Africa Evidence Network Launches New Survey

By Ruth Stewart, Chairperson, Africa Evidence Network

The Africa Evidence Network has launched a new survey, which can be found at https://goo.gl/forms/jDaQyLzqdxwQY7Qj2.

We want to know where existing capacity for evidence maps, systematic reviews, and other forms of syntheses lies across Africa. This survey takes no more than 10 minutes. The deadline is Tuesday, 28th February.

If you have not conducted this kind of research before but you would like to, or indeed you are more interested in how systematic reviews, evidence maps and syntheses might be useful as part of research frameworks or decision-making frameworks, please complete the survey. After the initial questions, you can skip to the final section and tell us more in the comments box.

The Africa Evidence Network (AEN) is a community of people who work in Africa and have an interest in evidence, its production and use in decision-making. The Network is supported by the Africa Centre for Evidence within the University of Johannesburg and includes researchers, practitioners and policy-makers from universities, civil society and government. www.africaevidencenetwork.org

 

Big Data and Governance

By Ravish Bhatia

Ravish Bhatia is presently working with the Engagements team of the Swaniti Initiative, a New Delhi-based organization that delivers development solutions to over 90 Parliamentarians across states and party lines in India on issues of health, education, gender and livelihood. 

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The underlying theme of this popular adage by Peter Drucker has found much resonance in today’s rapidly changing, if not always evolving, world. Be it collecting information about immigrants to ‘manage’ their activities or pushing for digital transactions in the banking and financial sectors, there is an emerging desire by governments to collect data at an increasingly more granular level. This, just to clarify, is not necessarily a bad thing. In the knowledge-based economies of the future, the more prepared governments are, the better it is for democracies. Governments across the world, much later than corporates, have begun to accept the fact that Big Data is like a tsunami waiting to envelope us. The real question or concern here is ‘Are rural economies ready to handle the shock caused by this tsunami?’

Luckily, the Government of India is one of the few governments across the world with a clear vision and policy level commitment to promote digital economies. However, there are two key shortcomings that must be addressed, if we are to create these digital economies of the future.

First – Readiness. One of the primary characteristics of a digital economy is the use of data to make responsible governance decisions. Unlike other characteristics, such as mobile banking and digital communication that can be driven by investments from private enterprises, data driven governance is the complete responsibility of the elected authority. On this front, we have collected and have access to extensive amount of data, but we are not ready to make the most of it. There is an urgent need for building skillsets that are relevant in the age of Fourth Industrial Revolution across the governance ecosystem. Two cases in point: Gram Panchayats in villages have access to huge chunks of household level data. But are they able to use it to target the most backward demographic segments for employment under MGNREGA? The government monitors data concerning prices in local vegetable mandis. Are local bodies that collect this data able to combine it with other variables such as weather conditions and previous productions, to forecast food shortages and accordingly redistribute grains under PDS? The answers to both these questions are not comforting.

The scope and impact of using data for ‘good governance’ is limitless. What is required is an effective public private partnership that ensures that digital literacy trickles down from the corridors of New Delhi, through the contours of federal structures, to finally reach the rural economies.

The other shortcoming lies in the manner in which the entire value chain is structured. There are three essential steps in this chain – data collection, data analysis and finally data driven decision-making. Concerning the first of these, in a country of more than a billion people we continue to conduct surveys on pen and paper instead of adopting new technologies. This increases the interval in which such extensive exercises can be conducted and reduces the efficacy of the entire monitoring and evaluation process. To add on to that, most of these surveys measure the status and needs of the people, but in no way account for measuring the changing aspirations of the populace. Big Data and social media can be powerful tools in the hands of the government to monitor the changing aspirations of a growing digital population and respond to them in real time. Having said that, it is absolutely essential that the privacy of the individual is maintained and respected.

While most government employees in India are part of the first step of the chain mentioned above, very few are involved in the other two. A Gram Rozgar Sewak, when assigned on election or Census duty, toils hard to collect data across her village – but does she have the tools to understand that data and make important discoveries about her village? Negative. The Soil Health Card scheme in India is a step in the right direction – but unless the local bodies and communities are provided with both ‘hardware’ as well as ‘software’ tools to make sense of the collected data, the entire exercise would be a futile effort.

