What do civil servants in Ghana and Zimbabwe really think about evidence-informed policy making?

By Louise Ball 

At the recent VakaYiko consortium meeting Emily Hayter led a session finding out participants’ attitudes towards evidence. Louise Ball shares some of the themes.

Vaka Yiko

Quotes from participants in the VakaYiko evidence-informed policy making course in Ghana and Zimbabwe, displayed at VakaYiko Consortium annual meeting, Accra, July 2015. Photo by ODI/Louise Ball.

Evidence-informed policy making is critical to ensuring good public policies. But in many government departments around the world, it’s still not the status quo.

As part of the DFID-funded Building Capacity for Use of Research Evidence (BCURE) VakaYiko Consortium, a practical course on evidence in policy making is providing civil servants in Ghana and Zimbabwe with knowledge and skills to use evidence.

Over the last year, consortium members in Ghana and Zimbabwe trained 67 people, across 18 government institutions, including ministries, parliament and agencies.

Here are some insights into what participants are dealing with on a day-to-day basis and how participants plan to put new skills into action:

 

1.    What challenges do they face in using research evidence?

There was a general sense that senior policymakers were not always interested in evidence:

‘Sometimes a policy is simply a
pronouncement by the Executive’

Lack of resources or access to research evidence is a problem:

‘The library is under resourced and doesn’t have access to current publications’

‘[There are] inadequate computers and printers to store and print information’

But also, a need for systems to find and use evidence effectively – and building these systems takes time and commitment:

‘Research evidence might require changes in the
organization and it is usually very difficult for any
organisation to accept change.’

‘We usually do not use research evidence when making decisions because research evidence is time consuming.’

What’s more, building good systems requires awareness about evidence-informed policy-making, and why it’s important:

‘Most officers in the organisation are not aware of the importance and need to use evidence to support decision-making’ (Ghana)

 2.    What sort of information requests do they receive from ministries?

Participants receive requests for reports, briefs and speeches on topics ranging from value for money in health sector investment, to the rise in deaths resulting from elephant attacks. Other requests received included information on:

‘Cultural diversity and human rights
across Africa, Caribbean, the Pacific and Europe’

 ‘Disadvantages of the multi-currency
regime and recommendations for re-introduction
of the Zimbabwe dollar’

 ‘A gender disaggregated table showing young people who have participated in a skills programme’

3.    What questions did participants have about EIPM at the beginning of the training?

Questions, for the most part, sought practical skills around finding and using good evidence:

‘How can I get correct and authentic information from the internet?’

‘Do I need to include citations in policy briefs? If so, how?’

‘If I find something from a trustworthy source, why not just stop there? How many documents do you need and how do you know when to stop?’

As well as how to manage the evidence base:

‘How can we synchronise and manage
conflicting sources of evidence?’

And how to communicate the importance of evidence to others:

‘As a technocrat, how can I convince policymakers that evidence is important?’

4.    How did participants find the training?

A post training survey found that 96.5% of participants in the Ghana pilot workshop, and 92% in Zimbabwe, said it was relevant to their work.

The course emphasised practical skills for sourcing, assessing and communicating evidence for policy makers, which was well received by participants:

‘The skills I have acquired would not only help me
source for evidence but (also) enable me [to]
filter and narrow down to the most relevant
ones to use.’

‘I now have an enriched understanding of how to access research evidence, assess and evaluate the various evidence products’

5.    What do the civil servants plan to do next?

Part of the VakaYiko training was for participants to develop personal action plans to put what they had learned into practice when returning to the work place. Here’s a teaser of what they have planned:

‘I intend to undertake periodic training of Ministry officials on the processes of handling research evidence for policy making, particularly those in the research and policy formulation department’

‘[I will] create a soft resource base of relevant systematic reviews from online resources provided to inform work’

‘[I will] design a draft of clients’ information request template for team leader’s approval’

‘[I will] open a book to record all gender based violence cases reported to the office [Ministry of Gender and Social Protection] to serve as statistics’

 

For more information on the VakaYiko evidence-informed policy making course, click here.

About the Author: Louise Ball is Communications Officer for the Research and Policy in Development (RAPID) programme at the Overseas Development Institute. She has expertise in not-for-profit communications and is currently supporting the Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) VakaYiko programme working with local partners in South Africa, Ghana and Zimbabwe to increase policy-makers’ capacity to use research evidence.