Picture: Africa Evidence Network - Carina van Rooyen, Rose Oronje and Rhona Mijumbi
This blog post is based on the fifth webinar of the Evidence Capacities webinar series, hosted by the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) on 16 March 2022. The AEN Evidence Capacities webinar series aims to create a platform for sharing experiences and ideas that push our thinking about enhancing capacities for evidence-use in Africa. The series also strives to improve connections that can lead to collaborations among AEN members to strengthen evidence capacities using evidence- and practice-informed approaches. We hope that these discussions will be the basis for improving and illustrating the AEN’s Manifesto on capacity development for evidence use in Africa. Be sure you catch up with the whole series; find all the recordings, blog posts, and presentations from past webinars in this series here.
In the first four panel discussions of the AEN’s #EvidenceCapacities webinar series, we’ve explored the meanings of capacity development for evidence-use in Africa, how to design capacity development for equity, what evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) capacity development aimed at system-level change is about, and the role of relationships and partnerships in EIDM capacity development. In the fifth webinar, the focus was on various pedagogies for EIDM capacity development in Africa.
But what is pedagogy? In short, it is the art and science of teaching or facilitating learning. It departs from assumptions about how we as adults learn. Hence, EIDM pedagogy means the art and science of EIDM capacity development. The AEN Manifesto has three principles (seven to nine) speaking to pedagogy:
"We foreground pedagogy. For one, we utilise adult learning principles, such as espoused by Paulo Freire and Michael Knowles."
“We acknowledge the importance of collaborative peer learning (i.e., social learning). Engagement and participation are crucial in design and delivery of our capacity sharing efforts.”
“We value and foreground bridging of theory and praxis, and thus learning by doing.”
We were privileged to have on the panel for this webinar two power-people (and organisations) of EIDM capacity development in Africa, namely Dr Rose Oronje of the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) and Dr Rhona Mijumbi from the Centre for Rapid Evidence Synthesis (ACRES). Dr Carina van Rooyen, Evidence Capacities lead at the Africa Centre for Evidence, moderated our panel discussion.
Pedagogical principles that informed recent EIDM capacity development initiatives
Rose kicked off the discussion by sharing a recent initiative by AFIDEP, in partnership with the African Academy for Science, which focused on developing researchers’ capacity in knowledge translation, called the Evidence Leaders in Africa initiative (ELA). This initiative aims to empower East and West African scholars to actively engage policy-makers to use research evidence, thus translating their research into ‘easy-to-understand’ knowledge. According to Rose, this particular initiative placed emphasis on understanding political context, being able to develop networks and staying engaged. The pedagogy which informed ELA was based on adult learning principles, including being learner-centred and thus responsive to the needs of the ELA participants. To make this possible, AFIDEP conducted a needs assessment before implementing ELA to understand the experiences that the participants brought with them and the knowledge and practices they sought from ELA. During the two years of ELA, the participants also learnt by doing – in group and individual exercises – through translating their research to potential policy-makers. The initial training in ELA was followed on by mentorships offered to participants. Rose highlighted one area of learning regarding the tension in participants' time commitment between their work and their participation in the ELA mentoring.
Rhona stressed the importance of contextualising capacity development in all of our initiatives in her response. Such contextualisation will help us to get the timing and delivery modes right. At ACRES, for example, they do not have a standardised slide deck that they use across all their training. Instead, should a slide deck be required for a specific context, it is designed for that engagement based on the profiles of participants in the particular initiative. In preparing for EIDM capacity development initiatives at the individual level, Rhona foregrounded two values: to consider the person and their positive attributes before recruiting them to the initiative and not judging an individual with the organisation’s attributes. In the context of professional staff development Rhona impactfully referred to “training with wings”, indicating that as we build EIDM teams we should be ready to let people fly with the skills acquired.
How do EIDM systems learn?
As indicated in the AEN Manifesto, EIDM capacity development initiatives can be focused on individuals, organisations or systems. When we talk pedagogy, we typically indicate the art and science of how individuals and groups learn. What should we call it when we explore the art and science of how EIDM systems learn? Is pedagogy the right word? And how do EIDM systems learn, and how do we design for systems change (as an indication of systems learning), asked our moderator.
Rose indicated that for nurturing a culture of EIDM, capacity development at the individual level is like low hanging fruits but designing for systems change or ensuring that systems learn are the elephants in the room. The way systems learn is as complex as they are, so we may have more questions than answers, she added. Rose suggested three key requirements for EIDM systems change: (1) political leadership and interest at the highest level in EIDM for conversation ownership; (2) evidence champions within the systems to drive changes; and (3) sufficient time and financial resources for longer-term changes, rather than many of our short-term focuses. Overall, Rose argued, we are all touching on one part of the elephant but not yet tackling the whole elephant.
Rhona’s response was that maybe we should be turning things on their head. Rhona challenged us to let the systems level inform us what is required at the institutional and individual levels of EIDM capacity development. She provided an example of a country indicating that it needs 6 000 nurses. Our response then should be to adjust our strategies to train 6 000 nurses, not 6 000 doctors; our start should be systems-level considerations. Another aspect is to look at scaling-up of our EIDM capacity development initiatives. But for that, we need managers that understand EIDM and way more resources.
