Author, Kirchuffs Atengble, Programme Coordinator (VakaYiko), Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS)

“I encourage new entrants to prepare and present statements on any issue of interest. Apply the Question Time well. Your brilliant visibility will affect your re-election. I will meet with leadership on this and seek support of the leading Think Tanks in Ghana to help you deliver. A comprehensive mentoring process is vital for improved performance”. – Rt. Hon. Prof. Mike Ocquaye (Speaker, Parliament of Ghana)

The desire for developing adequate capacity for the uptake of research and other evidence has driven the Parliament of Ghana to enter into partnerships in this regard. And the above statement from the Speaker of the seventh Parliament of the Republic of Ghana, in his inauguration reaffirms the legislature’s need for evidence in its deliberative function as a major public policymaking institution in Ghana.

This blog post traces the inspiration for innovations within the information support system of Parliament (comprising the research, library, ICT, Hansard and Committees departments) and makes the case for collaboration among institutional support partners, including the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the VakaYiko consortium.

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A brief background

A review of the information support system of the Parliament of Ghana by VakaYiko consortium, under the leadership of INASP (a UK-based charity organisation), found that there was little coordination around the request for and supply of evidence within the legislature.

Whiles some members knew about the services of the information support system, others were virtually ‘at sea’ on such matters, and would request information from colleagues and friends within the research and development sector. Among the recommendations of the report was to strengthen collaboration within the information support system through improved organisation and coordination (read more here).

In 2017, an Inter-Departmental Research and Information Group (IDRIG) was created as a re-organisation of the information support system of the Parliament of Ghana. With a renewed desire to improve visibility and to adequately support the uptake of evidence, the group scheduled to host an exhibition of evidence (or information) products for Members of the Legislature as part of its orientation programme for new Members of Parliament.

The IDRIG Exhibition

As another set of MPs (with a sizable number of new MPs) was being inaugurated earlier this year, IDRIG saw the opportunity to start a visibility drive through an exhibition week that was held from 7th – 10th February 2017 as part of the legislature’s orientation programme. The objective for the event was to showcase products from the different departments of the information support system to all MPs and also to increase the IDRG’s visibility.

The event received good patronage (see video here), with some MPs expressing surprise at their limited knowledge of such services by the Parliamentary service of Ghana. Information was collected from attending MPs for follow-ups by the departments. There was high demand for the publications on display such that extra copies had to be requested.

Requests for specific information, which were not available at the time, were made by some MPs and the departments promised to supply those later when they had gathered them. The ICT department also took advantage of the event to provide instant configuration of email accounts for MPs.

Reflections from this event provided insight into the organisation of similar future events. And already, IDRIG has started working towards a more successful Research and Evidence Week in May 2017.

It is worth acknowledging at this point contributions from capacity development partners, like VakaYiko and the WFD, and their inspiration of these new developments in the uptake of research and evidence by the information support system of Parliament.

A reflection on the parallel programmes

From September 2013, the VakaYiko consortium has been working to build capacity of the Parliament of Ghana, as part of its bigger Evidence-Informed Policy Making (EIPM) programme. In 2016, it conducted two hands-on training workshops for parliamentary information support staff in the area of Evidence-Informed Policy Making (EIPM) – read more here.

The WFD has been working with the Parliament of Ghana and represented political parties to improve capacity in the area of informed debates since 2012. Among other things, the organisation has held cross-party briefing sessions for Members of Parliament (MPs) from both Ghanaian and British legislatures  (see here), and trained staff of the Research department for onward delivery of training for Research Assistants to be engaged by the Parliament of Ghana.

A case for strengthened collaboration

Both organisations uphold a firm belief in the need to encourage the use of evidence in the legislative and oversight roles of the Parliament of Ghana. And as such, have been working to improve research uptake by MPs. There have been discussions of strategies through Parliamentary Support Coordination Meetings hosted by WFD, and with participation from other organisations providing institutional support to the Parliament of Ghana.

In August 2016, WFD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Parliament of Ghana (see news here), and among its objectives was the creation of the Inter-Departmental Research and Information Group (IDRIG) – constituted by staff of the Research, Library, ICT, Committees and Hansard departments.

A case for the organisation of a research and evidence week celebration by IDRIG was modelled after a similar event by the Research department of the Ugandan Parliament, which was facilitated by VakaYiko (see blog here and video here). The same idea inspired the hosting of IDRIG’s exhibition in February this year, in preparation for the main event in May.

The trip to Uganda has been part of initiatives of the VakaYiko consortium (through ACEPA; a consortium member) which has been implementing a learning exchange programme among the Parliaments of Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe to encourage knowledge sharing across their information support systems.

As a result of the first meeting in Kampala in November 2016, participants selected several key areas to work on together, and are currently sharing experience and examples of their work, such as policy briefs and other evidence products through a DGroup online platform created for such purpose (see more here).

Conclusion

The formation of the IDRIG has been a positive development within the information support system of the Parliament of Ghana. Together, the departments have worked to successfully to incorporate research and information products in the orientation programme for New Members of Parliament.

With renewed energy they seek to achieve more, and the initial results from the exhibition are producing learning opportunities for staff, in addition to capacity development opportunities for programmes like VakaYiko and the WFD.

Despite their differences in approaches and orientation, the VakaYiko consortium and the WFD have been working in parallel ways to strengthen research uptake by the Parliament of Ghana. With a common objective, their activities have been yielding positive results, albeit through different interventions.

This approach to  institutional capacity building has produced greater result for the Parliament of Ghana, as staff of the information support units have had the opportunity to learn from both programmes, and producing results that may be either impossible from one programme perspective or may have taken much more resources (in time, effort and finance) to accomplish.