All over the world, various instances have shown how technology tools such as data dashboards can improve government planning through improved targeting. For example, in a project lead by Swaniti Initiative in the remote village of Khati, Uttarakhand a Block Development Officer can now map the requirements of a school 7000 ft above sea level directly on his smartphone without having to physically spend 3 days to go there. In Tanzania a program called ’SMS for Life’, used electronic mapping technology to accurately monitor stocks of malaria drugs across key health facilities, thereby reducing facilities without stock from 78% to 26%. By providing local authorities with the correct tools and technology, we can improve the efficacy of government spending many times. As a cherry on top, data driven decision-making would also help in curbing corruption and stopping leakages across various government schemes.

Every new generation or so, there comes a new technology that disrupts and then shapes our world. The sooner one adapts to it, the better off they are. Big Data is one such disruptive technology that is going to be the engine for growth in the 21st century. It is time we fuel up this engine.

More information on the Swaniti Initiative can be found at www.Swaniti.com.

The Scottish approach: Charities have a vital role in creating informed public services

Pippa Coutts, from the Alliance for Useful Evidence, and Jenny Brotchie, from Carnegie UK Trust, argue that the Scottish experience to developing participative services highlights the key role for the community and voluntary sector across the UK as both creators and champions of evidence. 

Just before Christmas the ‘care crisis’ hit headlines again.  For many working in the third sector the storm behind the headlines is something they are all too acutely aware of: rising demand against a backdrop of squeezed resources. A seemingly impossible context particularly when you are trying to improve lives at the same time.

Do more preventative, people focused services hold the key?

Catalysed by some of these challenges, across the UK we have seen calls for, and shifts towards, more preventative and holistic public services that better support people to lead independent and fulfilled lives. See, for example, the emphasis on prevention and partnership in NHS England’s Five Year Forward Strategy.

Calls for change from within the voluntary and community sector are often particularly strong – see the essays: Making Good: The Future of the Voluntary Sector.

How do we make this shift a success?

If this shift is to be successful, the role of evidence is critical: that is understanding what works for who, when and how?

In some areas good evidence on these questions exists but it isn’t always widely accessible. In other areas we need more research and there are emerging challenges to be worked through. For example, what does robust co-produced research look like? How do we aggregate and make sense of diffuse data on individual outcomes and make best use of people’s stories? How can we best support citizens and communities to produce and consume evidence?

These are all questions which are raised in the new discussion paper The Scottish Approach to Evidence launched by the Alliance for Useful Evidence and the Carnegie UK Trust. While the paper focuses on Scotland, we think these challenges are universal and apply to anyone working to improve lives in a preventative, holistic, people-centred way.

Developing a strong and accessible evidence base

The discussion paper argues that there is a distinctly Scottish Approach to policy that emphasises participative, people-centred policies, but that a complementary approach to evidence needs to be developed to serve this policy trend.

We set out 5 steps that we think cross sectoral partners need to take to get there:

1. Strengthen the understanding and use of the outcomes approach at national and local level. Outcomes approaches are common in the charity sector in the UK, and in jurisdictional governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.  Developing measures to assess final outcomes is often hard to do and there is a definite role for the third sector in collaboratively producing this evidence.

Continue reading “The Scottish approach: Charities have a vital role in creating informed public services”

Believe in Cities: In an era of post-truth politics, local leaders are depending on data to solve problems

By James Anderson, who oversees Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation programs, focused on building problem-solving capacity within local governments and spreading innovations that work.

Thirty years ago, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo famously said: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The phrase became not only his dictum but, in many ways the North Star of good governance.

Until this year.

The 2016 presidential campaign wasn’t exactly poetic, but at the state and local level, public servants in America’s towns and cities are continuing to govern in prose despite the divisions in our nation.

Indeed, their work might be the antidote to the growing fear that we are entering an era of “post-truth” politics, where raw emotion doesn’t merely outdo fact; it overwhelms it, seemingly to irrelevance, and with little opposition. This only creates more cynicism and less confidence, more gridlock and less belief that government can and does work.

Look at Buffalo, New York.

On any given day, you will see city employees in the city’s poorest neighborhoods hard at work. Maybe they’re up on a ladder using a chain saw to trim dangling branches. Maybe they’re handing out smoke detectors to families who don’t have them. Maybe they’re filling, both literally and metaphorically, a pothole.

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They are part of what Buffalo calls its Clean Sweep program – an initiative that is about using data to engage citizens and shape policy. Specifically, Clean Sweep crunches the data from citizen inquiries, emergency 911 calls and the census. Based on that information, the program targets the neighborhoods that need help most and better structures how that help is administered.

