Institutionalisation of a culture of evidence-informed decision making (EIDM) has continued to dominate the policy debates and conversations across Africa in the recent past. Indeed, policy makers, academicians, governance institutions and major funding organisations have advocated for the adoption of an EIDM approach in the formulation, review and implementation of policies at national and subnational levels, to guarantee better policy outcomes. However, despite the growing attention on EIDM, proponents continue to grapple with three fundamental issues, namely: defining what are the authentic sources of evidence; what/whose evidence counts, particularly, the context between scientifically acquired and policy driven; and how to make use of evidence to influence policy decisions. At the heart of this conundrum is the question about operationalisation of a culture that anchors evidence use in decision-making processes. In Africa, these issues coupled with a multiplicity of actors with different interests, ideologies, power, resources, capacity and knowledge, hinders the successful uptake of research evidence in the decision-making process.
Against this backdrop, the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR), designed the Utafiti Sera1, a unique and innovative approach to bridging the gap between research evidence, policymaking and implementation. It is a dedicated and well thought out approach that supports, builds and enhances a community of researchers and policy actors working together to ensure that appropriate and negotiated policy actions and uptake occur either through programmes, legislations, high quality policy debates, policy design or administrative and other forms of civic actions around issues for which there is either research evidence or rigorous synthesis of available knowledge. Utafiti Sera uses the concept of a ‘house’ as the platform where both research and policy communities come together to discuss, access, and appraise evidence with aim of addressing specific national policy questions. The ‘house’ anchors the EIDM work and has transformed how policy actors engage in policy making. Using policy champions, the Utafiti Sera main goal is to break the barriers between researchers and policy makers from government and non-governmental institutions.
Since its inception in 2015, PASGR has established 7 Utafiti Sera houses to support governments and stakeholders in accessing, appraising, and applying multiple sources of evidence in key policy decisions. The Houses are transforming how government institutions, academic institutions, civil society groups and policy practitioners consider and use evidence to improve service delivery. For instance, the Urban Governance house in Kenya hosted by Pamoja Trust, has forged an evidence-based partnership with relevant government units (Council of Governors, the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA), the Kenya National Highway Authority (KeNHA), civil society orgs, and the academia), enabling these bodies to apply evidence in their reform agendas. The House in partnership with KURA, Kenyatta University curriculum on social urban planning and Council of Governors under the Symbio-City urban project generated useful evidence and lessons from the Outering Road project, in Nairobi, Kenya.
This evidence, guided the development of the draft Strategic Planning Framework for the urban areas. The framework is a key document for the design and operation of urban areas envisioned in the Urban Areas and Cities Act of 2019. The Strategic Planning Framework is in advance stages of adoption by the Council of Governors as a policy framework for urban areas in Kenya. The house has also assisted KURA to develop its stakeholder engagement framework through in-house evidence and experiences from Nairobi roads projects. The framework has been adopted by various government institutions in charge of infrastructure development, namely KURA, KeNHA and the County Governments, to guide infrastructural engagement and development. Based on the evidence from the House, both KURA and KeNHA have embraced a new understanding of the infrastructure development that is not merely about the engineering (Road construction) intervention. Instead, it is an intricate social intervention with implications for democracy, governance and inclusive social order.
In Rwanda, the urban governance house hosted by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR-Rwanda) has generated evidence through a series of socio-economic studies that examined the key drivers of the development of secondary cities. The House has used this evidence as the basis of its stakeholder engagement. Being the first time that any organisation is using locally generated evidence to convene stakeholders in these cities, has elicited enthusiasm and excitement from city leadership. The secondary cities leaders decided to mainstream the key recommendations from the urban governance forums in their annual and strategic plans. The city mayors have also taken up the roles of house champions, infusing great optimism for imminent success in building and supporting a system-wide culture of evidence use in these young cities.
The Youth Employment Creation House in Kenya jointly co-hosted by the Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship and Alternatives Africa, has provided evidence that has informed the prioritisation of Youth Agribusiness Strategies and Action Plans for Makueni, West Pokot and Nyandarua Counties in Kenya. The House also conducted a baseline study on agri-based MSMEs in Kenya and the emerging narrative on the role MSMEs play in job creation. The study findings are driving the debate on the role of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in youth employment creation and informing national and county debate in both the public and private sectors around a need to formalise and support MSMEs for growth and expansion to create more decent jobs for youth.
Through the community of practice (Houses), the Utafiti Sera approach has grown phenomenally since its inception, expanding the frontiers of EIDM in Africa. It has increasingly gained global traction and attention. The approach is receiving wide recognition and attention, with numerous requests to share and support other organisations and research networks keen to enhance their EIDM work. For instance, PASGR was approached to lead and support EIDM work for four major research projects with global outreach and linkages. A good case-in-point is a GBP 32 Million African Cities Research Consortium (ACRC) led by the University of Manchester U.K., which approached PASGR to help design and lead its uptake programme based on the Utafiti Sera approach. This is as important in sharing PASGR’s learning while also supporting like-minded actors in their EIDM work. PASGR has also used the Utafiti Sera approach to develop an uptake plan for an MCF funded seven countries research programme on youth aspirations and resilience. These growing interests and recognitions present a potential to help resolve the sustainability challenge for the houses and also to diversify and increase benefits to target communities.
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 Siziwe Ngcwabe and the Africa Evidence Network team for their guidance in the preparation and finalisation of this article as well as their editorial support.
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