Evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) is when people who need to make choices use the best available evidence to motivate their decisions. Evidence can refer to scientific research but equally so to citizens’ voices, census data or expert opinion, among other. EIDM aims to make use of the best available evidence for the decision at hand. That is, it aims for evidence that is fit-for-purpose and suitable for the context and scale of the decision to be taken. Anybody can engage in using evidence. In the context of development, EIDM is most often associated with decision-makers in the public sector (e.g. civil servants and parliamentarians), and civil society (e.g. NGOs) who design and implement programmes aimed at reducing poverty and inequality.
In short, evidence-use can transform lives and communities. African governments spend a large share of their public funds on policies and programmes aimed to support socio-economic development. In addition, donors and the international community provide funding for anti-poverty programmes. It is paramount that these scarce funds achieve their maximum impact and are not wasted on policies and programmes that fail in their developmental objectives. Using evidence on what works, how and why, and for whom, allows decision-makers to separate effective development programmes from ineffective ones and to implement the most relevant programmes in the given context. Implementing social programmes without exploring the evidence-base for their likely effects, at worst risks doing harm to the very people and communities intended to benefit, and at best risks wasting resources on programmes without any effects. Being transparent about how and why such programmes were chosen based on evidence, also enhances the public trust in decision-making processes and fosters public sector accountability.
There is power in using evidence to inform decisions about development programmes. It moves beyond good intentions and plausible theories, empowering citizens, practitioners, and policy-makers to base their efforts to reduce poverty and inequality on a reliable foundation.
Africa as a continent features some of the most vibrant and innovative strategies and mechanisms to support EIDM. From AFIDEP’s evidence guidelines for parliamentarians in Kenya, to rapid evidence response services in Uganda, and EIDM capacity-building for civil servants in Ghana and Malawi, to national and regional evidence networks, there’s a lot of practical work on the continent to support decision-makers’ use of evidence. A unique feature of this work is the strong government support for EIDM and its increasing institutionalisation.
Some of these EIDM strategies focus on making evidence more accessible and better communicated to policy-makers. Others focus on relationships between decision-makers and researchers as a mechanism for change. Capacity-building and training for both decision-makers and researchers to enhance their capability to find, appraise, and synthesise evidence is a popular approach too. This is complemented by an range of innovations on how to support organisations and departments in institutionalising evidence use and building structures and processes receptive to evidence use. In brief, African EIDM advocates have developed a diverse range of tools and approaches to tease out how best to support evidence-use.
The AEN hosts the largest and most comprehensive collection of maps of national EIDM landscapes in Africa that we are aware of. This includes EIDM landscape maps of 16 African countries. The AEN secretariat also mapped out the distribution of all organisations in Africa that self-reported engaging in the use of evidence for decisions to reduce inequality or poverty in Africa. Included in this group of 91 institutions are well-established organisations such as the African Institute for Development Policy, as well as younger organisations like PACKS Africa. South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya have the highest number of these organisations in Africa.