By Kirchuffs Atengble, Founder and Executive Director of PACKS Africa
Many times, very innovative programmes are implemented on pilot/explorative basis; and from which very useful knowledge and resources are produced. But a core question remains as ‘to what extent are such resources useful’, especially after those interventions expire?
A similar question informed my writing of this blogpost, to share a post-programme experience of using a training toolkit developed for capacity building during the VakaYiko programme. The Vakayiko EIPM Toolkit is an inter-disciplinary resource aimed at building civil servants’ skills and knowledge for evidence-informed policy making (EIPM) in developing countries. It focuses on finding, evaluating and communicating evidence as well as developing practical EIPM implementation plans.
Having been directly involved in the pilots of this toolkit during implementation of VakaYiko, I share in this post lived experiences of principles recommended by the toolkit, deviations from such principles, as well as other real life experiences of the training workshop in Addis Ababa.
About the workshop
In the third week of September 2018, PACKS Africa was involved in two events aimed at enhancing the capacity of civil servants at the Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia. These workshops were organised by colleagues from the Research Investments in Global Health (ResIn) study group at the University of Southampton (Soton) in the UK.
Participants ranged between very senior officials such as the Director of Policy and Planning, and new entrants within the Ministry – similar to participants engaged during VakaYiko workshops. There were few colleagues also from other units within the health system such as Jimma University and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI), contrasting the purely civil servants engaged in VakaYiko training workshops.
Whilst the first workshop in Addis explored the issue of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) within the country, the second introduced the concept of evidence-informed policy making to participants, and reflected on the role of evidence in the policymaking process and their contribution to it. The VakaYiko EIPM Toolkit was adapted to guide the second workshop; and only the first module – introduction to evidence-informed policymaking – was treated for the two-day period.
It’s worth a disclaimer at this point, that this slightly critical piece is not a commentary of which approach or style is better – either those adopted within VakaYiko or those during the Ethiopian workshop. It’s only to show what is possible with the Toolkit.
Design of capacity development
Since VakaYiko was a learning opportunity in itself, in that different approaches for capacity development were being explored, capacity building took different forms – individual, organisation, network/system – or any combination of those. The workshop in Ethiopia was however a standalone workshop, designed as capacity building for individuals within the health system. This suggests one of the ways in which the toolkit could be employed. For more on this issue, read the literature review and evaluation report of BCURE – the programme under which VakaYiko was conceptualised.
Preparations prior to workshop
Prior to the workshop, there were few interactions virtually among facilitators of the training workshop, unlike the case during VakaYiko, when facilitators were mostly engaged in series of preparatory and validation meetings. This can be explained from two perspectives: first, that all eight workshop facilitators were spread across the globe, so geography and time difference was a challenge, unlike during VakaYiko which had all facilitators from within country; and secondly, there was pressure during the VakaYiko programme to demonstrate adequate preparation for the workshops.
For the Ethiopian case, there could have been improvisation with technology – video conferencing – if pre-workshop meeting was a concern. It’s worth noting also that due to demands for quality in programme deliverables in VakaYiko, attempt was made initially to use technology – mailing group – for remote preparation of facilitators but that was very unsuccessful for various cultural reasons.
Calibre and number of facilitators
Due to the complex nature of issues addressed in the EIPM toolkit, the competence of experienced professionals were a great factor in selecting facilitators for different sessions. A similar situation was experienced in the Ethiopian example, when different professionals were blended to facilitate the sessions – with experienced policymaking and research professionals involved. A variation however was that whiles an average of three facilitators were engaged for the first module during VakaYiko, in Ethiopia the same workload were shared among eight facilitators.
Workshop materials – hand before or hand after?
Also, training materials were given to participants of VakaYiko’s workshops only after sessions of the workshops were completed. But in the Ethiopian case, participants received the materials (VakaYiko EIPM handbooks) at the beginning of the workshop – printed and bound, with handouts inclusive. This was an issue that we deliberated on extensively, as programme officers during VakaYiko, due to the potential advantages and disadvantages.
Adaptation versus adoption
Recommended materials and learning activities from the toolkit were extensively used – albeit customised. The Action Plan template shared in the toolkit was introduced to participants as it was in the toolkit. PowerPoint presentations were customised, using Soton’s colour theme. New activities and case studies were introduced to achieve the same learning objectives; and participants could make useful contributions to the learning activities since they could very well relate with the context (country and sector). These are demonstrative of the flexibility that VakaYiko recommended to potential application of the toolkit.
More practical issues
As was experienced in Ghana and many other country settings, there were late arrival by participants to the workshop. The event started about an hour late on either days, but facilitators managed to work within the due time, since we knew that participants might ‘switch off’, even though physically present, should the event drag beyond the expected closing time.
There were also momentary power outages at the workshop venue, but the hotel had made arrangement for back-up power. This is a general trend in most African countries where I have facilitated workshops, hence any organizing committee for these workshops should make the necessary logistical arrangements.
Language was another challenge encountered. Since the workshop was facilitated in English (which is not the first language of Ethiopia), many participants had to literally engage in ‘mental decoding, translation and recoding’ of concepts – which can be very exhaustive. There were instances where some participants were allowed to contribute their views in Amharic for colleagues to translate to the comprehension of mostly facilitators. Fortunately, one of the facilitators was a native.
In all, the workshop was organised in a relaxed atmosphere, where learning was seen to be most effective considering the most practical issues. Maximum learning was achieved through this effort, evidenced by contributions from participants during learning activities and the generation of a core question for post-workshop consideration: ‘how much of which type of evidence is enough for evidence-informed policymaking?’
Certainly, participants’ appetite for evidence was whet, and they had begun thinking further into quantities of the different kinds of evidence to be considered adequate in policymaking. Acknowledgely, this question calls for extensive implementation and evaluation work. And recently, at the Evidence-Informed Policymaking Seminar in Pretoria, colleagues from ZeipNET pitched a similar question for potential research funding.
Kirchuffs Atengble is the founder and Executive Director of PACKS Africa, a think tank operating from Accra (Ghana) to improve the uptake of evidence in policymaking processes across the continent of Africa through information systems research and knowledge management.
The VakaYiko programme was a DfID-funded programme (2013-2017) to build capacity of civil servants in four African countries (Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe) for their improved uptake of research and other forms of evidence – and was part of DfID’s BCURE programme. The programme was led by INASP, and implemented by a consortium of organisations that included ODI, GINKS, ZeipNET and the Parliament of Uganda. PACKS Africa is an offshoot organisation from the VakaYiko consortium.
Keywords: VakaYiko, evidence-informed policymaking, EIPM, capacity development, training, workshop, toolkit