Buffalo is hardly alone. In Mesa, Arizona, officials recently created a “blight index” from data on crime and code violations; they’ve identified the neighborhoods with the most need and they use evidence-based decision making to redirect funding. In cities like New Orleans and Chattanooga, they are using behavioral science to sharpen outreach campaigns that aim to increase diversity in their police forces. Tulsa is one of a growing number of cities making data public and, in so doing, making government more transparent. In Providence, Rhode Island, the mayor takes city data out into the community, where he engages in robust conversations with residents about whether or not the official city stats reflect their actual experiences.

Continue reading “Believe in Cities: In an era of post-truth politics, local leaders are depending on data to solve problems”

Key Learnings from Evidence Works 2016: A Global Forum for Government

By Karen Anderson and Abeba Taddese, Results for All

Governments around the globe are exploring ways to build and incentivize demand for the use of data and evidence to inform policymaking. They range in their use of evidence, their organizational capacity and their resource availability. But policymakers, both inside and outside of government, face the common challenge of moving beyond the collection of data and production of evidence to better understanding how data and evidence can be used to improve outcomes.

An abundance of information exists about best practices and models for evidence production—collecting data and evaluating programs. Less information exists about how to spur policymaker demand for evidence, and the types of organizational processes and practices that play an influential role in promoting the use of data and evidence by policymakers.

Earlier this fall, Results for All partnered with the UK’s Alliance for Useful Evidence to host Evidence Works 2016: A Global Forum for Government. Our goal with this event was to bring together high-level policymakers from around the world—both the global north and the global south—to share experiences, including challenges, solutions and lessons learned, in establishing and implementing strategic approaches for promoting evidence-informed policymaking.

On September 29-30, approximately 140 policymakers from almost 40 countries participated in the London-based conference for two-days of roundtable discussions and smaller working group meetings across a range of topics. The full Summary Report from the meeting can be found here.

Key takeaways and questions raised during the event included the following:

  1. Government needs a diversity of evidence. No single type of evidence will answer all government challenges and we need a range of approaches to assess what works.
  1. The issue of independence versus proximity in evidence production is an ongoing question among policymakers. To maintain credibility, is there value in keeping some distance between evidence production and the government leaders who will use that evidence?
  1. Talking about evidence can be challenging. In complicated political climates and complex country cultures, how can policymakers best communicate about evidence, both positive and negative findings, to improve outcomes without jeopardizing the very programs they hope to improve? This is a common challenge in both the global north and the global south, with a variety of first step approaches offered by a multitude of participants.

Continue reading “Key Learnings from Evidence Works 2016: A Global Forum for Government”

A REFLECTION ON EVIDENCE WORKS 2016

By Peter Harris
Chairman of the Productivity Commission, Australia

I found Evidence Works 2016 to be positive and refreshing evidence in itself of great commitment and intelligent, locally-fashioned solutions to measurement and evaluation challenges by people from a wide array of countries.

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At the Australian Productivity Commission, we are strong advocates of using data and analysis to illustrate, in engaging ways, for both the public and the politicians the true shape of a public policy problem and the way it is best addressed in an Australian context.

We can prove that such systems work, through our decades of experience in putting before governments, after development in open public process, the kind of thorough assessment work which both socialises change within the community and at the same time offers clear guidance on what is likely to work.

While not every one of our reports is immediately adopted, even where they are not the data stays in the public arena, and remains quoted persistently whenever the issue – still by definition unaddressed, and thus often recurring – attracts further calls for change.  The evidence is an asset for the community to draw on, and creates its own case for well-managed reform.

The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission provides independent research and advice to Government on economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians.

 

Linking Budgeting and Results in the Philippines

By Tessie C. Gregorio
Director, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Bureau                                  Philippines Department of Budget and Management

In the Philippines, the journey towards results-based budgeting started as early as 1973. However, it was only in recent years that we were able to make headway in making the budget a truly performance-informed budget (PIB), where funding allocations are linked to performance measurements and goals.

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Starting with the “new face” of the 2014 budget, Philippines’ budgets have included both financial and non-financial information, as opposed to previous budgets, which focused on numbers—financial data. The General Appropriations Act (GAA), as our national budget is called after it is enacted by Congress, now includes performance information on what agencies will deliver given the budget allocated to them. These agency commitments also have corresponding performance indicators against which the agency performance can be measured. In this way, agencies are made accountable for the delivery of their major final outputs (MFOs) or goods and services they deliver. The MFOs are based on the core mandates of the agencies. This new budgeting approach shifted the focus of agencies from inputs to outputs.

edit-239To further enhance performance-informed budgeting, the 2015 budget included additional information on organizational outcomes that the agencies are trying to achieve. So for the first time, our budget included both output and outcome information that helps measure the efficiency and effectiveness of agency programs, activities and projects.

