As the first day of the African Evidence Informed Policy Forum comes to an end, I am sure all of our heads are spinning with the myriad of thoughtful comments and questions raised during the panel session and the fishbowl session that concluded the day.
The fishbowl, an alternative facilitation technique to conventional panel discussions, was especially useful for participants to check in on what were the most powerful ideas presented today. What emerged strongly is how many considered that evidence informed policy is a moral imperative, and that research for its own sake is not sufficient. It is a tool to bring forward the voice and experiences of the poor and marginalised. Evidence is most powerful when coupled with the involvement of policymakers.
There was strong consensus in the room around the need to engage policymakers early on in the process: policymakers are more invested in the research when they have ownership over the themes and purpose of the research.
To facilitate this, many felt that the language and framing of research and evidence is crucial. And because policy influencing is inherently a political process, it is necessary to understand the language of politicians; to be situated in a political context and, to an extent, to respond to existing policy priorities.
Media play an important role in mediating and brokering evidence. Panel members described a range of practical techniques to get them involved, including targeting journalists, mapping the media to find individuals with the necessary skills and interest in engaging meaningfully with the issues, and training journalists to help them understand evidence and to become evidence champions.
What came out of these discussions is the importance of building strong relationships with a range of actors like journalists and policymakers to drive the evidence to policy process forward. Interestingly, the outcomes of today’s discussion were encapsulated early on during the key note speech when Ian Goldman stated: “If we’re talking about ‘selling’ research to policy we’ve already lost. It’s about relationship building.”