Several PEERSS partners took part in the What Works Global Summit organized by the Campbell Collaboration, co-hosted this year with the Global Development Network (GDN) as the Evidence for Development conference. Looking across disciplines, the Summit sought to go beyond effectiveness data to explore the relevance, timeliness, and inclusiveness of evidence for decision-making in development.
PEERSS members tackled these very questions in their October 20th plenary: “Knowledge Brokering to Strengthen Evidence Use: Lessons learned about being rapid and responsive” which featured Lucy Kühn, Evidence-Informed Health Policies Unit, Ministry of Health, Chile, C. Jesse Uneke, African Institute for Health Policy & Health Systems, Ebonyi State University, Nigeria, and Xuan Yu, Institute for Health Data Science, Lanzhou University, China, and chaired by Marie-Gloriose Ingabire, International Development Research Center (IDRC).
Here are three things we learned about making evidence accessible, engaging former policymakers, and the factors that influence evidence use systems.
- Meet Policymakers where they are:
It’s safe to say that researchers and policymakers may not always see eye-to-eye but what can help is understanding how policymakers like to receive and process information. Xuan Yu and the team at Lanzhou University in China have recognized policymakers’ preference for highly standardized briefs and are trying to respond by creating the first STandard reporting guideline of Evidence briefs for Policy (STEP). This guideline, applicable to health and social systems, will help evidence generators better report and present the content of their briefs and help readers understand the brief more clearly.
2. Navigate turnover among policymakers:
While much of Prof. Jesse Uneke’s work in Nigeria has centered on bringing policymakers and researchers closer together by forging informal relationships, creating mentorship and exchange opportunities, and training decision-makers to use evidence in policymaking and practice, he still faces the challenges of turnover among trained policymakers. To combat this, his unit often invited these policymakers as visiting lecturers at Ebonyi State University. This had a multiplying effect – keeping that relationship warm, as well as using the policymaker’s insights to continually improve how they produce evidence and train the next generation of evidence generators and translators.
3. Institutionalize evidence-use in Ministries and Government agencies through transparency and trust:
When an audience member asked how her unit became a trusted partner within Chile’s Ministry of Health, Lucy Kuhn quickly identified four facilitating factors. She described that in Chile, it took a political window of opportunity as the newly elected government had come from academia and had already bought into evidence for decision-making; continued efforts to build trust and establish collaboration patterns between government and academia; direct capacity-building efforts on the part of the evidence unit to deepen expertise; and constant awareness-raising efforts on the relevance of using evidence as one part of policymaking. On this last point, seeing evidence as only one piece of the policymaking puzzle can be difficult for technical teams, but presenting unbiased evidence – including contrasting evidence and communicating the quality of the evidence – can build transparency and legitimacy.
In addition to these core knowledge brokering lessons drawn from their experiences, Lucy, Xuan, and Jesse also highlighted that while Covid-19 brought challenges, it also created opportunities for timelier use of evidence and testing new methodologies, as well as more systematically engage practitioners such as teachers and nurses in the development and implementation of policy, and bring sectors and diverse actors together in new ways. And, ultimately, as Jesse noted, strong evidence-use, good policy and hopeful outcomes require building trust among stakeholder groups, and that we must “continue down the path — we can achieve so much by working together.”