We also reward good performance among our public sector employees through our Performance-based Incentive System (PBIS), which links bonuses to the achievement of performance measures in agency budgets. The PBIS includes a two-step ranking system: first a ranking of the units/offices within the organization and then a ranking of individuals within the units/offices concerned.

Continue reading “Linking Budgeting and Results in the Philippines”

My Experience Working on Evidence-Informed Policymaking in Kenya

By Susan Musyoka
Member of Kenya Parliament, Chair of Parliamentary Caucus on Evidence-Informed Oversight and Decision-Making

evidence-works-2016-global-convening_482Evidence-based policymaking is at the heart of ensuring accountability of resources and inclusiveness of development policies. As a Member of Parliament (MP), one draws from competing sources of information, including from one’s constituents, and most often, political correctness overrides research evidence. In fact, the lack of use of research evidence in policymaking in the legislative, oversight and budgeting roles of Parliamentarians represents a glaring gap, which is why I chose to address it by becoming an evidence-use champion in Kenya.

I helped form and launch the Parliamentary Caucus on Evidence–Informed Decision-Making (PC-EIDM) with the approval of the Kenya National Assembly Speaker. The main goal of PC-EIDM is to enhance the interest of Parliamentarians in utilizing evidence in making policy decisions. The Caucus, whose membership cuts across both Houses of Parliament (Senate and the National Assembly), is in the process of operationalizing a Five-Year-Strategy developed in December 2015.

In line with this strategy, the Caucus has been holding sensitization workshops on evidence use for MPs and plans to leverage future induction meetings for MPs at the beginning of each Parliament. The Caucus is also advocating for our Parliament’s leadership to address the barriers for evidence use in Parliament by building staff capacity and putting in place infrastructure to support access to research and information. In addition, the Caucus is engaging Parliamentarians and facilitating evidence-informed policy discussions in the public domain by holding open policy “Cafes.”

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We have already made some notable progress. Parliament has begun building capacity of its Research unit by employing additional research analysts to cater to the increased numbers of MPs and their demand for evidence use. We have also improved the research analysts’ skills in research and data use, including in accessing, appraising, synthesizing and packaging data for MPs. Parliament is also in the process of improving the supportive infrastructure for research work, including enhancing internet connectivity to access online journals and databases.

The work of the Caucus as a driving force to increased use of evidence has not been without challenges. Some of the challenges faced by the Caucus include:

i.) Membership – attracting and retaining Members of Parliament in the Caucus, when Members have numerous other demands on their time and attention, has been a challenge and has affected some activities of the Caucus.

ii.) Funds – raising funds to implement some evidence-focused activities is another challenge, because the Caucus is not funded by the Parliamentary Service Commission, but instead relies on donors and partners.

Continue reading “My Experience Working on Evidence-Informed Policymaking in Kenya”

Evidence Works 2016 – In Pictures

By: Karen Anderson and Jonathan Breckon 

We’re back from London!

Evidence Works 2016: A Global Forum for Government was a great event and we are excited to build on the momentum coming out of the forum in the coming months.

We will have more to report out on the forum shortly, but in the meantime, we wanted to share the great photos captured during the gathering of global leaders committed to using evidence and data to improve lives.

You can also view the full album here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskLqFkcT

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The ‘demand’ side of evidence-based policy making: why and how. Two great days of discussion and sharing in London

By Arnaldo Pellini
Lead – K2P Learning at the Knowledge Sector Initiative and Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute

This blog originally appeared on the Knowledge Sector Initiative webpage.           Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Results for All.

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Last week, I attended Evidence Works 2016: A Global Forum For Government. The event was convened by four organisations, all of which, in different ways, work on the demand and use of evidence in policy making: the Alliance 4 Useful Evidence and NESTA in the UK, and two initiatives from the US, Results for America and Results for All.

Interestingly, the conference was held at the Royal Society. This was established by philosophers and physicians in 1663 as ‘The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’ at a time when kings and queens were thought to have a divine right to make decisions. Today, it is the UK’s national science academy with a fellowship of some 1,600 of the world’s most eminent scientists. Its motto, nullius in verba, means take nobody’s word for it and expresses an appeal to facts determined by experiment against the domination of authority.

The conference hosted 150 participants from about 40 countries. Unlike other conferences I have attended over the last few years, it had a distinct ‘demand and use of evidence’ flavour. The majority of the participants were civil servants and policy makers who, in one way or another, are trying to bring evidence to life in governments and parliaments.

Continue reading “The ‘demand’ side of evidence-based policy making: why and how. Two great days of discussion and sharing in London”