration to the end of a 3-day learning exchange between the Africa Centre for Evidence, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), and Makerere University, College of Health Sciences.

The program kicked off with a brief introduction to evidence synthesis by Laurenz Langer (ACE). From the off-set it had felt more as a dialogue than a lecture which suited the Friday afternoon atmosphere. In his introduction, Laurenz provided a summary of what evidence synthesis entails and why it is important, outlining the platform of further engagement for the guest speakers.

The first guest speaker was Harsha Dayal who is the research director at DPME. Her presentation focussed on the evidence mapping work that the DPME is currently undertaking. Reflecting on her overall presentation, there were many interesting aspects raised.  Starting with just how complex the evidence eco-system is in South Africa clearly highlights the need for consolidating the available research evidence in a systematic and transparent manner. Furthermore, Harsha highlighted the role of various stakeholders involved in policy-making emphasising the importance of research producers referring to these as the “doers” in the complex evidence eco-system. From a personal perspective, this was very interesting working as a researcher. It is always great to see where one’s work fits in and it being acknowledged.  Drawing focus towards the actual evidence mapping work, I was impressed at the headway made in what she said only to be a 2-year work in progress. Visually the evidence map that Harsha had presented looked aesthetically pleasing and easy to engage with. With regard to the actual labour involved in building an evidence-base to be mapped, she stressed just how strongly her team in DPME feels about a co-production model to evidence generation and use. The impressive overall product proves just how much can be achieved by working together.

The second guest speaker, Rhona Mijumbi, a research scientist at the Makerere University illuminated the room with her presentation on Rapid Response Services. Her overall presentation looked at her experience and insight into the revolutionary work being done using Rapid Response services. She explained that, in general, it is often difficult for decision-maker to find data that is ready to be used in policy design and formulation; and, although there might be data on almost any policy issue, this data is often poorly recorded and would require a lot of work to organise and access conveniently. Another issue that was highlighted was that a lot of primary research is very technical and can tend to be difficult to interpret, thus stressing the importance of knowledge brokering. The Rapid Response Service that she specialises in requires good primary or secondary research to ensure effective decisions are made and that resources—which is often are limited—are efficiently utilised.

One of the biggest aspects that I drew from her lecture is the importance of knowledge brokering. Developing research reports that are clear, concise, and relevant are of extreme importance. This is especially the case when policymakers have little time to make decisions. The Rapid Response Service aims to do this by providing a report that synthesises the overall evidence around a specific question and leads to an output that is very user friendly and relatively easy to engage with. I found this thought particularly intriguing. In my opinion, understanding policy makers’ needs is imperative to encouraging evidence-informed decision-making. And the approach suggested by Rhona seems to fully take this perspective into consideration. Rhona and her team’s work at Makerere University is, in my opinion, ground-breaking and judging from the audience interaction, truly inspiring.

Following a brief engagement session there were then lovely snacks and drinks for all the attendees. A variety of foods were provided in a perfect setting to socialise and embrace the weekend and end to a great week.