UJ researchers to counsel government policy-makers

​​​The Centre for Anthropological Research (CfAR) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is embarking on a research project, which seeks to increase the use of monitoring and evaluation in government.​​​

Prof Ruth Stewart, the project director, says that it can never be right to make policy decisions without evidence. “Whilst one might consider and decide against the recommendations of research evidence in reaching a decision, policy-makers have an obligation to consider research findings. Millions of rand are invested in research every year in South Africa – it should be both useful and used to improve the lives of all South Africans,” says Prof Stewart.

She pointed out that “government is a busy and pressured environment, and people have to work within time and resources constraints. The overarching aim guiding this research project is to assess government on building the capacity of policy-makers to filter through the wide range of evidence available to them, from monitoring data, to academic research.”

Over R22 million has been allocated by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) for the Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE), three-year research project at UJ

According to Prof Stewart there is a growing disenchantment amongst the population with regards to government policies and general capacity to provide real and quality services. “The sense that government policies are un-implementable, too costly and deliver too little, was demonstrated with the spark of recent protests around the country. This led to discontent amongst the very people policy-makers are meant to serve.”

She also stressed that there is a need for increased transparency in how policies are made and implemented, as well as simply ‘better’ decisions, which draw on the best available evidence to help reduce poverty and inequality: an approach known as evidence-based decision-making (EBDM). “It is really astounding, when you think about it, that any decisions would be made without consideration of the best available evidence,” comments Prof Stewart.

In South Africa, the Department for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) within the President’s Office in Pretoria, has made tremendous progress to increase the use of monitoring and evaluation in government, and the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD), which promotes evidence-based policy interventions that address poverty and inequality in South Africa, is evidence.

“However, much is still to be done to increase demand for research evidence, ensure technical staff within government are equipped to interpret and translate research into policy, and build relationships between our research-producing institutions and those for whom research is produced.

“There are many missed opportunities in policy and implementation where greater consideration of evidence could make all the difference. Twenty years on since the first democratic elections and South Africa still faces crises of housing, education and the provision of basic services such as water and electricity. In his state of the nation address, President Jacob Zuma highlighted the progress that has been made in many areas, but also made it clear that there is still work to be done,” says Prof Stewart

She concludes: “The innovative UJ-led capacity-building programme aims to support, in a sustainable manner, home grown EBDM governance practices working closely with the South African government. Using a mentoring-based approach, we are working to support an increase in the demand for, and consideration of, the best available evidence to improve policy-making and implementation for the people of South Africa.

The BCURE programme will be launched on Friday, 28 February 2014 at the UJ Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus at 18:00. This marks the official beginning of a strong collaborative link between UJ’s BCURE programme, and partners within the South African government, DPME and PSPPD, and other research institutions in South Africa who are working to support EBDM within the local context of South Africa.​

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