Evidence and Policy Making in Zimbabwe: Film from ZeipNET

By Ronald Munatsi

Effective policy making requires strong links between researchers and policymakers. Although Evidence Informed Policy Making (EIPM) is fairly new in Zimbabwe, policy makers and other stakeholders are increasingly talking about how to build an enabling environment to support these links.

ZeipNET has produced a new documentary exploring the nature of policy making in Zimbabwe, featuring interviews with policy makers, political analysts, researchers, civic society practitioners and other opinion leaders who have participated in the BCURE project over the last three years..

Here are some highlights and quotes from the film. Watch it in full here.

Most stakeholders see evidence as a key part of policy making…

Policies are formulated because of a need, that is, certain realities or conditions that have to be either promoted or discouraged.

Government should be well informed of what is affecting the lives of citizens so as to meaningfully address challenges and take advantage of windows of opportunity. This can only be achieved through assessments, evaluations or other credible research processes.

One researcher pointed out there’s a need for objectivity when identifying and addressing societal problems:

“We don’t arrive at a question or problem with a solution in mind because we taint the results. Let the facts be the facts, then act accordingly.”

A civic society practitioner and policy analyst noted that, “Every policy formulation and implementation [process] must lead to an improvement of the quality of life for the people… This must be the key determinant”

…but power politics challenge the use of evidence in the Zimbabwean policy making process.

Policy making in Zimbabwe is predominantly characterized by power politics. The process is very reactionary and there is no separation of powers.

The same policy analyst observed “It is an attempt to either protect power or to gain power. That is the main motivation of the policy making process in Zimbabwe.”

A political analyst went on to add, “Parliament is a lame duck.”

This approach to policy making challenges the use of evidence as often it ends up being a pronouncement by the President, a minister or an announcement in Parliament. Sometimes it’s just cobbling of ideas from political party manifestos by a group of ministers prominent at the time and this transforms into a national blue-print from which policies are supposed to be developed.

A former minister had this to say, “Policy making in Zimbabwe is mostly from the gut-feel, from a hunch or common sense basis rather than from evidence”

Many policies have very little or no bearing on reality therefore very difficult to implement. This is worsened by lack of associated investment in resources and technology.

At the same time, Ministers go and see the President separately regarding policy issues to gain favours. This leads to policy inconsistencies and discord including acrimony among ministers as they fight for turf. Eventually, all this adversely affects the policy framework.

Moving towards inclusivity and transparency

Generally the Zimbabwean government is not inclusive and transparent in formulating policies.

The following comment was made by a Member of Parliament,“ A lot of the time they [the Executive] are very arrogant. They do not necessarily espouse the values of servant leadership. A lot of them just dictate positions and expect everyone to follow’

However, there are some public or stakeholder consultations that are done, for example during the national budget process, but outcomes are rarely reflected in policy positions. A case in point is the national budget where over half of the budget is on salaries for all civil servants, and the security ministries and Office of the President get around 25% of the budget thereby leaving almost nothing for development issues.

There are exceptions in sectors that are not very politically sensitive. For instance, in coming up with the current gender policy there was direct input from various women’s organisations. Civil society organisations like the Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) have Memoranda of Understanding with the Ministry of Women Affairs & Gender Development and the Parliament. This has resulted in a very good gender policy and legislative framework. A Gender Commission was also established to provide an oversight role. However, there’s still a gap between policy formulation and policy implementation, and more needs to be done as well to widely decentralize the consultation process.

Calls for more capacity development

Besides the political powerplay, there is also a lack of technical capacity on the part of Zimbabwe’s bureaucracy.

This was confirmed by a former Cabinet Minister who said, “As long as we do not have the right people in the bureaucracies with the right skills, we lose out. Some of these things go down the cracks and we never get the results we want from these policies”

Over the past three years ZeipNET, together with its’ VakaYiko partners has been building the capacity of policy makers in Zimbabwe to engage with, articulate and use evidence in policy processes. Under the BCURE project supported by DFID, ZeipNET has run training programmes in Evidence Informed Policy Making for staff from the Ministry of Youth, Ministry of Industry & Commerce, and Parliament. It has also launched a series of stakeholder engagement initiatives that include policy dialogues and knowledge cafes.

Watch the Documentary Here

Ronald Munatsi is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET). ZeipNET is a membership organization. If you are interested in joining or to get updates on upcoming events, please email to: info@zeipnet.org. You can also follow on twitter #ZeipNET or facebook page http://www.facebook.com/zeipnet.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and not necessarily the views of the organisation.

