African policymakers are largely unaware of the ASTI program, but recognize the importance of evidence for agricultural research policy decisions, and may benefit from it through exchanges with research, civil society, donor, and international organizations. That is one finding from a series of national stakeholder mapping studies recently completed in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania to measure the environment for evidence use in agricultural research policy.
The studies are part of the “Enhancing the Use of ASTI Evidence for Policy Influencing” project, an initiative to examine and improve the use of evidence, including ASTI data and outputs, for national policies that support and fund agricultural research.
The work kicked off in early 2017, and consists of three phases: mapping the interest in and use of agricultural research data; developing and testing pilot activities to increase this use; and evaluating the pilot programs for potential expansion into other countries in the region. The mapping phase recently wrapped up, and national experts from each pilot country shared their findings from interviews with stakeholders from academia, donor organizations, government, civil society, private sector, and media.
In Tanzania, interviews showed that government “recognizes the role of … agriculture research, in particular, in informing policy and government interventions” and in Nigeria, there was also a “wide sense of acknowledgement that research evidence influences policies.” In Ethiopia, interviews revealed that the use of research evidence in policy formulation is rather weak. Although government decision makers in all three countries agreed in principle with using evidence to help design agricultural research policies, this often didn’t follow through in practice.
The awareness of ASTI data and outputs was much higher among those in research institutes, the academic sector, and civil society organizations than among policy makers. One way to improve ASTI’s policy impact at the country level, then, is to work with strong-voiced “allies” in those groups who can make policymakers aware of ASTI evidence. In Nigeria and Tanzania, for example, civil society organizations can play an important role in advocating for the uptake and dissemination of ASTI outputs. In Ethiopia, direct engagement with policy makers and targeted workshops were considered most useful for enhancing the use of ASTI data for policy.
The studies point to two key factors for success: embedding ASTI data in existing platforms that bring together researchers and policymakers, and strengthening relationships between ASTI “ambassadors” and those charged with agricultural research policy.
These findings will be put to test as the project moves to implementing pilot activities in each of the three countries to learn how to communicate the importance of supporting agricultural research to the right people, at the right time, and in the right way to make a lasting difference.