The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana has been working with Politics & Ideas and INASP to apply the Context Matters Framework and Mr. Ebenezer Sampong, Deputy Executive Director for Technical Services at the EPA, told Leandro Echt about the agency’s plans as a result of the findings
Why is evidence importance and what are your main challenges?
I have been working at the EPA for over 20 years and one of the things I desire is to ensure that our evidence architecture is well-developed and is used to influence policy formulation and implementation. Evidence is important because we have a mandate to ensure that environmental protection is managed in a sustainable manner. Periodically, we do an assessment of the state of the environment and this assessment is primarily done with evidence, from research, from data that is collected, from our involvement with other people, and also from our practice.
The main challenges that the EPA faces to use evidence in its work are about the collection and the reliability of evidence, and then the lack of coordination between the institutions involved in evidence gathering and use. We don’t have an integrated system to collect evidence or to check the reliability of it. The evidence infrastructure is not well developed so you have different parts of the environment or institutions collecting real evidence but keeping it and not sharing in a way that we could have a picture to help us make more accurate and effective decisions.
In addition, the policy environment sometimes does not give you opportunity and the time to influence with hard-core evidence. The macro and then the micro environment do not lend themselves for the use of hard-core evidence to influence policy or for the implementation of policy.
Why did you start working with Politics & Ideas and INASP?
EPA was interested in working with INASP and Politics & Ideas because we needed to know the state of evidence use in the agency. We knew that the whole idea of gathering evidence was critical to the work that we do but we didn’t know the state of it. We needed a diagnosis of that system, so that, based on the diagnosis, we could introduce change. We felt that this project was something that would be very helpful to our agency. I think that so far, we have been proven right; we managed to do the diagnosis and it’s begun to help us to have a conversation around the use of evidence in the agency, allowing us to develop an architecture that will help us use evidence and implement it locally in our work.
What are you doing as a result of the diagnosis?
Now we know the state of evidence use in the EPA through this project, we have developed a change plan to improve the development of the network to enable us to collect, share and use evidence in our work. Such networks are essential to our work. We used to have them and, through this project, they’ve been identified as a key component in the agency. We are now going to revive the network and are going ahead to appoint a Directorate responsible for the network. By next year, someone will also be appointed to manage and develop the network and one of their key functions will be to look at evidence and environmental management.
We are also looking at our data management system, how we manage data and share it within the organization. It is one of the weak links within the organization, but this project increased our determination to develop an architecture that would help us manage data in a more comprehensive manner.
The project has also helped us with awareness that you need evidence for policy formulation as well as implementation and that increased awareness has also helped us to be able to implement the change plan. The change plan is going to be mainstreamed into our strategic plan so that, over a five-year period, we will be able to improve upon the use of evidence in our work.
What was most valuable about this project?
The participatory nature of the project was, for me, the most valuable. Right from the beginning of the process to the end, all the key people at the agency were part of it, and that helped us to actually own the process. And, because of that, the possibility or the potential for success, is greater. The other valuable thing for me was the way in which evidence was defined, the various components of everything. It opened our eyes to the different types of evidence. Usually when we talked about evidence, our mind was on research, and maybe data; this process included some other key areas that we usually do not consider as part of evidence but that can influence the work that we do.
The main lesson for me from this process was the fact that we do have evidence, in the agency, that we can use to influence policy formulation and policy implementation. However, the state of the evidence needs to be improved, to ensure that it is reliable and can be used in a way that will improve our work.
How can you promote the use of evidence in policy?
As a lead policymaker, I can firstly help promote the evidence agenda in policy making by doing advocacy, talking about the outcomes of this process in our meetings and in our engagement with others. Secondly, I can make sure that it’s mainstreamed into the work that we do, into our strategic plan. And we can ask questions when there are presentations, to demand the basis or the type of evidence that presenters would use to arrive at some of their conclusions. For instance, if you come to us and say, “We’re efficient, we’re able to process applications within a certain time-frame”, the next question I need to ask is, “Where is the evidence? What do you have to show? Is it data? Is it research done? Is it based on your practice-informed ideas or any other source of evidence?”
We can also carry out research work, bridging the gap between research and the work that we do. Currently we are developing a Memorandum of Understanding with research institutions so that we can work together to use the data and the information that we gather in our work, for research, so that we can produce evidence for policy making.
Mr. Ebenezer Sampong is a development planner by profession. He is currently the Deputy Executive Director for Technical Services at the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana. He led the EPA side in the diagnostic project with Politics & Ideas and INASP.
For more information abour our work with EPA in Ghana read the Context Matters Framework case study: Supporting organizational change to improve the use of evidence in environmental protection in Ghana.