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Supporting an inclusive evidence ecosystem: Insights from the 2023 Africa Evidence Summit

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Associate Director of Global Networks and Inclusion Maya Ranganath reflects on the goals, outcomes, and key learnings of this summer’s 11th annual Africa Evidence Summit in Nairobi. The Summit would not be possible without our partners: the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and many others mentioned in the post below.

Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) disproportionately experience the world’s greatest challenges — climate change, food security, and rampant inequality. Effective solutions to these problems must be evidence-informed and inclusive of scholars living in these countries. However, many LMICs face a shortage of researchers — only two percent of the world’s research output is produced by African scholars. The evidence-informed policy community has marshaled significant momentum to address this problem and invest in LMIC research infrastructure. In fact, a recent report from the Center for Global Development identified a 26 percent increase in organizations with impact evaluation capacity since 2019. The Africa Evidence Summit, co-hosted by CEGA and the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA) this summer, further showcased this progress.

Now with more than a decade of momentum, the Summit returned to Nairobi for its largest gathering yet: In a signal of the demand for more rigorous and locally-led evidence on what works to combat poverty, more than 500 researchers, policymakers, and practitioners attended. As every year, the Summit had four goals:

  • Elevate the voices of African scholars
  • Disseminate new research findings to decision-makers
  • Seed new collaborations
  • Generate insights to advance evidence-informed policymaking and, specifically, ways to make the ecosystem more inclusive

To this end, the Summit featured 21 research presentations from CEGA affiliated faculty, our fellows network, and partners (see here for a full list of presentations). It also included several panels that focused on meta-themes, including:

  • Incentives, resources, and pathways for African-led publication
  • Funder perspectives on supporting African-led research
  • Supporting pro-poor growth in sub-Saharan Africa (led by event partner African Economic Research Consortium)
  • Centering African voices in policy-making and advocacy (led by event partner Afrobarometer)

Below we present some key insights from the event. Please see our takeaways document for more information.

Evidence must be generated by, and in partnership with, local researchers…

“To claim the 21st century as the turning point for Africa, African experts and scholars should step up to define, own, and drive the continent’s development agenda,” said Dr. Eliya Zulu, Executive Director of the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), in his keynote address.

Summit co-host NIERA (comprised of alumni of CEGA’s fellowship program) is leading this movement as the first all-African network of evidence generators. But greater investment is needed.

As Rose Oronje, AFIDEP Director of Public Policy and Knowledge Translation and Head of Kenya Office, discussed, the low rate of publications by African scholars reflects a need for greater investments by governments in research infrastructure. Constantine Manda, 2012 CEGA Fellow and Assistant Professor at UC Irvine added, “We need to reform our institutions — for not just the number of publications, but the quality of them.” “The incentive structure is broken and something needs to change,” noted Chris Chibwana, Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

…which requires re-aligning incentives, investing in research capacity, and collaborating.

A variety of solutions were proposed. Oronje suggested including more editors from Africa on journals, “as they will be looking at research differently because they understand the context.” Aurelia Munene, founder of Eider Africa, proposed engaging NGOs to complement African universities, training new faculty on supervision, and “providing researchers with a sense of belonging.” Jordan Kyongo, Head of the East Africa Research & Innovation Hub at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), added that “universities must support an enabling environment for students to [become] researchers.” Manda urged scholars in high-income countries to “ask for invitations to present work to an African audience” to expose students to new research methods, insights, and questions.

In this vein, collaboration is not only an important driver of innovation but also the keystone in inclusive evidence generation. The growing group of impact evaluators, big data researchers, and other evidence generators in LMICs relies on a close-knit community for intellectual partnership, capacity building, evidence dissemination, and funding. Indeed, the Summit would not have succeeded without its local partners (NIERA, AFIDEP, Afrobarometer, AERC, Busara, among others) and the many talented researchers who presented posters.

From left to right: CEGA Fellows Jonathan Izudi, Bezawit Bahru, and
Michel Ndayikeza listen to a presentation at AES 2023 | Luft Ventures

Evidence is essential, but insufficient alone, for policy change

The summit featured many research studies aimed to assist decision-makers to support vulnerable communities. A few highlights include:

  • CEGA Faculty Co-Director Ted Miguel’s study on the intergenerational impacts of child health investments in East Africa, which shows that deworming school children decreases under-five mortality in the children of those dewormed by one-fifth.
  • A randomized control trial presented by Youth Impact’s Thato Letsomo demonstrated that the ConnectEd intervention, which sends children a weekly math problem and provides tutoring phone calls, improved learning in Uganda by more than a standard year of schooling.
  • University of Ghana’s Edward Asiedu’s study found that providing patients with information on their insurance coverage reduces their out-of-pocket expenditure on health.
  • 2021 CEGA Fellow Mary Nantongo’s early-stage design to evaluate the impact of Uganda’s Parish Development Model on the poverty levels, incomes, and participation in decision-making of beneficiary households.

However, Dr. Zulu made a powerful point, saying “Evidence is essential, but not sufficient for policy. Researchers need to understand the key people and decisions being made in order to help.” Building on this, Tricia Ryan from USAID led a presentation on evidence gap maps, a visual tool that identifies where more evidence is needed on a particular research subject. 2020 CEGA Fellow and Director of Research at the International Center for Evaluation and Development (ICED) Solomon Zena Walelign presented his evidence gap map, which found that more research is needed on how infrastructure interacts with the nutritional needs of people in LMICs, especially women, girls, and low-income consumers.

CEGA’s long history of working to shift norms in development economics toward greater leadership by African scholars has produced significant results. The Africa Evidence Summit reflects that growth, and we are excited to harness this community’s momentum to advance our shared goals. Sign up for our Global Networks newsletter to hear first about next year’s Summit.

Supporting an inclusive evidence ecosystem: Insights from the 2023 Africa Evidence Summit was originally published in CEGA on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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