Monday, July 7, 2014

Course Review towards Instituting EIPM Course

It was a long range of discussions that begun in the third quarter of 2013, harmonized by series of personal meetings, phone calls, and email exchanges. Seeking an opportunity to engage a government institution to work in altering traditional processes of government business has never been easy. But with the goodwill and support of all stakeholders, a golden opportunity flashed through, witnessed by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This was the bedrock of other activities in GINKS’ engagement with the Civil Service Training Centre (CSTC) Accra, Ghana to embed a sustainable course in Evidence Informed Policy Making (EIPM) at the centre. A course review exercise was started, and has produced some inspiring experiences that are worth presenting for public exposition. GINKS (Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing) is undertaking these activities as part of its commitments in the VakaYiko Consortium. This short piece describes the concept of EIPM, and shares GINKS’ experiences with reviewing the courses available at CSTC.

The Concept, EIPM
To better understand the concept of EIPM, it is best to break it down into smaller compartments (Evidence and Policy Making); which will be reassembled to give a much holistic understanding. Concerning this, Oxman et al (2009) wrote that;

“Evidence concerns facts (actual or asserted) intended for use in support of a conclusion. A fact, in turn, is something known through experience or observation. An important implication of this understanding is that evidence can be used to support a conclusion, but it is not the same as a conclusion. Evidence alone does not make decisions”.

By this understanding of evidence therefore, different ‘evidence’ works have different relationship with what actually is evidence. For example expert opinion is more than just evidence, but a combination of facts, the interpretation of those facts, experiences, values and conclusions (Oxman et al, 2009). Secondly, not all ‘evidence’ works are convincing. In this regard Askew, Matthews and Partridge (2002) argued that;

“Apart from the importance of the quality of the evidence, which is principally associated with the rigor with which research methods and scientific principles are applied, there is the more contested aspect of choice of research methods, or even more fundamentally, choice of approach or research paradigm”.

And Oxman et al (2009) observe that;

“Research evidence is generally more convincing than haphazard observations because it uses systematic methods to collect and analyse observations. Similarly, well designed and executed research is more convincing than poorly designed and executed research”.

Some other determinants of perceived credible or quality research findings include, the profile of the researcher, how the works is communicated, the context of the research (sector and discipline), and where the research was conducted (scale or “global evidence”) (Askew, Matthews & Partridge, 2002; Oxman et al, 2009).

Policy Making is an act of making decisions for[1] or on behalf of[2]; and that affect a group of people, especially nations; and policy makers are officers charged with this responsibility. Although policy making falls within the domain of the Executive arm of government in most countries, de facto actors may span from global, through national to local levels of social strata.

Other than policy makers in this vertical arrangement, there are actors present in a breadth of relationships, and may include local and international NGOs, bilateral and multilateral donors, Think Tanks, and other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that may be unofficially responsible for policy making within the jurisdiction (Askew, Matthews & Partridge, 2002). These organizations may be engaged in activities that have indirect bearing on official policy making.

For example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) may influence government policy within an LMIC (Lower and Middle Income Country), to either increase or decrease budgetary allocation to health relief by virtue of the organization’s expanded operations within the country.

Evidence Informed Policy Making (EIPM) is therefore the assimilation of research evidence into policy making processes; an activity that requires the possession of primary evidence evaluation skills, information literacy skills, writing and communication skills, and an understanding of the policy process. Concerning this Oxman et al (2009) explained that;

“Evidence-informed policymaking is characterised by the fact that its access and appraisal of evidence as an input into the policymaking process is both systematic and transparent;… and also that policymakers understand the systematic processes used to ensure that relevant research is identified, appraised and used appropriately, as well as the potential uses of such processes”.

From the wide spectrum of policy makers present, it is obvious that there are equally different information needs. For these needs to be adequately satisfied, policy makers and their assistants must possess skills that enable them to satisfy these needs.

The Experience, Reviewing Courses at CSTC
As a prelude to embedding a course in EIPM at the CSTC, there was the need to review all courses offered by the centre. With reference to appropriate documents and agreements, course review tools were developed for an online survey of courses presented at the centre’s website for 2013 and 2014 academic years, and semi-structured interviews of two principal officers of the CSTC.

These two methods were used to provide adequate breadth and depth to data that was collected and to each other in the review exercise. Different sub-themes to the review exercise were explored and these included, background of courses, course contents related to EIPM, course structure, course participants, course sustainability, and training methodology and pedagogy.

A total of sixty one (61) different courses were available for training in 2013 and sixty (60) for the year 2014. Many of such findings were made from statistical evaluations (mean, median, mode, standard deviation, etc) made, and presentations were made in cross-tables and charts. Identified gaps in data gathered from the website informed the design of interview schedules for the second phase of the review exercise.

Appointments were made, and availability was discussed with interviewees. After some adjustments to these schedules, interviews were conducted and lasted for approximately two (2) hours each. These discussions were semi-formal, and allowed for elucidation of misconceptions and gaps that were present after the online course review. The interviews were recorded on electronic audio media, and transcribed with Listen N Write (the free transcription software).

The following key findings were made from the course review exercise undertaken, that;

a.    the CSTC had no specific course on EIPM

b.    at least 50% of the offered courses in 2013 were not delivered due to financial constraints

c.    MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) were responsible for staff training

d.    most of the courses at CSTC ran for 2 to 3 days

e.    the Head of the Civil Service is a key player in deciding the final call of courses delivered and the priority topics for each year (although informed by the CSTC through needs assessment)

f.     there are four non-exclusive categories of courses (scheme of service, competency-based, induction and promotional)

g.    participants for CSTC courses originate from all the MDAs, the Public Services, and other extra-ministerial organizations in which the Head of Civil Service has presence

h.    participants are categorised into classes (according to job specifications) for training purposes

i.      course completion rate at CSTC is almost a hundred percent (100%)

j.     the introduction of a new course can be a challenge, but once introduced, discontinuation is very rear

k.    there are 12 permanent trainers and a pool of about 55 adjunct trainers

l.      peer reviews activities are organized among trainers

m.  CSTC believes in a Skill Based Approach to training, and adapts a participatory approach to training delivery known as Learner-Centred training

The Conclusion, Looking Forward
Evidence Informed Policy Making (EIPM) is a fast developing multi-discipline, with applications in health, medicine, law enforcement, knowledge management, public administration, and the likes. Due to its approach to development (one that is based on what works) any programme to make EIPM a core aspect of public policymaking processes is likely to enhance efficiency and effectiveness, especially in LMICs.

This short piece delved into the concepts of evidence and policy making, and combined these to provide and understanding of EIPM. The various activities and findings of the course review exercise embarked upon by GINKS at CSTC also featured. Such findings, and a subsequent needs assessment will inform the design of course modules for delivering EIPM training at CSTC.

As GINKS proceed to achieve other milestones of VakaYiko, and in concert with the in-country stakeholders, it is hoped that the impact of “better formulated and implemented policies and processes as a result of increased access, evaluation, scrutiny and use of research evidence” is achieved.

[1] An example is a policy made by a multilateral organization such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), or a resolution passed by the United Nations, organizations that are located outside the jurisdiction of a single State. Such policies or resolutions are ‘enforceable’ at national levels by virtue of membership or association.

[2] An example is a Ministry, Department or Agency (MDA) of State such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or a district administrator.


1 comment:

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