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Evidence-based policies: building what is really possible

[Editor’s note: This post was written by José Antonio Ramírez Flores, head of the Office of Planning and Budget of the Peruvian Agency for International Cooperation (APCI, its acronym in Spanish). It is part of a series intended to share results, reflections and what facilitators and participants learned through the development and conduction of the online course “Leaders of change: developing Latin American policymakers‘ capacity to promote the use of knowledge in policy”.]

 

A change that is becoming a reality during the first years of the 21st Century is the mass use information and communication technology in transforming old processes and methods so as to leverage human knowledge. A recent course developed by Politics & Ideas is a clear example of that — it has trained over 20 public professional in the region through Internet-based technologies for the co-creation of knowledge so that they can improve their ability to use and promote the use of knowledge in public policy-making and management.

It has been a simple method applied to a complex, challenging issue in terms of implementation for public entities in the region. Through the reading of texts, documents and case studies, self-learning sessions with group considerations shared by email and the use of webinars to talk in real time, this learning experience has allowed officials to improve their concepts and ideas regarding the use of knowledge in policymaking. The practical part has been proving or knowing methods and tools for adding knowledge to the decision-making process and especially they have been able to identify opportunities to use relevant information and knowledge within their organizations as evidence to strengthen or develop their public policies.

Building knowledge… what is possible

As a practical example shared during the course, we may mention the proposal to build knowledge for one of the key roles that the APCI, as the Peruvian governing body for non-reimbursable international aid, is fostering nowadays: the efficiency of international aid to contribute to the country’s sustainable and inclusive development.

To do so, the facilitators identified some key questions, applicable as lessons learned during the virtual course: What factors usually intervene in public policy decisions in the organization? What processes and tools does the organization have in place to organize cooperation-related information? Is it possible to involve players such as the beneficiaries of cooperation projects in the process of incorporating knowledge to decision-making? What characteristics must messages or communication to decision makers have in order to have an impact?

What factors usually intervene in public policy decisions in the organization?

Public policy decisions often are not based on scientific evidence but on a reactive or immediate response exercise in view of a certain circumstance or issue, and the APCI has been no exception. There is a wide range of factors intervening in the decision-making process. According to Davies (2004) some of those factors belong to the decision-maker him/herself (values, ideology, experience), others relate to how internal policies are created (habits, traditions, ways of solving public problems) and others are related to context, like the existence of pressure groups.

What processes and tools does the organization have in place to organize cooperation-related information?

In APCI we are on our way to better exploiting the primary data the organziation has in its project records or interventions and technical data is undergoing a process of timely, systematic generation in order to convert cooperation data into information that can be understood as political facts by decision makers, as pointed out by the experienced former Minister of Public Education of Costa Rica, Leonardo Garnier (2014).

The non-existent cost/benefit assessment of measures to be implemented and the absence of political dialog with other governmental stakeholders, are being replaced by more suitable actions that allow for the design or change of policies related to improving cooperation results in the country, such as unofficial meetings and dialogs with other stakeholders; comparative analyses of other countries’ policies or possible scenario analysis by impact.Post_José Ramírez

What is interesting about APCI is that we have tools and processes with the potential to organize and generate information and evidence for its policies (see the attached image). IT applications, online project forms and supervision field action sheets allow, through proper work planning, for existing data in their databases or records to be transformed into information for decision-making and management.

An action that is progressing in the APCI is the change in its work culture, involving from the recording process of interventions carried out by cooperation entities in the country to new processes such as the improvement intervention assessment processes through supervision of the ongoing work, knowing if projects are favoring the development of individuals as well as the country, and using assessment results to create a virtuous cycle of evidence/lessons learned, i.e., having a culture of a learning logic based on project results.

This means assuming that there is very valuable internal knowledge and that it can be made available in order to improve public policies on cooperation.

Is it possible to involve players such as the beneficiaries of cooperation projects in the process of incorporating knowledge to decision-making?

An important challenge is to gather other cooperation stakeholders to relate them to the process of building and adding knowledge to the decision-making process. These stakeholders have been identified, thanks to the data recorded at the APCI, but the hard task ahead is devising different strategies for their involvement, leaving behind the approach of “instrumenting or using” them for entity purposes and making the protagonists that contribute arguments. The APCI is developing tools that allow them to use surveys to know the opinions and ideas beneficiaries have on projects, but the next step is generating an open dialog of mutual trust, and adding these tools to the process so that their information can be used in decision making. This is a key challenge.

What characteristics must messages or communication to decision makers have in order to have an impact?

As regards messages, our experience at the APCI is that all messages must be attractive and convincing in order to be taken into account by decision makers (President; Minister; Legislators) and even by other relevant stakeholders (opinion leaders; contributors). It is important to discriminate the message by recipient and to take into account his/her the level of involvement in the message subject-matter.

It is as important to communicate using key phrases with current political content to governmental authorities, as it is to transmit simple statistics combining information and interpretations of cooperation facts, to those assessing public policies executed by the APCI as well as the public in general. Communicating data and information, as evidence, as political facts, is part of the richness and value of public messages.

The APCI has developed key messages, besides having a permanent communication channel with members of the Legislative Branch. Being able to transmit the message of APCI changes in a wider manner and especially, strengthening its role as the entity governing the aid received by the country, requires us to have an image and communication that not only has a relationship with the media, but that also cooperates in providing information to non-governmental political stakeholders in order to create a powerful image of a public entity that acts, is reliable, honest and, above all, useful for those resorting to it.

Final reflection

Building knowledge within the APCI is possible, and it is a challenge to introduce it to the way of thinking of its directors and professionals. For years, our culture has been to record data but not generate information, knowledge or evidence that allows us to promote its use. There is data as well as knowledge in those working for the entity, who are an unexploited resource.

The challenge of promoting the use of knowledge is in motion, but it is a long way to making a better use of knowledge in order to have better international cooperation policies in Peru. Informed decisions are a set goal.

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