Photo: Africa Evidence Network Evidence Capacities Webinar four participants
This blog post is based on the fourth webinar of the Evidence Capacities webinar series, hosted by the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) on 19 January 2022. The AEN Evidence Capacities webinar series aims to create a platform for sharing experiences and ideas that push our thinking about enhancing capacities for evidence-use in Africa. The series also strives to improve connections that can lead to collaborations among AEN members to strengthen evidence capacities using evidence- and practice-informed approaches. We hope that these discussions will be the basis for improving and illustrating the AEN’s Manifesto on capacity development for evidence use in Africa. Be sure you catch up with the whole series; find all the recordings, blog posts, and presentations from past webinars in this series here.
Thus far in the AEN’s #EvidenceCapacities webinar series, we have considered what capacity development to enhance evidence-use in Africa broadly should be about. We explored two specific elements of this in webinars two and three respectively: designing capacity development for equity and evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) capacity development aimed at system-level change. In the fourth webinar, a further element was explored: relationships and partnerships in EIDM capacity development in Africa.
We know that relationships across the evidence ecosystem are crucial to enhancing evidence-use, and that evidence-use is fundamentally a relational process (Oliver & Faul 2018). For this reason, the AEN's slogan is "only together can evidence-informed decision-making become a reality" rings particularly true. In our fourth webinar, the two panellists – Josephine Watera (Parliament of Uganda) and Serge Eric Yakeu Djiam (EvalIndigenous Network, Cameroon) – with the moderation by Professor Godson Gatsha (Botswana Open University) highlighted the importance of relationships and partnerships in enhancing capacities for evidence-use in Africa. The discussion took its inspiration from the fourth principle in the AEN Manifesto which states that:
"We emphasise relationships in our capacity development, through partnerships (between government, civil society organisations, universities, evidence hubs, international agencies, etc.) and through promotion of collaborative efforts."
As part of her opening remarks, Josephine reminded everyone of the African proverb: “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” For her, each of us contributes different strengths, resources and opportunities to capacity development in Africa, but by working, thinking, and exploring together, we can do much more. Serge Eric echoed Josephine’s sentiment with a proverb from his village: “one hand cannot bring enough firewood. But when you join two hands, you can bring a considerable amount of firewood to cook food to take care of the family.” For him, relationships and partnerships are essential to capacity development for evidence-use in Africa, both for individuals and organisations. Both panellists drawing on our ancestral wisdom through proverbs called us to recognise how fundamental relationships and partnerships are to enhancing capacities across the evidence ecosystem.
Who should engage in EIDM capacity development?
Serge Eric pointed out four levels of engagement for EIDM capacity development. First, there are interconnections within your organisation; second, organisational effectiveness and how we support each other; third, learning opportunities within networks; and finally, collaborations within these networks. He urged that the responsibility - and ability - lies with each of us interested in evidence-use to contribute to capacity enhancement in our collaborations. He highlighted peer-to-peer learning and a practice-informed approach that accentuates both relationships and relevance in capacity development. Josephine mentioned that in capacity development, it is not just about what you do but how you do it and with whom. Everybody should be part of EIDM capacity development – from evidence generators, synthesisers, intermediaries to evidence users. Bringing all players on board will maximise learning and optimise its benefits.
Trust and shared values as key attributes for strategic partnerships that enhance EIDM capacities
According to Josephine, strategic partnerships for EIDM capacity development should be empowering, participatory, valuable, accountable, inclusive, sustainable, and trust-based. In partnerships, it’s crucial to value and appreciate everyone’s contribution. She pointed out that her and her team, for example, have moved away from using the word ‘donor’ optin instead to use ‘development partner’. This change, she argues foregrounds the urgency of equal partners that trust and empower one another. It’s easy to move forward together once trusting relationships are built. She also recommended that capacity development efforts should be mainstreamed within traditional engagements, to confirm contextualisation and responsiveness. She reiterated the importance of context for partnerships and highlighted the “Made in Africa” approach to partnerships for enhancing evidence-use capacities. The aim is to leave no one behind by ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and respected to see sustainability and ownership of the efforts being put in the capacity development initiatives.