The author can be contacted at: ronald@zeipnet.org Skype: ronald.munatsi , Twitter: ronald_263

 

 

Policy Dialogues: Lessons from the BCURE programme in Zimbabwe

By Ronald Munatsi

Policy dialogues can really contribute to evidence-informed policies. They provide a platform for policy-makers to consider different evidence, values,beliefs and experiences around a policy issue. And this is particularly important for sustainable development outcomes. However, the events need to be well organised and properly thought through as deliberate focused processes.

Over the last three years, the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) has held a number of policy dialogues on policy issues ranging from youth empowerment and social engagement to improving industrial and trade policy coordination. Here are some of our reflections and insights into how to plan an effective policy dialogue.

You need a clear scope and specific objectives

If there is no coherent and intelligible scope including specificity in setting up objectives of the policy dialogue, there will be mixed expectations from participants. This may be further compounded by the fact that different people may use the term ‘policy dialogue to describe different things, resulting in varying expectations of the scope and purpose of the event. In ZeipNET’s early policy dialogue, the objectives were flexible and broadly defined, and this led to different participants having different expectations and ideas about what we were there to do.  In such a case the facilitator is faced with a delicate task of trying to balance different stakeholders’ expectations. Ultimately this led to a less productive dialogue. Having a short, closely organised event with a focused statement of the problem and a clear purpose can help in this regard.

Create meaningful partnerships

There is immense value in partnering with other organizations with the same or similar remit when organizing policy dialogues. This enables expanded coverage of interventions including better alignment with policy priorities. In ZeipNET’s case, our most successful dialogues were those in which we partnered with other organisations supporting the same or similar cause. For example, our forum on strengthening the Zimbabwe institutional landscape to support the use of evidence where we partnered the Africa Evidence Network. This dialogue brought more media and coverage and also attracted very relevant stakeholders.

The smaller in size and less on formal protocol the better

 There are different approaches to ensure effective dialoguing depending on the nature of the dialogue and what it intends to achieve. However strait-jacketed formal policy dialogues tend to stifle free, independent and innovative contributions. It gets worse when the number of both participants and speakers is bloated. A lot of time is wasted when participants and the facilitators or speakers alike observe multiple pleasantries and protocols. But if a dialogue has a relatively small number of invited focused stakeholders and little emphasis on official protocol there is likely to be more fluid policy deliberations. However, it should also be acknowledged that with some dialogues and the respective audiences you cannot get away without a certain level of protocol so you need to be aware of this and factor it in timings. In some cases, you may want to think about other formats, like knowledge cafes, which allow for much more informal and fluid discussions. It is partly because of this reason that the more informal knowledge cafes implemented by ZeipNET were more successful and more popular with different stakeholders as opposed to policy dialogues. An example is the one on use of evidence in gender mainstreaming.

 Be strategic about who to invite

Although conveners play a vital role in setting the policy dialogue agenda, the policy dialogue is participant-driven. The actual policy decisions and action points come from the participants, not the organisers. It is therefore imperative to strategically and systematically map stakeholders who should participate in the dialogues. Mapping stakeholders’ interests, relationship to the cause, and knowledge of issues to be discussed are all critical factors to consider. Another very important ingredient is the power of the participants not only to influence but also possess authority to actually make implementation decisions.

Good Facilitation is key

Policy dialogues, unlike other forums, are unique in that they are what one author termed ‘a form of conflict resolution.’ They are typically ‘deliberative meetings that address both politically controversial and technically complex aspects of an issue in a dispute.’ A s such the facilitator or moderator becomes key in the process. They send extremely important signals that regulate the dialogue. In most instances the participants have vested interests in the issues discussed and may be very passionate. The facilitator is supposed to be knowledgeable and also be in a position to provide a balanced environment for dialoguing. They need to manage both time and the power dynamics in the room, so as to have a balanced discourse.

Always provide feedback and follow-up

Lastly, it is so imperative for conveners or facilitators to follow up and even make solicitations for ongoing work associated with policy dialogue outcomes. Otherwise, the recommendations or other actions may just fizzle out. Even just a simple email to thank participants for taking part may yield tremendous results in terms of motivation and giving the stakeholders some impetus to act.

The Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) and the VakaYiko Consortium are supporting a series of policy dialogues with government partners in Zimbabwe under the Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) project. Policy dialogues seek to strengthen sustainability and knowledge sharing across the research-into-policy system by expanding professional networks for policy makers to engage with critical players like researchers and civic society organisations. This way they obtain the much-needed evidence to inform their policy decisions.

Ronald Munatsi is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and not necessarily the views of the organisation.