They come together in a workshop where they can share experiences, lessons, and strategies for using evidence more effectively in the implementation of social policies.
On July 23-25, Results for All and our partners at AFIDEP and IDinsight hosted “Using Evidence to Improve Policy Implementation: A Peer Learning Workshop for Government Policymakers” in Nairobi, Kenya, providing such a space for ten teams of evidence champions and policymakers from nine countries: Chile, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda. Each government team is tasked with implementing a specific social policy, such as increasing the quality of public education, meeting family planning targets, and supporting the most vulnerable households, and sought to use this opportunity to inform that work. To learn more, take a look at the workshop agenda, and read about the participating teams and the policies they are working on in this set of short policy briefs we wrote together. You can also see photos from the workshop and several video interviews with participants on our Twitter.
Why a focus on policy implementation?
Over the last few months, we’ve been engaged in a series of consultations to assess the demand for a global evidence network and understand how funders are supporting evidence use to inform government priorities. A consistent theme in our conversations has been the lack of attention given to policy implementation or translation of policy to action. We also heard from many participants that the specific focus on evidence use in policy implementation is what drew them to apply for and participate in the workshop.
Policy implementation challenges can occur due to a myriad of factors, including unclear policy goals and outcomes; an absence of political support or financial resources; missing or weak evidence on the effectiveness of an intervention; inadequate skills or motivation among public officials tasked with frontline service delivery; and incorrect assumptions about human behavior and local needs. Addressing these implementation challenges requires a variety of evidence: evidence on how to mobilize political and financial support for the policy; evidence on whether the policy has worked elsewhere and under what conditions; evidence on how to enable and incentivize frontline agents to best implement and track the policy; and evidence from local stakeholders to best tailor the policy to their context and needs.
When implementation, along with monitoring and evaluation activities, is not linked to policy design but instead treated as a distinct down-stream activity, the incentive to produce evidence in an ongoing and iterative process to inform policy is weak. This puts evidence-informed policymaking at risk. Policymakers can only ensure the benefits of evidence-informed policymaking when implementation succeeds. We think it is critical therefore, for governments to take a systematic and structured approach to using evidence to bridge the gap between policy design and implementation, to achieve better results for the people they represent and serve.
Initial insights and reflections
We’re still processing our learnings from the workshop and will share a lot more in the weeks to come, but here are some initial takeaways.
1: Common evidence use challenges persist across diverse contexts
We were not surprised to learn of the many common challenges that workshop participants face in using evidence to inform policy implementation, regardless of the specific policy, sector, or country context. These include the lack of a learning and results-oriented evaluation culture; the difficulties associated with integrating and using data across the multitude of agencies working to address complex social problems; the challenge of turning raw data into useable information; the absence of structured partnerships with the research community and media; and a lack of tools and understanding on not only how to engage with citizens, but importantly on how to use the inputs that they provide to improve policy implementation.
2: A safe space for sharing challenges, experiences, and accomplishments is attractive to policymakers, even those with more advanced evidence use
In our consultations we also heard a lot of interest in peer learning and networking between governments, and we received a lot of interest in this workshop due, we think, to the fact that peer learning was a central theme. We wanted to test whether policymakers from a diverse set of countries, most of whom had never met before, could connect over common missions and challenges, openly share their successes and failures, and provide real value to each other’s work. The verdict thus far is yes: participants have told us over and over what a great opportunity it was to connect with others in government, and to now have a network of international peers with whom they can discuss ideas and share resources. We confess that we were skeptical that representatives from some countries – especially Mexico, Chile, and South Africa, with their very advanced evaluation systems – would benefit from being in the room as much as others – but participants have reiterated that the workshop gave them a lot to think about and apply to their work. Some noted that this was a great opportunity to showcase their country’s learning and growth around evidence use, and that they were interested in more forums that provided this platform.
3: Participants want more practical, hands-on tools with immediate applications to their work
Workshop participants were especially keen to use tools, like checklists, behavioral insights tools, and design thinking, that helped them reflect on their own experiences, map out connections, and chart a way forward. This interest signals the potential for future network activities focused on jointly developing model policies, frameworks, or guidelines for evidence production and use, which participants could then adapt to their own contexts.
4: Connecting government and civil society is a valuable function for a network or community of practice
We designed this workshop as a forum primarily for government policymakers to learn from each other. However, one of the most popular sessions was a ‘marketplace of citizen engagement solutions,’ where we invited eight non-governmental organizations from Nairobi to set up booths and showcase their work to participants. The organizations – Africa’s Voices Foundation, Code for Africa, Local Development Research Institute, Map Kibera Trust, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Open Institute, Twaweza East Africa, and Well Told Story – are each using technology and innovative approaches to collect and analyze citizen perspectives, feedback, and ideas in order to identify social problems, point to improvements in public programs, and spark behavior change and collective action. Participants told us they relished the opportunity to speak with these organizations and learn of new and innovative tools to collaborate with communities to collect data and source solutions, and we heard also from presenters that they appreciated the opportunity to interact with such highly engaged policymakers. Overall, this marketplace taught us that in addition to satisfying demand for peer learning among governments, a network or community of practice focused on evidence use can also be a powerful bridge between government and civil society.
5: A thematic or sector focus could deepen the conversation on institutionalizing evidence use
We did not expect to solve huge, complex social problems in a 2.5-day conference. Rather, we were interested in exploring whether we could have a meaningful conversation about strengthening institutional practices and processes for evidence use in policy implementation, across the different policies and contexts represented in the workshop, and whether this approach would be valuable to policymakers. There was general agreement that a conversation about evidence practices and processes is critical to strengthening evidence use in policy implementation and that there are many lessons to learn from different policy areas, but workshop participants also indicated that working groups with a thematic or sector focus could help provide deeper, richer insights and value to support their work. For some, this means a focus on themes like data collection, evaluation capacity, and statistical systems, while others felt that sectoral working groups could be helpful in addressing contextual factors that are specific to sectors. As a follow-up to the workshop we will be conducting a series of short surveys to engage further on the issues or themes that would be most helpful for policymakers to engage in through a network, and we will continue to shape a network strategy in collaboration with partners.
“Using Evidence to Improve Policy Implementation: A Peer Learning Workshop for Government Policymakers” was an opportunity for a global community of committed evidence champions to share real-world experiences in implementation, discuss common challenges, and collectively shine a spotlight on good practices for using evidence to improve the implementation of policies and generate results for their populations. We heard from participants and partners that the workshop was a resounding success, giving all of us new ideas and questions to take back to our work, connections and partnerships to continue to grow, and the inspiration to continue advancing the use of evidence to get results in government. We know that here at Results for All, the workshop gave us a lot to think about, and we’ll be sharing more insights, reflections, and takeaways in our forthcoming report later this month.