Celebrating my three years with the Africa Evidence Network

2020-08-20 blog informs learns
Celebrating my three years with the Africa Evidence Network


I had the honour of joining the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) as a member and then became the head of operations in 2017. The AEN is an African network open to all with an interest in evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in Africa. Having been formed at a colloquium in 2012 with only 23 members, fast forward to 2020 and the membership of the AEN has expanded to over 3000 people from across 40 countries, including individuals from more than 20 African governments. The diversity and size of the Network’s membership makes the AEN the largest pan-African network of different people, all of whom are dedicated to ending poverty and inequality in Africa by increasing the use of evidence in decision-making.

Several similar networks exist on the continent, each bringing its own unique contribution to the evidence ecosystem in Africa. Over the last eight years, the AEN has worked hard with various partners to establish its niche in the EIDM field in Africa. Based on my experience of being part of the AEN secretariat for the last three years, I’m going to share what I see as six features that make the AEN distinct.

  1. The AEN is a network driven by its members because we care about everyone’s voice

The AEN members have the ability to contribute to the strategic direction of AEN. After an extensive mapping process to better understand the African EIDM field, we implemented governance structures such as the Reference and Advisory Groups, that draw participants directly from the membership. We invited members to vote for the winners of the Africa Evidence Leadership Award. And we welcome content and input from members for the AEN monthly newsletter, blogs, working group activities, and event planning.

  1. The AEN straddles academia and practice – because rigor and relevance are equally important for EIDM

The AEN is driven by methodological precision, doing something new, reflecting on the work the Network does to improve, and reporting and operating in a transparent way. As a result, we have positioned the secretariat strategically and institutionally at the Africa Centre for Evidence based at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). The UJ is pre-vetted and registered with overseas research councils. Government and civil society needs and perspectives are prioritised through engagement with the AEN’s Advisory Group which have representatives from government, research institutes, and NGOs.

  1. The AEN thrives on innovation because agility and adaptation are essential to being responsive

As part of the offering to meet our members’ needs, we have gained a reputation of offering innovative networking events. Since 2014, our events in Africa have been well-attended, highly anticipated, and are reputable for pushing boundaries. These events include:

  • EVIDENCE, a biennial event, has always focused on bringing together a diversity of expertise from around the African evidence ecosystem – from government officials to civil society organisations, from health researchers to technology experts. The goal of any EVIDENCE event is to of promote and showcase evidence-use in Africa. EVIDENCE has become renowned as one of the most diverse and creative evidence-use gatherings in the world.
  • Africa Evidence Week was a virtual event with participants distributed throughout Africa. It aimed to showcase the richness of the African evidence ecosystem and promote African creativity on EIDM with global relevance. Using multimedia platforms, the AEN highlighted ongoing work and conversations about EIDM in Africa.
  • #AfricaEvidenceWebinar is available to all AEN members as a forum to engage and discuss the role of evidence in informing African policy-making. Hosted on an ad hoc basis, the goal of this series is for members to use the AEN as a key mechanism for growing evidence communities and promoting evidence-use across Africa.
  • EVIDENCE 2018 Online was our pilot of a virtual component to the physical EVIDENCE 2018 event. This virtual component came about as part of the AEN’s drive to expand the inclusivity of EVIDENCE 2018 for those normally unable to attend the physical event. Aware of the costs of travelling to South Africa for those in different parts of Africa; the resource limitations faced by researchers, civil servants, and others; and the difficulties in getting visas timeously, the necessity for a virtual platform was obvious.
  • COVID 19 webpage is a dedicated webpage that the AEN started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a creative organisation, the AEN made a way for members to play an advocacy role and ensure the knowledge is used for decisions related to COVID-19. The webpage was launched as an effort to sift new information relating to COVID-19 in Africa and to share it with the members and collaborators of the Network.
  1. The AEN’s partnerships and collaborations span national, regional and global arenas

Our relationships across the continent with other stakeholders have helped us expand our scope. The AEN claims that only by working together with everyone in the evidence ecosystem will evidence-informed decision-making become standard practice. This is because power and information for progress are essentially embedded within relationships. As a continent-wide network of major stakeholder groups in EIDM, we have the capacity to improve practices in the use of evidence for our region’s benefit.

  1. The AEN secretariat is supported by a regionally and globally renowned team of staff

The daily running of the AEN’s activities is a direct result of our team’s commitment and the vibrant culture that we have been successful in fostering. The AEN has been free to grow and expand as members desire, aided by the skills and abilities of our team members and their willingness to learn and adapt to any situation. The chairperson of the Network, Professor Ruth Stewart, is ranked by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) as a B1 rated researcher. This NRF ranking indicates that Professor Stewart has received considerable recognition and appreciation for her contributions to the field of EIDM in Africa. The core AEN team based at the Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE) – Siziwe Ngcwabe (operations senior manager), Dr Nasreen Jessani (strategic senior manager), and programme officers Likhwa Ncube, Charity Chisoro, and Precious Motha – are supported by the dedication and expertise of the wider team at ACE. Truly together, this team maintains the offering members have come to expect from being part of the AEN.

  1. The AEN values and emphasises continuous learning and improving

It has been an exciting eight-year journey of reflective growth that the AEN has undertaken. To learn and develop, the secretariat has spearheaded numerous member-driven pilot projects. The development of the theory of change, for example, was about the AEN secretariat recognising and understanding what we needed to improve; defining our ultimate outcomes; and monitoring and evaluating our successes while reflecting and learning from our failures. We’ve enhanced our own capacities for managing information, working with technology, and continuing some of our own research into exactly how networks work to support EIDM in Africa. We have embarked on activities to develop and expand on our financial model, our evolving five-year strategy, and our financial resource mobilisation and sustainability plans. We have learned as the AEN secretariat from experience about the importance of having structures in place to handle and expand the Network. We can share what’s unique and interesting about the AEN today because we were open to learning a new way of doing business.

About the author

Ms. Siziwe Ngcwabe works in the field of management, social entrepreneur, and evidence networks with a focus on promotion and showcasing EIDM across sectors in Africa. Ms. Ngcwabe is the operations senior manager for Africa Evidence Network at Africa Centre for Evidence.


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 Nasreen Jessani for guidance in the preparation and finalisation of this article, as well as Precious Motha, Likhwa Ncube, and Linda Etale for their feedback on a previous version of this article. The author would also like to thank Natalie Tannous for her editorial support.


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.