Kirchuffs Atengble is the founder and Executive Director of PACKS Africa, a think tank operating from Accra, Ghana to improve the uptake of evidence in policymaking processes across the continent of Africa through information systems research and knowledge management.
For the past six years or so, I have been involved in various ways with the organisation of programmes and events in the evidence-informed policymaking (EIPM) space in Ghana (read more about EIPM here). This July, for instance, I had the opportunity to serve as rapporteur, for the third time, for the biennial international conference organized by the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Ghana (CARLIGH).
One thing I’d like to highlight is the notable momentum around efforts to advance the use of research and evidence in policy in Ghana, which is also reflected across the rest of the Africa region. This is an opportune time to explore challenges and opportunities for strengthening evidence use in policy across the continent. In this blog, I explore three core issues relevant to the EIPM agenda in Ghana.
A common reference point for available evidence
A common issue is the need for clear entry points to access evidence. Libraries in Ghana have been working over the years to promote access to content from their institutions, including academic and research articles and papers. It is common knowledge within academic circles, regularly re-echoed at EIPM forums, that research produced by such institutions mostly in the form of theses and dissertations do not in any way inform policy. The Association of African Universities (AAU) has been working to improve the policy relevance of these documents, but support has been very minimal.
With respect to government data, the Ghana Open Data Initiative (GODI), launched in 2012, seeks to make data from public agencies widely available. But as it stands, the available data on the platform is limited and out-of-date. A new initiative (the e-Transform project) is now being implemented in partnership with Mobile Web Ghana to revive GODI. A fully functional GODI is a great resource for stakeholders within the sector.
The initiatives mentioned above are a few of the ongoing projects designed to promote access to evidence for decision making. But how are policymakers to find and navigate these different platforms? I suggest a common platform to consolidate information generated on a range of topics from different sources, and serve as a one-stop-shop for policymakers. Such a platform would serve as a portal, combining different access points (not replicating data collection or producing new studies), and structure access according to thematic issues for easy retrieval by policymakers, citizens, academics, development partners, and other interested stakeholders. An example of such a portal is the AGORA portal of the Research4life programme.
Cultivating knowledge brokers
Academics and researchers have a tendency to lament that their studies are not used to inform policy. Often this is because the research is not accessible to policymakers, both physically and intellectually. Policymakers have very limited time available to digest voluminous publications and need information that is presented in a user-friendly and easy-to-understand format.
Different initiatives are helping to develop the capacity of knowledge producers, enabling them to repackage resources for easy assimilation by the targeted beneficiaries. Others are focused on developing the skillsets of policymakers and their support staff to enable them to undertake such activities from the policymaking perspective.
These are all laudable initiatives. But it is important to also consider developing the skillsets of existing intermediaries, such as library professionals, communication specialists, and knowledge/evidence aggregators, who can become knowledge brokers for the sector.
To achieve efficiency and effectiveness within the ever-evolving knowledge economy of today will require specialisation. Knowledge producers should be allowed to concentrate on the core of their work, and policymakers the same. The brokering work should be left for the professionals. Here, I point to ideas like the rapid synthesis services offered by the knowledge translation and systematic review group at Makerere University. Sarah Quarmby shares her experience with the Wales Centre for Public Policy.
Business process re-engineering for public agencies and cultural change
Having described the different initiatives underway to strengthen evidence use in Ghana and offered suggestions for improving evidence practices in government, I would now like to draw attention to the institutional processes of policymaking in the country. The prevailing processes make it difficult for policymakers to engage routinely with evidence. For example, there have been instances cited that suggest that the core units involved in EIPM within Ministries in Ghana, such as the Research, Statistics, and Information Management (RSIM) and Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PPME) directorates, have very little (if any) collaboration.
Further, some institutions are staffed by relatives and close associates of influential people in society, who may be more interested in status rather than the opportunity to improve policies or programs. This can create a problem for the entire institution, particularly if decisions are based on instinct and the use of evidence is not prioritized. This increases the risk for policies and programs to be developed with the wrong assumptions.
Wouldn’t you want to see the re-structuring of business processes, to enable the consultation of appropriate and adequate evidence from available sources during policymaking – both internally in Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and externally among sector players? It’s difficult to give a perfect example of what this could look like, but the growing collaboration between the Parliament of Uganda’s Department of Research Services (DRS) and the Ugandan National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) is a promising case to highlight.
To end on an encouraging note, it is worth mentioning that the Ghana Health Service, together with other sector players, has developed the very first Research Agenda for the health sector. This is the kind of pace-setting initiative that I would like to see more of to improve the uptake of evidence in policy processes in Ghana.
About the author: Kirchuffs Atengble is the founder and Executive Director of PACKS Africa, a think tank operating from Accra, Ghana to improve the uptake of evidence in policymaking processes across the continent of Africa through information systems research and knowledge management. Mr. Atengble was a partner of the VakaYiko consortium in Ghana, which received funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) to improve research uptake across three other countries – South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.