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Q&A: What you should know about R4D’s new Evidence for Decision-Making practice

Abeba Taddese   |   September 5, 2023   |   6 Comments

[Editor’s Note In this post, R4D’s Senior Program Director Abeba Taddese introduces R4D’s newest practice area, Evidence for Decision-Making — which centers country leaders and other change agents to improve how evidence is produced, translated and used.]

R4D: Tell us about your journey. What led you to your current role as the lead for evidence-informed decision-making at Results for Development?

Abeba Taddese: I have always turned to data and evidence to inform a decision process, whether in my personal or professional life.

In my personal life, this usually entails a TON of research, polling friends and family, and documenting what I learn in detailed spreadsheets before making a big or consequential decision.

And while evidence has always had a front and center role in my work – whether gathering quantitative and qualitative information to assess how well a project addressed poverty and gender, or conducting research to understand opportunities and challenges for using mobile payments in health – I didn’t always truly appreciate or understand what evidence-informed decision-making meant, or what it takes to ensure evidence is used when policies are being designed.

But then I spent four years at a policy organization focused on incentivizing the use of evidence at all levels of government in the US. I helped launch a global practice with the same mission, and that is when I really began to understand evidence-informed decision-making as a field – where the focus is on processes, supports, policies, and incentives to promote timely, relevant, and systematic or institutionalized use of evidence.

R4D: There are probably a lot of people who use evidence in their work, but they don’t know what evidence-informed decision-making means. Can you explain it for us?

Abeba Taddese: Evidence-informed decision-making is using the best available evidence to inform a decision process, including research, contextual evidence, as well as tacit knowledge that draws on the experiences of populations.

It is important to note that evidence is one source of input in a decision process – policy actors are influenced by political, social, and economic factors, values, vested interests and so much more. The goal is to create incentives to give evidence a more prominent role in a decision-maker’s agenda. To do this, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of decision-makers and understand the problems they are trying to solve.

R4D: That makes sense. So, what are some of the factors that make it hard for decision-makers to use?

Abeba Taddese: There are many challenges, including a lack of access to quality data or policy-relevant evidence. Other factors might include a lack of awareness, skill, or motivation to use evidence.

And when decision-makers can find evidence, it might not be in formats that are easy for them to understand or contextualized enough to address their specific concerns. They might not have opportunities to engage with research or evidence because they don’t have access to or they don’t engage in spaces that are designed to bring together decision makers, researchers, and others to jointly define research priorities, debate, and make sense of the evidence. The result can be a lack of trust that disincentivizes decision makers from considering evidence in a policy- or practice-level decision.

R4D: What are some ways in which R4D is addressing these challenges?

Abeba Taddese: We are conducting research and convening learning networks to promote dialogue, exchange, and joint action. For example, through the Transforming Modeled Evidence to Decision-Making program, we have been collaborating with research partners in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, and India to understand the factors that enable and hinder the use of modeled evidence. We’re especially focused on identifying mechanisms that can facilitate exchange between the producers and users of modeled evidence.

We also coordinated and facilitated a learning community called the Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Rapid and Responsive Systems (PEERSS), which includes fifteen organizations across thirteen countries. PEERSS provided a valued space for learning and sharing that helped to accelerate progress in evidence-informed policymaking at the country and regional levels. The partnership officially ended in July, but I am pleased to share that we will be launching a new Africa-focused evidence partnership soon. Stay tuned for more on this in the coming months!

Another example of our work is our partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts where we are facilitating a learning community for global development funders in the Transforming Evidence Funders Network, with the aim of taking collective action to strengthen evidence use in the Global South.

R4D: What do you think needs to change to improve evidence use in decision-making?

Abeba Taddese: First, the systems lens is critical. We know how to invest in research and have the tools to assess the rigor of our methodology, but it is just as important to invest in other parts of the system. There are aspects of the evidence to policy process that we are still trying to understand. For example — how does knowledge translation happen? How does it vary across sectors or domains? What are we learning? How can we build on these lessons to strengthen evidence use in policy and practice? R4D has published seminal research on the importance of “evidence translators” in evidence-informed policymaking to begin answering these questions.

Second, the research we generate must address real world problems, in alignment with decision-maker priorities and in a timely way – there is simply too much research that ends up on a shelf.

Third, we must become better at centering proximate researchers and communities, who bring a deep understanding of context and policy opportunities.

R4D: And what trends are you seeing in the evidence for decision-making space that you’re excited about?

Abeba Taddese: I am excited to see more funders committing to equity in research partnerships, with more funding for southern-led research and inclusive knowledge generation.

It is also exciting to see more acknowledgement of the importance of policy engagement activities – specifically, the time needed for researchers to engage with decision-makers in jointly setting priorities and co-creating research. Decision-makers turn to researchers they trust to make sense of evidence, so it is important for research initiatives to be funded in a way that acknowledges the importance of relationships and partnerships.

R4D: You’re what we call an R4D “boomeranger” — someone who worked for R4D previously and then came back. What made you decide to return to R4D?

Abeba Taddese: This is easy! I have three main reasons. First, I’ve always appreciated how R4D invites creativity and innovation — in pitching new ideas, problem solving, finding solutions. R4D’s culture is so welcoming of new ideas and different perspectives. Second, my colleagues at R4D are AMAZING — smart, kind, empathetic, inclusive, generous, committed … I could go on and on. Finally, our commitment to centering local change agents is a big draw for me as real and sustainable change can only be realized when local partners and community members have a central role in defining priorities and addressing the problems they face.

Comments 6 Responses

  1. Yohannes September 14, 2023 @ 2:37 pm

    Thank you Abeba for this inspiring thought you have contributed. Evidence based decisions are crucial for all, personal as well as institutional, including the development practitioners and policy makers. More to learn from your rich experience.
    Thank you

  2. Samuel Mayeden September 9, 2023 @ 11:33 pm

    Is very insightful to recognize and pushing this agenda of using evidence for policy informed decisions. Yes, moving from through to understand real life situation in practice especially the policy process that hinders access and equity to service delivery must be closely monitored which I think R4D has over the year focus on. I hope to follow through as I am doing similar work in my PhD project.

  3. John Oheneba-Acquah September 8, 2023 @ 6:31 am

    I found this interview so inspiring and challenged. Interesting read. I have really learnt some lessons. I wish I have the opportunity to be schooled in obtaining a more insightful knowledge on this “Evidence for Decision-making and the capacity to practice it.

  4. IKO Horace September 8, 2023 @ 3:43 am

    J’ai beaucoup apprécié la simplicité des réponses et l’histoire qui est derrière. C’est une interview très instructive. Une décision avant d’être prise, qu’elle soit tactique, stratégique ou dans une perspective à long terme, doit être bien analysée et se baser sur des données probantes. C’est ça qui justifie l’efficacité, la pertinence et même l’efficience. En Afrique, on doit mieux appréhender ce procédé pour en faire un usage au quotidien. Merci.

  5. Noelle September 7, 2023 @ 11:39 pm

    This is exciting a stance to take and I’d love to learn more about “how” it’s being done and how researchers like me born and committed to positively influencing the policy space in the “Global South” can be part of this.
    Congrats Abeba Tadesse and R4D!

  6. Catherine Connor September 7, 2023 @ 4:04 pm

    Congratulations Abeba! This new initiative is in good hands.


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