Is evidence used for policy?
This was the provocative question driving a panel discussion sponsored by TDR at the recent Global Evidence Summit held in Cape Town. The response is encouraging, showing growing use of evidence, but highlighting the need for more tools and guidance.
Four speakers specializing in knowledge management in low- and middle-income countries emphasised the importance of developing strong relationships with the key stakeholders, both those affected by any policy change and the policy-makers themselves. Rob Terry, who leads knowledge management at TDR and chaired the session, told those who came, “These are the people working at the centre, directly with both researchers and policy-makers. They can teach us a lot about what to do, and often even more importantly, what not to do.”
Rhona Mijumbi-deve, a research scientist at Makerere University, talked about spotting an opportunity to provide a briefing on the available evidence at the right time – often referred to as the policy window. This requires the ability to respond rapidly to any request for a briefing – even if it comes in an email late on a Sunday night. Being able to answer the questions a policy-maker asks in a timely manner is one way of establishing the credibility of a new and establishing knowledge management unit.
Identifying the skills needed
The need is great for these types of skills. In the Eastern Mediterranean region, for example, Lama Bou-Karroum of the American University of Beirut, said that few systematic reviews that provide overviews of the latest scientific literature addressed regional priorities or included at least one author based in the region.
She added that few researchers in the region produced policy briefs, disseminated messages that specified possible actions, interacted with policy-makers and stakeholders in priority-setting, or involved them in their research.
Ajibola Awotiwon, of the Knowledge Translation Unit, a clinical research unit of the University of Cape Town Lung Institute, also noted that a lot of evidence focusses on what should be done and not on what should be stopped, which is equally important.
Panel members saw their role as creating a bridge between the experts and evidence and policy. No one type of ‘bridge’ exists, they acknowledged, saying it is important to get the conversation started in a variety of ways through informal café style discussion, the identification of knowledge champions and the use of new media such as video.
Everyone agreed on the need to contextualise guideline recommendations to fit the reality. Jamie Guth, TDR’s communications manager, reviewed her research on the impact of research participant video interviews shown to policy-makers. The research found that a 7 minute video recorded in the field during research provided local context; reinforced the credibility of the research processes; strengthened the panel members’ understanding of the research results; demonstrated strong collaboration between the research team and community, a proven facilitator in research uptake; and led to statements of commitments to make changes based on the study.
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Eunice Mueni, knowledge translation officer, on examples from the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), the international non-profit policy think tank whose aim is to translate and enable utilisation of research evidence in policy-making and strengthening capacity for demand and use of research evidence in policy-making spaces in Africa.
Ajibola Awotiwoni, of the Knowledge Translation Unit, a clinical research unit of the University of Cape Town Lung Institute, on the work to address priority conditions in primary care and provide clinical practice guidelines that are evidenced-based, aligned with policy and regularly updated, and that use an evidence-based implementation strategy of educational outreach.
Rhona Mijumbi-deve, research scientist at Makerere University and partner of the World Health Organization’s Evidence for Informed Policy Network (EVIPnet), on activities coming out of REACH-PI, a knowledge translation process.
Lama Bou-Karroum from the American University of Beirut, on the first center of its kind in Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean Region that specializes in the production of systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis products that respond to health policy and systems priorities.
Jamie Guth, TDR’s communication manager, on her research on the use of video as a tool for communicating research evidence to a policy panel.
For more information, contact: Jamie Guth TDR Communications Manager Telephone: +41 79 441 2289 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.