Strengthening the use of evidence in Parliaments in Africa: Entry points and Pathways

News | Published: 9th December 2022 Share Tweet

There is growing recognition of the importance of evidence, particularly evidence from monitoring and evaluations, in national decision-making. In this process, parliamentarians and their staff play a crucial role in ensuring that evidence-based approaches are used for strengthening oversight, budgeting limited resources, legislation, capacity building, and policymaking across all sectors. However, concerns about the limited use of evidence in Africa that affect impacts of policies and progress has been noted in various platforms. 

In 2021, the Bureau of Integrated Rural Development (BIRD) in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the University of Rhode Island (URI) undertook a study in 10 countries in Africa - Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Liberia, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon to explore some of the pathways for strengthening the use of evidence among Parliamentarians to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? The research was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Africa Bureau. Ten (10) key recommendations emerged from the study on the pathways of strengthening the use of evidence among Parliamentarians in Africa. 

  1. HELP DEVELOP A COMMON UNDERSTANDING OF EVIDENCE-INFORMED POLICY MAKING

Developing a common understanding of evidence informed policy making is critical to any effort to promote it as a standard for policy making in African Parliaments. A common understanding will help the development of a structured framework and approach to evidence informed policy making. This could form the basis of developing a structured approach for building and strengthening systems for evidence informed policy making. It would also allow for standards to be set against which Parliaments could be assessed on the use of evidence in legislation and policy making.

  1. BUILD AND DEVELOP NETWORKING BETWEEN EVIDENCE PRODUCERS AND USERS 

The study, supported by literature review, demonstrates weak linkages between evidence producers and users. The literature review shows a positive correlation between evidence use and the level of engagement between legislators and evidence generators. Improving networking through dissemination platforms such as learning events, policy dialogues and thematic policy fairs would create opportunities for legislators to directly engage those who generate evidence.

FOR DONORS AND GOVERNMENTS

  1. BUILD CAPACITY AND SKILLS OF MPS AND STAFF

Building staff and MP capacity is described as a critical aspect in any institutional process. Evidence-informed policy making is a complex endeavour that requires multiple skill sets including research, data analysis, communication, community engagement, reporting and presentation skills, etc. 

An analysis of the types of skills required for parliamentarians to be able to implement an evidence-informed policy making program is required. This should be followed by an assessment of skills available to parliamentarians to be able to determine what capacity and skills gaps exist. A determination should also be made on the cost-benefits of training existing staff and MPs, as opposed to recruiting the skills required to implement such processes.

  1. IMPROVE MACRO LEVEL FACTORS TO FACILITATE EVIDENCE UPTAKE AND USE

Donors and governments around the world should work to improve the macro environment for evidence use in legislation and policy. Issues that are critical in this regard include: the nation’s democratic culture and tolerance of divergent views; support to the academic community, think tanks and CSOs, as well as the media.

5.  IDENTIFYING AND LEVERAGING EVIDENCE CHAMPIONS 

Evidence from the literature shows that identifying evidence champions in evidence-informed policy processes promotes leadership buy-in and support.  Ahmed et al. (2021) recommend evidence champions and trusted, long-term relationships as key to successful work with government agencies. Policymakers respond more positively to evidence informed policy making, possess better information, and exhibit more interest when “evidence champions” are engaged. A case in point was when the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Directorate, led by someone who has acted as a champion, was located within the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda and spearheaded the institutionalization of evidence use within the government over the past several years. Evidence champions are usually providing leadership support that understands the value of focusing on priority areas when time is constrained. Donors should work to identify and nurture champions to provide leadership.

FOR PARLIAMENTS

  1. IMPROVE ORGANIZATIONAL LEVEL FACTORS TO FACILITATE EVIDENCE UPTAKE AND USE

Parliaments around the continent should work to improve all the organizational-level factors that impede evidence use in legislation and policy. Parliaments should strengthen the various internal units responsible for generating evidence as well as build an organizational culture that promotes and supports evidence use. A critical component of this institutional strengthening should include a stakeholder mapping to identify roles and responsibilities of key actors, identify evidence producers, and support them in dissemination.

  1. PARLIAMENTS SHOULD STRENGTHEN AND BUILD LINKAGES WITH EXTERNAL SOURCES  

The issue of collaboration between data producers and data users is one of the challenges in the chain of evidence generation to use.  It is therefore important for Parliaments to build and strengthen their linkages with data producers.  Parliaments should ensure there is legislation in place that protect the integrity of online and virtual sources of evidence.

  1. STRENGTHEN RESEARCH AND COMMITTEE SECRETARIATS AS PRIMARY SOURCES OF EVIDENCE FOR PARLIAMENTS

Given the importance of research and committee reports in evidence use in Parliaments, there is the need for Parliaments to strengthen their research and committee secretariats by providing then with the requisite human resources that cover the wide range of subject matter that Parliaments deal with. In a longer term, for evidence use to be institutionalized, Parliaments must have their own sources of evidence that they can call upon and most importantly rely on during critical moments when they need data and evidence to drive policy.

  1. PARLIAMENTS SHOULD STRENGTHEN THEIR VARIOUS POLITICAL CAUCUSES AS SOURCES OF EVIDENCE

MPs mostly turn to their caucuses for information.  If these caucuses are properly supported by the various Parliaments and provided the needed support in terms of human and financial resources, they could be a reliable source of data and information that is unbiased and that supports the generation and use of evidence in legalisation and policy.  

  1.  PARLIAMENTS SHOULD ESCHEW PARTISAN POLITICS IN THE GENERATION AND USE OF EVIDENCE

In their effort to access and use evidence, Parliaments should ensure that the interest of citizens and their allegiance to the Constitution are the primary considerations.  Partisan politics should be secondary.  Essentially, they can disagree with approaches but not with the facts.