Researchers have also become more aware of the greater good their rich evidence have on the society at large. We keep learning more to be able to become more resourceful to the policy-making bodies
by Justina Onumah
Lacuna between science and industry hinders evidence-informed decisions
Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs), especially in Ghana, drive the economy. These SMEs need improved technologies and other innovations to advance their activities and it is the responsibility of R&D to provide such support. Secondly, governments require scientific evidence to develop and implement practicable policy options for society, and research will always have to go to the rescue. Unfortunately, there is a lacuna between research and policy and research and industry. Not much engagement has been witnessed on either side; be it demand-pull or supply-push and that’s a cause for worry for any actor in the evidence generation space.
A three-pronged approach to narrow the gap was launched
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ghana with support from the government, University of Ghana, and other development implemented the Development Research Uptake in Sub Saharan Africa (DRUSSA) project that sought to bridge the gap between research and policy. DRUSSA, funded by UK-DfID, aimed to strengthen the research-policy interface in Ghana by conducting policy symposia; placement of academic fellows in government ministries to deepen interaction; and training of policymakers in evidence-informed policy-making processes.
Policymakers were an integral part of the planning and execution of the project deliverables so that an active buy-in could be obtained for the success of the project. Before the commencement of the project, planning sessions were held with the policymakers for both parties to be clear on the expectations and roles.
Policymakers selected the topics for which evidence was needed for each policy symposia thereby enhancing buy-in, ownership and the potential for policy traction. Topics ranged from macroeconomics, agriculture, gender, trade and industry. A total of 15 symposia constituting about 30 people each were held over a period of two years. CSIR involved well-versed researchers/ academics as resource persons for each symposia. Policy briefs generated from these symposia were subsequently available for the Ministries.
Fellows had the option of doing 6-month full time placements or 1-year part-time within the period. Over the 2 years period, six academic fellows and researchers were embedded within several policymaking institutions to increase interaction and provide support for government activities in the form of a one-stop support system for the policymakers in the need of research evidence for decision-making.
Staff from the Ministries were selected to participate in evidence use training organised by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana. Each Ministry had the opportunity to attend a training session depending on the area of interest expressed by them. The training modules covered; 1. Research uptake: Influencing the policy process with research evidence; 2. Accessing research evidence; and 3. Research methodology. The modules were attended by all categories of Ministry staff, from junior, middle to senior levels within a period of 1-year. A total of 23 staff participated in the first module; 28 for the second and 33 for the last module.
Stirring hunger for evidence, evidence-use and institutionalization of an EIDM approach
The policy symposia permitted CSIR to provide evidence for several government decisions including one (fertilizer subsidy programme) that had become contentious due to the burden on the government’s finances. The policy made a comeback in the following year after it was halted. While CSIR cannot claim all the credit, its clear that the evidence that was generated on the policy played a key role.
The policy symposia also generated more discussion on the relevance of evidence in policy decisions. It has led to a surge of interest in science by policymakers as they keep engaging research from time to time. Researchers have also become more aware of the greater good their rich evidence have on the society at large. We keep learning more to be able to become more resourceful to the policy-making bodies since that is one of our core mandates as an institute. Drafting of policy briefs has also become essential to be able to provide quick snapshots of research findings to policymakers.
The placement of Policy Fellows at the various ministries built the capacity of both the Fellows and the policymakers in the evidence-based policymaking processes, through close engagements in consultative meetings and workshops. Some of the Fellows also contributed to the drafting and review of key policy documents including, the Ghana CSR Policy, Made-in-Ghana Document and Agricultural Marketing Policy.
The project completion assessment revealed that the training had improved upon the staff approach to work by stirring up interest in evidence use. Some of the ministries that previously had not used statistical analytical packages begun using them for their in-house research after the training and had even committed to obtaining software for use by staff. One of the exercises conducted in one of the Ministries was the collection and analysis of data on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to assess their constraints and opportunities in order to design policy programmes for them. The trainees also became trainers to those who could not receive the training.
The technology development, transfer and marketing center (CSIR-TDTC) is driving some changes in the CSIR and industry space, including periodic training of the private sector on some of the new technologies generated. The CSIR-TDTC has also seen the transfer of technologies to industry and has increased the popularity of the CSIR through industry interaction and media engagements. The Center has now been integrated into the broader CSIR structure facilitating industrial and public engagement on CSIR activities. What was once just a project ended up becoming a part of the operational structures of the CSIR with its own staff.
Furthermore, the CSIR profiled all the available technologies into a book for easy referencing, which is used by industry players who seek to engage more with us.
In a nutshell…
The lessons from the DRUSSA and TDTC projects have been incorporated in the activities of CSIR-STEPRI. Media, policy and public engagement on our research findings have become a routine activity we undertake for all research projects. An active buy-in from evidence beneficiaries is also key in its acceptance and usage, which was what helped us chalk the success we did.
Justina Onumah is a Senior Research Scientist at the CSIR-Science and Technology Policy Research Institute in Ghana. She is an Agricultural Development Economist by training but has a special interest in research-policy-industry linkages, ensuring that more action is put into science through engagements.