Building effective partnerships and learning collaboratively to strengthen evidence-informed policymaking in the social sectors: Four key insights from PEERSS
April 19, 2023

Last September, 13 country teams from the Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems (PEERSS) came together in South Africa for the first time in 3 years to reflect and learn about each other’s experiences in strengthening the use of evidence and advancing equitable solutions to social challenges. Country team members shared their perspectives, captured in video interviews, on the importance of using evidence, the lessons they have learned in applying evidence to social sectors, the value in engaging with a range of stakeholders to promote evidence uptake, and the role that PEERSS has played in supporting their work. We launched a four-part video series focused on important aspects of the evidence-informed policymaking journey. Highlighted below are four key takeaways from the series. 

  1. Evidence-informed policymaking can lead to a greater impact across health and social sectors

Evidence can improve transparency, equity, and accountability, enabling health and social systems to better respond to people’s needs. In the first part of the series, experts from PEERSS explored the importance of using evidence to inform policymaking and how it can lead to a greater impact across health and social systems. 

“You want to make policies that can produce the expected results and outcomes. Stakeholders have come to realize that if you want something to work, you need something tangible, you need evidence.” – Jesse Uneke, Director, African Institute for Health Policy and Health Systems, Nigeria

Experts agree that the use of the best available research and data increases confidence in decisions, policies, and programs and improves the likelihood of achieving expected results and outcomes. Policymakers are beginning to understand that to make a program or policy work, it’s important to use evidence for several key reasons:

  1. Evidence helps identify what the issues are and the magnitude of the issues
  2. Evidence helps identify possible solutions to social issues, including the benefits, risks, costs, and cost-effectiveness of solutions
  3. Evidence helps generate information on the best approaches to implement those solutions and can identify barriers and enablers to implementation
  4. Evidence use impacts how effectively governments and systems work 
  5. Evidence use can help address and support diversity, equity, and inclusion in policy decisions

To maximize the use of evidence and promote effective and inclusive policies, policymakers should also ensure that citizens across genders and demographics have a voice in defining problems and designing solutions.  

  1. Building relationships with decision-makers requires a tailored approach and is key to creating enabling environments for evidence-informed policymaking

Building relationships with decision-makers is key to creating conducive environments in which evidence is more likely to be considered in informing policy and practice. There are different ways to build relationships with decision-makers. Importantly, approaches should be tailored to decision-maker knowledge, attitudes, and needs. In the second part of the series, PEERSS country teams discussed the targeted strategies they used to engage decision-makers in producing and applying evidence. Outlined below are three experiences that can serve as a model for countries to consider in facilitating exchange with decision-makers to raise awareness and promote the availability of timely and relevant evidence to inform policy and practice.  

“When engaging with social ministries, you have to listen to their approach and how they do it [use evidence]…Listening to them ensures that they appreciate that we are a partner.” – Donald Simeon, Director, Caribbean Center for Health Systems Research, Trinidad & Tobago

  • In Nigeria, the African Institute for Health Policy and Health Systems began efforts to strengthen evidence use in parliament by first building informal relationships with parliamentarians. They established connections and relationships with entry-level parliamentarians, inviting them to meetings and workshops, to demonstrate how evidence can inform their work. Through this gradual relationship-building process, the team reached the highest levels of parliament and, at all levels of government, enhanced the capacity of Nigeria’s parliament for evidence-informed policymaking and legislation.
  • The Center for Rapid Evidence Synthesis (ACRES) team in Uganda strategized ways to engage and sensitize national and sub-national policymakers on evidence-informed policymaking and the Center’s rapid response mechanism for high-quality and timely evidence. Through sensitization training, the ACRES team has been able to strengthen capacities and embed evidence-informed decision-making across different ecosystems in the country. 
  • To institutionalize evidence-informed policymaking in the health sector in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute worked with the Ministry of Health to form a policy team dedicated to research uptake which conducted a national situational analysis on health technology assessment. Now, the team is collaborating with the Ministry of Health to develop a roadmap to institutionalize health technology assessment, which will be piloted in the country later this year. Through stakeholder engagement and advocacy, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute helped create an enabling environment for evidence use and uptake that will improve the country’s decision-making related to health challenges.

It is important to engage decision-makers and other actors in evidence systems in producing, translating, and applying evidence with a targeted approach tailored to different issues and contexts.

  1. Engaging a diverse range of country stakeholders in evidence uptake improves equity, inclusion, and impact of policies

In the third part of the series, PEERSS country teams make the case for mapping and engaging with a diverse range of country stakeholders at different levels of power for radical collaboration to strengthen evidence use and impact, improve equity and inclusion, and create enabling environments for embedding evidence in policies across all sectors.

