On the evidence ecosystem in South Africa

Photo by John O'Nolan on Unsplash

I am reading with great interest The evidence ecosystem in South Africa: growing resilience and institutionalisation of evidence use by Ruth Stewart, Harsha Dayal, Laurenz Langer, and Carina van Rooyen.

The article, as the authors say, is the result  of 20+ yrs. of work on evidence informed policy making (EIPM) and reforms in the evidence ecosystem in South Africa. My main takeaways reading the article are:

  • A lot of the international discussion on EIPM still feels about sharing and translating research findings for policy makers and building capacities. In the XXI century that is no longer a useful or useable framing.
  • Policy makers are often seen or described as users of evidence while in fact they can and do shape and influence  how evidence is generated, where it is sourced, and how it can be used. They are both users and generators of evidence and that has to be more openly recognised.
  • Policy actors are actors in an evidence ecosystems, that is a system that is complex, dynamic, adaptive, etc. The authors acknowledge that politics plays a big role in this system and the ways policy decisions are taken, but at the same time, they have seen from direct experience that in the evidence ecosystem there are actors, practices, functions that seem to endure regardless of the political party in office. Who are these actors? How do they demand and shape evidence? What makes them do that? These question are often forgotten in the design of initiatives that aims at supporting EIPM.
  • For quite a long time initiatives and projects on EIPM have focused on what was missing on capacity gaps of specific parts of the evidence ecosystem (e.g. knowledge production, communication, demand for evidence capacity, etc.) without taking a real systemic approach. This is an approach modelled on Norther ways and interpretations of EIPM. In countries such as South Africa, the work on EIPM is moving from individual projects focused on capacity building towards supporting organisational knowledge structures and processes for evidence use within the backdrop and as part of a wider evidence ecosystem.

There are many other interesting points in the article which I hope you will have time to read.

The question I have after reading the article are: how do you bring together a systemic approach with the need to address concrete problems in the knowledge ecosystems? Can digital technologies help with a more system approach to continuing improve the capability of the whole evidence ecosystem? How to design and receive funding for experimentation with new and innovative organisational knowledge structures which by definition cannot guarantee specific results?

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