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.

  1. There is a strong focus across the globe in building demand for evidence among politicians. It is difficult to move from an institutional focus on evidence production to a broader culture of evidence in government that encourages demand for use of data and evidence, by policymakers and politicians alike. Participants shared experiences in building awareness and promoting evidence uptake by politicians.
  1. Broader public support for evidence is needed. Persuading politicians and those who control funding is not enough. In order to get politicians to care, you have to get the public to care about data, evidence, and facts more generally. Several participants shared third-party stakeholder models for building public support for evidence-informed policymaking, with a clear takeaway that more work is needed in this space.
  1. There are numerous audiences in government for evidence. While some approaches have targeted buy-in from the top, support must permeate down the pyramid to state and local government, and/or from politicians to the frontline civil servants. Creating a culture of evidence in government must include all levels, in addition to NGOs, academics, the media and other stakeholders who can help drive the evidence agenda.
  1. There is strong interest in global collaboration going forward. We heard a strong desire for more networking and information sharing around the use of evidence versus production of evidence, and a broader platform for learning between partners around the globe.

While the participants of Evidence Works 2016 did not have solutions to every challenge facing evidence-informed policymaking, they did exchange a variety of experiences that can help inform and advance the work of other governments. Future gatherings, either at the global or regional levels, could provide additional opportunity for a more in-depth exchange of ideas. 

In addition to the forum Summary Report, photos and video interviews from event participants can be found here, including a highlights video that captures the flavor of the event. (Photos and videos)

Results for All will release a Landscape Study in early 2017 that features many of the mechanisms governments around the world are putting in place to promote the use of data and evidence in policymaking. While not covering all aspects of the complex evidence production and implementation processes in government, it will provide a snapshot of the types of policies and mechanisms that governments are using to move their evidence agendas forward. More information on the Landscape Study will be available soon.

From all of us at Results for All, best wishes for the New Year.

Results for All is an initiative of Results for America.