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New program to strengthen evidence use gets underway with Ghana study

Africa Center for Economic Transformation (ACET)
Africa Center for Economic Transformation (ACET)

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to unfold, policymakers around the world have had to make rapid, difficult decisions to save lives and protect livelihoods. In this environment, relying on evidence is more critical than ever to ensure well-informed, balanced, and effective policy responses. Now, a new global consortium is working with governments to deepen that approach beyond the pandemic and across sectors.

Strengthening Evidence Use for Development Impact, or SEDI, is a five-year program designed to promote evidence-based policymaking in three countries—Ghana, Pakistan, and Uganda—in order to improve policy outcomes. The SEDI consortium is led by Oxford Policy Management (OPM) and comprises national, international, and regional partners, including the African Center for Transformation (ACET).

This week, SEDI released its first country study in collaboration with ACET, the consortium’s lead organization in Ghana. The report closely examines the role of evidence in Ghana’s macro-level policymaking as well as in three selected sectors: economic development, public financial management, and health. It asks the central question, “What role does evidence play in shaping and influencing decision-making and policymaking in Ghana—and why?”

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According to Richmond Commodore, ACET Research Analyst and one of the report’s lead authors, the study also explores the various factors that shape the flow of evidence, “including the actors who control the “rules of the game, especially in relation to issues of gender and inclusion.”

The report finds growing momentum in Ghana to strengthen evidence generation and use, although stakeholder interviews revealed key structural challenges, such as limited capacity to appraise and synthesize evidence and limited coordination between those who produce evidence—such as think tanks and research institutions— and those intended to use it—policymakers.

Political interests are also a considerable factor. “We found that ruling governments tend to use evidence to support existing positions, rather than to inform positions,” Commodore said, “and to drive long-term policy through short-term party manifestos.

The realities of Ghana’s political economy—and the related challenges to incorporating objective evidence into the process—have had “significant effects” not only on the policy decision-making process but also on the country’s pursuit of economic transformation, according to the study.

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Claire Hutchings, OPM Senior Portfolio Leader and SEDI Program Director, said that addressing such issues is what the SEDI program is all about.

“We recognize that policy making is an inherently political process,” she said, “but believe that better use of evidence in policy and practice is critical to progress and sustainable development.”

The Ghana study got underway in 2019, so it does not address COVID-19 specifically. But the use of evidence has helped governments better manage and mitigate the risks generated by the pandemic—health risks of course but also risks to education, social cohesion, and economic stability. As Hutchings points out, the SEDI program is well positioned to support governments in these efforts.

“A partnership with governments is central to our approach,” she said. “We are committed to working with policymakers on the real policy problems they are grappling with.”

The Ghana study identifies key opportunities and constraints in each of the sectors analyzed, as well as ways in which SEDI can help the government improve outcomes. Possible examples include increasing the capacity and incentives for evidence use and engaging stakeholders directly to help translate and apply available evidence.

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“Strengthening institutional capacity for evidence use is complex and requires sustained political commitment,” Commodore said. “But we found a high level of interest in Ghana, within government and civil society. This presents a real opportunity.”

Similar studies in the other two SEDI countries, Pakistan and Uganda, are forthcoming. The program is funded by the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

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