Measuring the impact of EIDM pedagogies at a systems-level
The last probing from the moderator was about how we know what the impacts of our systems-level EIDM ‘pedagogies’ are, in other words, how we measure the longer-term changes. Rose believes that we should first look at understanding the complexity of the system, to ensure nuanced measurements. And any measuring will have to be done over time. But a starting point is needed. At AFIDEP, for example, if they provided training to government officials, they conduct interviews and surveys with key people in the evidence use system to check if their capacity development efforts led to change. A challenge in this regard is finances; often project funding does not include assessments of this kind. And financial resources for innovation with tools is also required.
Given that impact is long-term, measuring change has to be long-term, Rhona explained. This though does not mean that we should not value changes that are in process, e.g., small tweaks and changes can show that something is happening. We then have to consider indicators that can give us an indication of influence as well, and not just the conventional impact or long-term change. In this regard, Rhona provided an example of how a change in attitude can hint at a possible change in behaviour that might come. What are similar shorter-term changes that might hint at longer-term systems-level changes that might come? Rhona concluded that there is no point in developing individuals’ capacity when the system will not change, and visa versa.
The ‘smells’ that linger: Takeaways on EIDM pedagogies
In her wrapped-up comments, Rhona expressed that we have come a long way with EIDM capacity development in Africa and the pedagogies that apply in our context, and it’s heart-warming to take note of the amount of capacity that has been developed. This is evident through the teams and partnerships developed who learn from each other. We should now ensure we harness these learnings for what we are doing, and not merely tick the boxes. Rose shared Rhona’s sentiments, and added that what has been done so far on EIDM capacity development in Africa is “scratching the surface”. We especially need to explore more about systems-level learning and the required ‘pedagogies’. And we need to improve rigorous measurement.
In concluding our moderator foregrounded that we need to get our fingers around understanding systems, also because there are systems nested within systems. And at the centre of our evidence ecosystems sits the decision system. We need to depart from what the system(s) is asking in terms of capacity development, plus we should do EIDM advocacy at the systems level. This though does not mean that individual and organisational level EIDM pedagogies are less important; attention at all three levels in an integrated manner is required.
Taking the conversation forward
This webinar was a platform to get started with our conversations on the pedagogies for EIDM capacity development in Africa. However, the timeframe isn’t enough to capture all the ideas on this important topic. But, we can continue these interesting conversations asynchronously via LinkedIn. How about you add your views on the questions posed by the moderator to our panellists or feel free to also include further questions you might have.
- Elaborate on the assumptions regarding learning that underpinned the design of the capacity development initiative.
- What for you are important principles to inform our EIDM pedagogies aimed at individuals/groups?
- How can we know which EIDM pedagogies are most effective and equitable (or socially just) in facilitating learning related to EIDM?
- Normally when we talk pedagogies, we speak about capacity development at the individual and/or group level. How do ‘pedagogies’ translate to the organisational and systems levels of EIDM capacity development? Is this the right word, or should we be calling this something else?
Join us synchronous online again in our next webinar in the series (scheduled for 18 May), where we will discuss the different capacity development delivery mechanisms ranging from communities of practice (CoPs), mentoring, etc.
Freire P (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.
Knowles M (1984). Andragogy in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
About the author: Charity Chisoro is a programme officer responsible for leading the capacities workstream at the Africa Evidence Network Secretariat, under the communities portfolio at the Africa Centre for Evidence.
Acknowledgements: The author(s) is solely responsible for the content of this article, including all errors or omissions; acknowledgements do not imply endorsement of the content. The author is grateful to Dr Carina van Rooyen, Siziwe Ngcwabe, and Precious Motha for guidance in the preparation and finalisation of this article. The author would also like to thank Natalie Tannous for her editorial support.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in published blog posts, as well as any errors or omissions, are the sole responsibility of the author/s and do not represent the views of the Africa Evidence Network, its secretariat, advisory or reference groups, or its funders; nor does it imply endorsement by the afore-mentioned parties.
Suggested citation: Chisoro C (2022) Pedagogies for EIDM capacity development in Africa. Blog posting on 30 Mar 2022 that is part of the AEN blog series on the Evidence Capacities webinar series. Available at: https://www.africaevidencenetwork.org/en/learning-space/article/154/
 In this blog posting, and in the webinar, we used the phrase pedagogy, but we note the differences between the concepts pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy. Conventionally pedagogy indicates the art and science of teaching children, with andragogy indicating the art and science of facilitating adult learning. More recently heutagogy is used in education theories to indicate the art and science of self-directed learning. Our use of pedagogy here is to indicate the art and science of facilitating adult learning, similar to andragogy.
 Some ideas underpinning Freire’s pedagogy include education as liberation, dialogue, relevance, problem-posing, and praxis (reflection and action) (Freire 1970).
 His five assumptions of adult learning are: (1) adults’ self-concept moves from that of a dependent personality toward one of increasing self-directedness, (2) adults accumulate experiences that are a resource for learning, (3) their readiness to learn are more oriented to the developmental tasks of their social roles, (4) their orientation to learning as problem-centred rather than subject-focused, and (5) their motivation to learn as internal (Knowles 1984:12).