Serge Eric added that partnerships are not only – or even primarily – formal in nature through a contract or other formal agreement. There are numerous less formal collaborations that are key to capacity development for evidence-use. Shared interests and values are seemingly crucial as a foundation to build trust and acknowledge the responsibility of each partner. He pointed out the need to intentionally analyse who you want to collaborate with and assess whether you share common interests and values. And in line with the “Made in Africa” approach, he urged us to draw on our roots, consider context and culture, and utilise storytelling in our capacity enhancement efforts.
Challenges of managing partnerships for EIDM capacity development and ways of overcoming these
Josephine pointed out that managing partnerships comes with challenges such as negative attitudes, low motivation, power relationships (especially with international organisations), and politics that hamper trust-building. She proposed that these obstacles can be overcome by having positive language; recognising, documenting and rewarding success stories and best practices; being open-minded; and implementing peer-to-peer learning. According to Serge Eric, challenges can be overcome by setting a conducive environment for partnerships and using agreed strategic or operational frameworks, allowing stakeholders to engage and work together to solve any problems. In response to a question from the webinar audience about how to tackle distrust once it has taken hold in a partnership or relationship, Serge Eric highlighted that relationships work like contracts. When partners go out of their contract, it would be worthwhile to examine the cause of the challenges and to get to a mutual understanding to amend the relationship.
The role of AEN members and the AEN Secretariat in supporting relationships and partnerships for EIDM capacity development
Serge Eric believes that the AEN already plays a crucial role in supporting capacity development by connecting members from different thematic domains and linking members to networks beyond Africa. There is also the upcoming work of the Secretariat to establish a database of organisations involved in EIDM capacity development in Africa. The AEN Manifesto on capacity development for EIDM in Africa has contributed to stating our shared vision for EIDM capacity development, but resource mobilisation – both human and financial – are now needed, Josephine added. Currently, the Manifesto is available in English and French but translation into other languages for easy uptake and dissemination more widely will deepen its usefulness in Africa.
Key takeaways from our moderator
In his closing remarks, Godson summarised the key points for him on partnerships and collaborations to enhance evidence capacities in Africa. Working together rather than in silos should be our departure point. He urged us to find synergy in strategic relationships that add value and offer localised solutions. Building trust and having respect in relationships and partnerships is essential for sustainable and functional evidence capacities.
Taking the conversation forward
This webinar was a platform to kickstart our conversation on relationships and partnerships for EIDM capacity development. Let’s continue our conversation asynchronously via LinkedIn. Why not add your thoughts on the questions posed by the moderator to our panellists, or raise your questions.
Who should be part of EIDM capacity development, building relations and collaborating on it?
What should the nature of relationships be for/in EIDM capacity development? Are there characteristics or features that these relationships should have? Which kinds of capacity development partnerships are helpful for which kinds of ecosystem stakeholders?
What are the challenges in establishing and sustaining such relations and partnerships? And how do we overcome these challenges?
What role do you see the AEN (both members and the Secretariat) play in supporting relationships and partnerships for EIDM capacity development?
Join us synchronous online again in our next webinar in the series, where we will converse on the learning approaches (i.e., pedagogies) that should underpin our capacity development efforts for EIDM in Africa.
Oliver K & Faul MV (2018) Networks and network analysis in evidence, policy and practice. Evidence & Policy 14(3): 369-379.
About the author: Charity Chisoro is a programme officer responsible for leading the capacities workstream at the Africa Evidence Network Secretariat, under the communities portfolio at the Africa Centre for Evidence.
Acknowledgements: The author(s) is solely responsible for the content of this article, including all errors or omissions; acknowledgements do not imply endorsement of the content. The author is grateful to Dr Carina van Rooyen, Siziwe Ngcwabe, and Precious Motha for guidance in the preparation and finalisation of this article. The author would also like to thank Natalie Tannous for her editorial support.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in published blog posts, as well as any errors or omissions, are the sole responsibility of the author/s and do not represent the views of the Africa Evidence Network, its secretariat, advisory or reference groups, or its funders; nor does it imply endorsement by the afore-mentioned parties.
Suggested citation: Chisoro C (2022) Exploring relationships and partnerships for enhancing capacities for EIDM in Africa. Blog posting on 03 Feb 2022 that is part of the AEN blog series on the Evidence Capacities webinar series. Available at: https://www.africaevidencenetwork.org/en/learning-space/article/116/