What to Read this Month

“We propose that future programmes should consider multiple interventions that can be combined to meet needs as individuals, teams and organisations seek to increase their awareness, capability and implementation of evidence-informed decision-making.”

The authors, all researchers at the University of Johannesburg’s Africa Centre for Evidence, construct a model based on five dimensions: a cycle in which decision makers move between awareness of evidence-informed decision making (EIDM) to capability for EIDM and actual evidence use; the different needs and evidence use capabilities of individuals, teams, organizations, and institutions; different outputs related to increased capacity for EIDM, including but not limited to specific policy changes; influential contextual factors that influence evidence use; and a variety of interventions which can create incremental changes and complement each other.
“Despite these enormous investments in M&E systems, staff in donor and government agencies report little to no utilization of M&E data for decision-making.”
The authors discuss the importance of first understanding the available “decision space” in order to better anticipate data needs and system requirements, rather than starting with technical considerations of what data must be captured and how. They define decision space as  institutional policies, programmatic goals, individual operational tasks, incentives, and authority over financial and human and resources, and argue that this approach can increase the use of data for decision making.
“‘Facts are one part; just as guilt does not inspire initiative, people will not act on facts alone. We are inspired to act by emotional and physical experience.'”
An interesting exploration of how policymaking can borrow approaches from art to: improve how we understand and connect to data (design an interactive three dimensional visualization); explore how future research will be influenced by the culture of tomorrow’s scientists (consider a futuristic museum to stimulate thinking about the way research is currently conducted and how it might change in the future); and foster unconventional thinking (use a participatory arts approach to fill in a blank canvas).

Calls for Greater Role for Universities in Policy-making | Gilbert Nakweya, University World News

“Building the capacity of research in African universities would strengthen their contribution to policy-making and innovation…”
A brief article summarizing perspectives from the Sixth African Higher Education Week held recently in Nairobi, that makes the case for investing in African universities as research partners to inform development policy.
“A million-dollar evaluation of a home visiting program for new mothers might find it didn’t improve health outcomes – not because it’s a bad program, but simply because workers didn’t make all the scheduled visits. Costly, multi-year trials can end up revealing only that you can’t help people with a policy that’s not actually implemented.”
A new round of funding from the World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF) will focus on quicker and lower-cost ‘nimble evaluations’ to test the effectiveness of different ways to implement policies and programs, rather than waiting until after they are implemented (or not) to measure their results.
“My point here is simple – while we should approach interactions with policymakers and practitioners with optimism, we should not expect it to work miracles or remove barriers that are actually present.”
The author argues that what is needed is not more study about solutions for improving the environmental science-to-policy interface, which don’t seem to be evolving, but action to address institutional barriers to progress and reform incentive structures.
“Evidence on its own is unlikely to foster change unless accompanied by effective campaigning, political mobilization and other forms of influencing.”
The article offers insights from Oxfam’s experience and highlights four strategies that have contributed to the effectiveness of its campaigns: 1) developing an understanding of a political system to understand what needs to change, who has the power to achieve change, and how to achieve change; 2) getting timing right, framing, and presenting evidence to maximize influence on target audiences; 3) drawing on a range of strategies to influence policy both on the inside and outside; and 4) reflection and iterative improvements.

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