From the Coordinating Organization for the Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems: Reflections from our first year
September 22, 2021

Our organization, Results for Development (R4D), has been serving as the Coordinating Organization for the Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems (PEERSS) for a year this month, but it feels much longer. We suspect this is because we’ve been intensely engaged in learning alongside our PEERSS partners — and we have learned a lot! We have a deeper understanding of the work partners are doing to ensure decision makers have access to timely and quality evidence, to build and strengthen evidence communities, and to embed evidence use in organizational and institutional processes. We also have a better understanding of how to support learning and collaboration in the partnership.

PEERSS brings together partner organizations from across 13 countries, many but not all rooted in health, and all working to advance the use of evidence in social systems. Our new acronym — PEERSS — perfectly captures the spirit of the partnership. PEERSS partner organizations are evidence champions — learning together and supporting each other as peers to advance evidence-informed, equitable solutions for addressing social challenges.

In this first blog, we share early insights from our first year as Coordinating Organization, and efforts to facilitate learning and collaboration in the partnership.

4 early insights from our role as Coordinating Organization 

Invest upfront in building relationships.

PEERSS has over 90 members drawn from partner organizations across 13 countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. We kicked off our work as Coordinating Organization with a listening tour to better understand the work of PEERSS partners and the learning they hope to access and share through the partnership. We also gathered suggestions for improving trust and creating safe spaces for dialogue and exchange in the partnership. Those first conversations were an opportunity for us to convey our commitment to being responsive to partner needs and to centering them as the technical experts of PEERSS. We used the insights from our listening tour to structure monthly meetings, one-on-one discussions, and learning sessions, with the overall aim of building an inclusive space for shared conversations. We are starting to sense a palpable shift in energy and an opening up of the partnership, and remain focused on centering our partners and learning alongside them to strengthen the use of evidence in decision making.

Default to involving partners in co-creating solutions.

We facilitated our first partnership-wide learning session two months into our new role as Coordinating Organization. While overall a successful session, in our post-event reflections, we acknowledged falling short in truly creating a partner-led dynamic. We were still finding our footing and getting to know the partners and resolved to do better. Building on the feedback from our first event we have  gone on to implement inclusive and participatory processes across all of our activities. Together with PEERSS partners we have defined the mission of the partnership, selected a new name and brand, supported the development of a new governance structure, identified learning topics, co-created learning sessions, and co-hosted a first webinar to showcase the work of partners. We have also co-designed a new model for learning and collaboration, where select partners will serve as Hubs that  aim to provide increased access to technical support, mentorship, collaborative learning, and peer exchange in the partnership. We are excited about this momentum and what lies ahead as we work with partners to take PEERSS in a new direction. 

Fund flexibly and manage adaptively.

PEERSS funding is designed to meet partners where they are and to flexibly support the activities they identify and take on as priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented PEERSS partners with many opportunities, challenges, and disappointments as shared during the first PEERSS webinar on June 17, 2021. Prior to the pandemic, partner activities focused on strengthening the use of evidence tools and approaches including rapid evidence synthesis, systematic reviews, stakeholder dialogues, and citizen panels, in the social systems, with a focus on the non-health UN Sustainable Goals (SDGs). With shifting priorities during COVID-19 and heightened demand from government partners to inform the response to the pandemic, partners were able to quickly adapt and develop new activities to give decision makers the best available research and data in the face of a crisis about which there were many unknowns. In Lebanon, the Knowledge to Policy Center developed its K2P COVID-19 Rapid Response Series, which is designed to ensure decision makers have access to credible, timely and relevant evidence packaged in an easy-to-understand format. In Brazil, Instituto Veredas, worked to first understand the demand for evidence, and who was doing what, to avoid duplication and ensure critical gaps in knowledge were filled. The team’s motto, “together we stand, divided we overlap” emphasizes the importance of collaboration, particularly in a time of crisis where there is no room for duplication or waste, In Uganda, the ACRES (the Center for Rapid Evidence Synthesis at Makerere), typically a demand-driven service for policymakers who seek evidence to inform a decision or policy process, shifted to a supply-driven approach. The team engaged in horizon scanning to identify areas where evidence was needed (for example, to inform the re-opening of religious institutes) and then worked to identify partners with whom they could engage to share findings from their research.

Prioritize joint learning and collaboration.

On our listening tour PEERSS partners shared joint learning and collaboration as a top priority for their engagement in the partnership. We are inspired by their commitment to learning together and mentoring each other. The team at Veredas Institute is leaning on the team at ACE (Africa Center for Evidence at the University of Johannesburg) to learn from its accomplished Africa Evidence Network – a broad network of evidence champions from across Africa working to end poverty and inequality in Africa, as they design their own evidence network. The Knowledge to Policy Center has been mentoring partners in facilitating deliberative dialogues and helping to contextualize briefes from the K2P COVID-19 Series to specific country contexts. The team from ACRES in Uganda, reflects on the relationships they have established with partners in South Africa and Ethiopia that now enable them to reach out informally on WhatsApp for support and feedback. We have also adopted a creative suggestion put forth by one of having them interview each other for evaluative learning and surfacing lessons, rather than outsourcing this to external groups. The interviews have created another opportunity for partners to interact with each other, during a time where interactions have been confined to virtual engagements and will be, for the foreseeable future. We are committed to continuously exploring new ways of building community and trust in the partnership that supports both formal and informal interactions, and where we are leaning into each other’s strengths.

We are just getting started on our learning journey with PEERSS. And while we haven’t always gotten things right, we are clear about our role in the partnership and the way we want to continue engaging with our amazing partners — centering their voices and creating a safe space for learning and collaboration. We hope you will follow the partnership on twitter here and subscribe to our newsletter here. We look forward to sharing more in the future.