This blog draws from my presentation at the recent webinar series by Transforming Evidence and shares the importance of aiming high, collaboration and recognising the value different groups bring to the table.
Early this morning when I walked into my home garden, strolling through the different organisms therein, I was conceptually reconnected with my work as a practitioner within an evidence ecosystem. It got me thinking about the role of my organisation, PACKS Africa, as an evidence intermediary entails within the wider ecosystem. As in my garden, our ecosystem relies on different parties to work together to ensure the best evidence is used in policy, in practice and in other decision making processes.
A brief about PACKS Africa
We started in 2017 with a mission of influencing the use of research and other forms of knowledge in the development of policies in Africa. Since then we have reformed our view of the ecosystem and the way we engage it, enabling us to deliver more enduring results. We now identify as an evidence intermediary organisation, following insights from relationships among ecosystem actors, and how we complement each other’s efforts for transformation.
As a capacity development think tank we gained the greatest insights from our extensive investments to understand ecosystem issues. For instance, we have two flagship research projects – one of which maps the evidence landscape (ecosystem) in Ghana, exploring contributions from the different actors, and the other diagnoses opportunities within government agencies to enhance Evidence-Informed Decision Making (EIDM).
Apart from these, we have analysed a couple of political economy issues affecting evidence use in policy decision making, all of which inform our operations and programme design of our partners. See the Manifesto on Capacity Development for EIDM in Africa by the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) for example.
Emerging insights on the ecosystem
Leaning towards systems theory, a view of EIDM practice as an ecosystem is an acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of the work we do. We see three main categories of actors within the field: evidence producers, evidence users, and a wide range of intermediary organisations. Roles can cut across these categories, with different organisations acting in a mix of capacities, sometimes at different points.
While the role of evidence producers and evidence users seems obvious, intermediary organisations need to navigate gaps within the ecosystem, to determine contributions they can make for improved operations within the wider ecosystem. From our Evidence Landscape project, we are noticing intermediary roles like reproducing, curation, gate-keeping and quality assuring evidence, as well as governing the ecosystem and developing capacity.
Insights for intermediary organisations
The unique contributions of these actors cannot be overemphasised. My insights are with a view to guide operations of intermediary organisations – but they should also be important to other ecosystem actors.
As intermediaries, we are part of a larger ecosystem. As such, our interventions and programming should not seek short-term solutions to challenges, but more structural and enduring ones. This informed our shift at PACKS Africa from randomly ad-hoc capacity building activities to those aimed at institutional capacity development. When we do this, our solutions weave into those being implemented by others, ultimately contributing to change beyond our singular capacities.
EIDM practice is inherently political, necessitating a need to be politically savvy. However, this realisation should help us rise above the politics, seeking to work with other actors at all times, than being confrontational. This approach has also helped us seek and accept collaborative relationships with different kinds of ecosystem actors. Our works with the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, African Center for Economic Transformation, the University of Southampton, INASP, the Ministry of Health and Environmental Protection Agency in Ghana are testaments to this approach to work. As much as possible, we should aim for less hostility in our works.
As an intermediary organisation, whether capacity developer like PACKS Africa, reproducers, curators, gate-keepers or funders, we need to recognise the interdependent nature of our work. While some organisations may adequately combine different roles across the three categories, none is able to perform them altogether. Acknowledging that your own work is a continuation of someone else’s is a great place to start, and this should inspire you to get the next person conveniently continuing from where your scope ends.
Like a typical ecological system, our ecosystem is keenly knit to get evidence used in policy, practice and other decision making processes. We are therefore better at our practice when we are progressively grounded in the modus operandi in this field.
Specifically as Evidence Intermediaries, we cannot overlook our need to aim for higher goals, seek to collaborate and aspire to be interdependent. Drawing from some other insights at PACKS Africa, I should be sharing (in separate publications) new models to drive this professional field of EIDM.
About the author: Kirchuffs Atengble is the founder and Executive Director of PACKS Africa, a youth-led Pan-Africa capacity development think tank working to improve evidence use in policy decision making and practice across the continent of Africa. Capacity development at PACKS typically involve diagnosis of evidence ecosystem issues, which informs design of interventions at individual, organisational and systemic levels, as well as their governance. Kirchuffs was a partner of the VakaYiko consortium in Ghana, which worked with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) to improve research uptake across three other countries – South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Recently, he supported the Strengthening Evidence for Development Impact (SEDI) programme, which was funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).