By Ruth Stewart, Director of the Africa Centre for Evidence
This final blog in my series on networks and evidence provides an overview of all I have covered and looks forward to what next.
I started by sharing with you why I’ve been thinking about all of this for such a long time now. I am convinced that evidence-informed decision-making has the potential to change lives, reduce wasteful spending and prevent harm. And there is evidence to support my conviction too. I am also sure that evidence synthesis is a key methodology contributing to the potential for evidence-informed decision-making. I am not alone in this assertion. Having said that, despite the growing body of knowledge about how to increase the use of evidence in decision-making, our understanding of the mechanisms for facilitating this increase is still limited.
I have shared how evidence networks are broadening how we understand evidence-informed decision-making across sectors, and in particular, increasing understanding by research producers of decision-makers and their processes, priorities and potential. I have also explored how evidence networks support capacity-sharing, enabling us to overcome deficit models of capacity, and learn from one another. And I’ve made a case for how evidence networks build potential for change.
I’ve also written about how evidence networks change the nature of evidence itself. I hope I have made a case for how evidence networks also change the potential for evidence-informed decision-making. They do so by supporting more and better communication across traditional boundaries: communication of needs, priorities, knowledge, research findings, norms, values and contexts. They enable researchers to generate more useful evidence. They give decision-makers wider access to evidence and evidence producers. They help to build greater trust. Last but not least they bring members across the evidence ecosystem together, and in doing so, they bring together a broader picture. As a result evidence networks can build readiness for change across the whole community.
I am convinced that it is through evidence networks and relationships, and not through the technical production of evidence, that the use of evidence in decision-making increases (see below).
In terms of what next, we need (and I plan to try and contribute too) more reporting of networks and how they operate, more research into networks and what difference they make, and broader thinking with regards the theoretical frameworks that underlie mechanisms for supporting evidence use as a whole. (These frameworks are, in general, still focussing on technical solutions and not relational ones.) I believe there is a case for greater investment in networks, and in their evaluation.
On a more personal note, ‘what next’ for me includes taking the next step with regards these musings on evidence and networks, and turning them into a book. I will be sure to keep you updated on that project as it progresses.
Finally I will leave you with my favourite African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.