What does 2021 hold for the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) during the coronavirus outbreak? For the AEN, what an exciting year this has been! Not only did the Network have ambitious plans for increased interaction with its members but the Hewlett Foundation had provided support through to 2022. The grant permitted the Secretariat, based at the Africa Centre for Evidence, to regroup and strategise. We had three priority work streams: advancing the art and science of evidence-use in Africa, enhancing evidence capacities, and making connections and building collaborations The Network team has also initiated great plans, including the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework. We have refined our strategic plan, our organisational structures, our Advisory and Reference Groups. We advocated for evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in Africa, and the role of Africa as a leader within the global field.
The year 2020 was marked by elections at either the local or the national level in 18 countries on the African continent and a COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. What a timely moment for EIDM in action! Dedication and commitment to working with our partners around the continent to collaborate on a multitude of activities meant that we have exciting work ahead focused on issues and topics of importance to our network members. This is in line with our strategic plan aimed at reinforcing our position as a pioneer and broker within the global field of EIDM.
Let me share some of the key highlights of the work AEN embarked on in 2020:
- Strategic plan
The AEN’s strategy was refined following a year-long process of consultation, drafting, feedback, and further refining. The plan elaborates six strategic goals:
1.Foster collaboration among those engaged in or supporting evidence-informed decision making;
2. Increase knowledge and understanding of evidence-informed decision-making;
3. Share capacities across the evidence-informed decision-making ecosystem;
4. Improve the enabling context by promoting evidence-informed decision-making in Africa;
5. Advocate for Africa’s full voice and participation in the national, regional, and global movements to increase evidence-informed decision-making; and
6. Ensure the Network’s own organisational excellence as a sustainable member-driven organisation. The strategic plan has been published on the new AEN website.
- AEN Governance structures: Advisory and Reference Groups
The Advisory Group consists of eight pan-African members. It was launched February 2018 to provide advice and guidance, as requested by the AEN secretariat, on the design, and implementation of, and learning from AEN projects or programmes.
The AEN Reference Group consists of 13 members from across the continent. It was launched March 2018 to operate as a sounding board that brainstorms ideas suggested by AEN members as captured in different mechanisms. In 2020, the Reference Group members were part of the working groups that were established to advance work related to EVIDENCE 2020 ONLINE.
- EVIDENCE 2020 ONLINE
The AEN achieved a milestone by successfully hosting EVIDENCE 2020 ONLINE on the 23-25 September 2020. This event, a fully virtual working meeting, succeeded in fostering collaboration, facilitating dialogue, and advancing evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in Africa. The detailed report on what took place at EVIDENCE 2020 ONLINE and everything we learned from hosting it will be available via our website in 2021.
- EIDM during COVID-19
There were some shifts in our activities due to COVID-19. The world’s attention shifted to tackling COVID-19, and the use of evidence was under the spotlight. We quickly recognised that the most easily accessible evidence and COVID-19 policies were from the Northern hemisphere and there was an urgent need to capture and share evidence and evidence-informed policies relating to COVID-19 from across the continent. We therefore created and populated an ‘EIDM during COVID-19’ page on the AEN website dedicated to capturing African evidence linked to African decisions relevant to COVID-19; blogs that shared reflection, opinions, and experiences related to the various aspects of COVID-19 on EIDM were also invited and dedicated webinars highlighted experiences, nuances, and challenges faced when perusing and appraising evidence to inform COVID-19 decision-making. This page can be found in English and French here.
- Membership update
There has been increase of membership subscription within the AEN from 2821 in January to 3489 at the end of November. Southern Africa had the highest contribution of new members that totalled 1036, while international attention outside Africa and West Africa brought 534 and 711 new members respectively. We continue to engage all African regions in our network.
- The Africa Evidence Leadership Award
In 2020 the Africa Evidence Leadership Award winner was Mr Frejus Thoto from Benin. Dr Ngang Eric from Cameroon and Mr Yakeu Djiam Serge Eric from Cameroon were second and third runner up respectively. Our 2019 winner was Ms Mapula Tshangela. Both 2019 and 2020 winners presented during EVIDENCE 2020 ONLINE to showcase their work and both participated in the working groups in the build up to the event.
- Documenting ‘AEN Stories of change’ and ‘Evidence Matters’
The AEN aims to raise the profile of EIDM by disseminating information on achievements to date and future challenges. This includes documenting how the AEN has made a difference to those working to support evidence-use in decisions in Africa (AEN Stories of Change), and documenting how using evidence has shaped decisions (Evidence Matters). To do this, the AEN routinely gathers stories of change of how the AEN has made a difference from active members in the Network. In 2020 we have documented 28 such stories of change and continue to capture more. We have also documented 17 evidence matters stories of how evidence is making a difference in Africa. A gallery of all these stories will be launched on our website in 2021.
- Organisational study
In 2019, we embarked on an exploration of organisations in Africa that are working to advance evidence-informed decision-making, across all sectors. Our aims were to explore the views, demands, capacities and potential for collaboration across institutions working in a similar space on the continent. Results were shared in a variety of formats both internally as well as externally (AEN Webinar 29 June 2020) where appropriate. The detailed report is available via our website at this link.
What does 2021 hold for the AEN?
As we look forward to 2021 and seek to be both proactive and responsive in our support for individuals and organisations supporting EIDM on the continent, we anticipate the following activities:
- Refine the strategic planning, communication plan, and the monitoring and evaluation framework;
- Review and advance the work of the three work streams advancing the art and science of evidence-use in Africa, enhancing evidence capacities, and making connections and building collaborations;
- Continue to identify, capture, and document significant Stories of Change (SoCs) and stories for the Evidence Matters series;
- Advocate for evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in Africa, and the role of Africa as a leader within the global field by launching the Africa Evidence Leadership Award 2021;
- Strengthen the AEN Governance structures, Advisory and Reference Groups;
- Engage AEN members using different mechanisms so that AEN can revise our future work plan in line with member’s actual needs and wants;
- Focus on engaging new evidence communities with which we’ve had little contact previously, and pay more attention to underrepresented regions in Africa (particularly West and North Africa);
- Plan for EVIDENCE 2022;
- Host #AfricaEvidence webinars and other online engagements to deepen conversations and peer-learning around key issues for the African EIDM community;
- Publish blogs covering different topics that are advancing EIDM in Africa; and
- Demonstrate success and monitoring and learning from AEN’s experience.
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 Senior Manager: Operations for Africa Evidence Network at the Africa Centre for Evidence.
The author(s) is solely responsible for the content of this article, including all errors or omissions; acknowledgments do not imply endorsement of the content. The author is grateful to Ruth Stewart for guidance in the preparation and finalization 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 aforementioned parties.