The end of 2016 will go down in history as a time of political chaos and worries about “post-truth politics” in Europe and the United States. The Oxford English Dictionary even made “post-truth” the word of the year in 2016. For evidence enthusiasts looking for hope, look no further than the global south, where developing countries are leading the way on evidence-informed policymaking.
As my colleague Rachel Quint and I wrote in September, the last quarter of 2016 was a bonanza for evidence-informed Policymaking (EIP). When I need an EIP pick-me-up, I reflect on the good news from developing countries featured in this bonanza. Here is a taste to raise your spirits for 2017.
Developing countries are institutionalizing evidence in policymaking
Chile requires cost-benefit analysis for public investments. The South African cabinet openly discusses evaluations of public projects thanks to the Southern African Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, (which could teach other evaluators a thing or two about how to summarize evaluation findings in a policy-relevant and accessible way). Malaysia’s performance management and delivery unit uses interactive budget spreadsheets with cabinet officials to help them understand trade-offs on expenditures and revenue collection. Colombia’s Department of National Statistics (DANE) is pioneering new data uses to complement official statistics to achieve and track progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Members of Kenya’s parliament have created a caucus on evidence-informed oversight and decision-making. Ministries of health in Kenya and Malawi, and the Malawi parliament, have developed guidelines for using evidence in making policy, as has the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.
Government demand for evidence is on the rise
Poor countries can’t afford not to use data. That is the case made by Eliya Zulu, executive director of the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) in this video from the Evidence Works: A Forum for Governments in London in September. The need to carefully allocate scarce resources, respond to increased citizen demand for transparency and accountability, and fill the gaping holes in capacity to use evidence are driving demand. For an illustration of the gaping holes — the Malawian Parliament has 193 members and 20 committees with a grand total of 6 clerks and 3 researchers to staff them. No Congressional Research Service. No budget office. The folks in charge of adolescent sexual and reproductive health in the Kenyan Ministry of Health had no age-disaggregated data for the cohort between 15 and 49, and no data at all on kids 5 to 15, until AFIDEP helped them build it. How do you approach adolescent reproductive health if you can’t tell the difference between 15 and 49-year-olds?
The Minister of Health in Malawi described the Demographic Dividend Report – published by the Government with technical support from AFIDEP, as “mind-opening,” and the first time that cabinet officials really got the importance of linking family planning efforts with economic development ones. Now cabinet ministers want to know what to do about it, leading to unprecedented demand for research and data that the government doesn’t have. With holes like this, it is easier than many think to generate demand for evidence.
Given this momentum and these opportunities, I am especially excited about our approach to support organizations working to increase the use of evidence in their countries. Here’s to a bright and evidence-filled 2017!