  • In Brazil, the team at Instituto Veredas collaborated with the Brazilian National Council of Justice to understand key challenges faced by the judicial systems. Though the challenges varied between local and national levels, Instituto Veredas advocated for providing evidence for the local level priority – stigma faced by formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. Through broad stakeholder and citizen consultations, Instituto Veredas developed an evidence synthesis on how to tackle this problem, after which the National Council of Justice agreed on the creation of an online course and guidelines, requiring all judges and those services related to the judicial system that have contact with incarcerated people and their families, to take the course to begin to tackle stigma nationwide.
  • The Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE) learned about the importance of co-producing responsive evidence synthesis with government partners to further institutionalize structures and systems that incentivize the use of evidence in South Africa’s policy development process. In partnership with the National Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, ACE co-produced an evidence map, called the National Strategy Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, in South Africa. The instrumental evidence map will inform an existing framework to fight against the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide. This is just one of many examples that point to the importance of co-production and involving the end user in the process of developing evidence, elevating voices, and improving the equity of policies.

“It’s always important to move that extra step of engaging the citizens who are going to be impacted by the policy informed by the evidence you’re providing. When you engage with citizens, you get a wider perspective and view of the context.” – Kayongo Edward, Researcher, Centre for Rapid Evidence Synthesis, Uganda

As the examples shared by PEERSS country teams in South Africa, Ethiopia, and Uganda illustrate, engaging a range of stakeholders in the evidence-informed decision-making process can help build awareness for evidence use, aid the process of institutionalization, and advance equitable policies across different social sectors. 

  1. Collaborative learning plays a significant role in building capacities and momentum and strengthening evidence-informed policymaking across different contexts

Collaborative learning through PEERSS and other learning networks plays a significant role in strengthening the use of evidence. PEERSS took a non-sector-specific and multi-disciplinary approach to facilitate learning between partners from around the world. In the final part of the series, PEERSS partners examined the added value of collaborative learning and its role in building capacities and strengthening evidence-informed policymaking in their own countries and contexts. 

“A whole bunch of people, from different sectors, professions, and countries, working in a big Evidence and Policy jig-saw puzzle all have their different tasks to do. No task can be achieved alone, and no one understands the whole puzzle.” – Sandy Oliver, Director of the Social Science Research Unit and Deputy Director of the EPPI Centre, United Kingdom

  • Working together and sharing lessons strengthens the work of PEERSS partners and optimizes impact by avoiding duplication of effort and conserving resources. In Brazil, three Brazilian organizations (Instituto Veredas, Fiocruz Brasilia, and the Social Policy and Research Department/Codeplan) joined forces in the PEERSS partnership to bring different evidence-informed policymaking perspectives across the federal, state, and civil society levels and establish a Brazilian coalition for evidence. Through PEERSS, members of the Brazilian coalition gained insights on shared evidence challenges in the Global South and differences in processes used in Global North contexts and worked together to share resources and materials that could be adapted to their contexts, accelerating the spread of knowledge and tools for use in addressing different challenges.
  • PEERSS and other learning networks encourage adaptation and implementation of new approaches by facilitating the sharing of good practices and lessons. The Knowledge Management and Transfer Unit team from Burkina Faso formed relationships with teams in South Africa and Ethiopia to gain insights on rapid response services and strategies for engaging with parliamentarians, which will inform and improve how they promote evidence-informed decision-making. 
  • Collaborative learning creates synergies across countries and regions and catalyzes collective problem-solving for difficult social challenges. Bringing together partners from different backgrounds and institutions to share experiences fosters collective generation of ideas and problem-solving that improves health and social systems around the world. Through PEERSS and consultations with other PEERSS countries, the Ethiopian team gained confidence and capacities that enabled them to expand evidence-informed decision-making beyond the health sector and advocate directly to decision-makers for the use of evidence in social systems. 

Facilitating collaborative peer-to-peer learning across countries and regions bolsters strong evidence-informed policymaking ecosystems by accelerating the spread of good practices and strategies that enable institutions to address challenges on the journey to better social systems. 

We encourage you to learn more about how the use of evidence plays a critical role in transforming people’s lives, why engaging a diverse range of stakeholders and tailoring approaches to gain their trust and confidence is important, and how collaborative learning can accelerate the spread of good practices for strengthening evidence use by exploring the full four-part video series, Building effective partnerships and learning collaboratively to strengthen evidence-informed policymaking in the social sectors, and sharing widely with your networks.

Launched in 2018, the Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems (PEERSS) aimed to strengthen the use of appropriate mechanisms for advancing evidence-informed policymaking (EIP) in the social systems, with a focus on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). PEERSS was led by member partners representing regional clusters in West and Central Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria); East and Southern Africa (Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa); Latin America and the Caribbean (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago); the Middle East (Lebanon); Asia (China); and the United Kingdom. These 13 countries came together to learn from and support each other in promoting the use of research evidence in policy making. As Coordinating Organization, Results for Development (R4D) facilitated collaborative learning and day-to-day administration of the partnership, while a broader Strategic Decision-Making Team (SDMT), comprising partners and representation from PEERSS funders, made strategic decisions on behalf of the partners.