2021 Africa Evidence Summit: Beyond Borders

CEGA Senior Program Associate Chelsea Downs and the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA) Program Manager Jennifer Nyakinya, recap the 2021 Africa Evidence Summit. This online event showcased policy-relevant insights on poverty alleviation in East and West Africa from leading African and US-based researchers; and connected policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to discuss inclusion in global development research. We are grateful for support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to host this event.

Over the past decade, CEGA’s East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative has linked early-career East African scholars, US-based scholars, and local policymakers to bolster evidence informed policy making in East Africa — and every year since 2012, CEGA, the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA), and our partners look forward to the EASST Summit. This dynamic event is an opportunity to learn about the latest (often joint) evidence in the region led by US and East Africa-based researchers, participate in exciting panel discussions, engage with regional decision-makers to apply the research to real-world policy, and importantly, connect with each other on professional and personal levels. Last year, CEGA and NIERA were set to hold the 9th Annual EASST Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — but plans were foiled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We initially struggled to imagine hosting a virtual version of the EASST Summit — an incredible amount of partnership development, research “matchmaking,” and ideation takes place at in-person events such as this. However, we came to recognize that this moment presented a unique opportunity: an online event could be more inclusive — expanding to involve our research network in West Africa (organized as part of the Development Impact West Africa [DIWA] initiative), as well as engaging participants from all over the world, unencumbered by the constraints of travel.On April 7–8, 2021 CEGA and NIERA’s vision for this virtual event was realized as the 2021 Africa Evidence Summit. The convening showcased research presentations with policy discussants, a keynote address, lightning talks, and a panel discussion on the state of inclusion in global development research. It further featured a networking event, where attendees were matched in break-out groups based on their research interests. With over 225 participants from 41 countries, the event felt close to the big, buzzing conference room in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.Below we share the main findings presented at the event, as well as emergent themes. Videos may also be accessed here.

Keynote Address

The Chancellor of Makerere University and Head of Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PDMU), Professor Ezra Suruma, reflected on his experience using evidence for policy-making, illustrating examples from the PDMU’s work in the Health and Education sector. Suruma emphasized the need for increased collaborations between academia and government to align research with policymaker needs, as well as the necessity of researchers who can “cross over from the ivory tower to the real world” and effectively communicate evidence for policy uptake.

Research Presentations with Policy Discussants

CEGA Faculty Director Ted Miguel’s (University of California, Berkeley) presentation examined the decrease in economic activity in rural areas in Kenya during the initial COVID-19 spike. He and co-authors find that average earnings and consumption fell by a quarter among a representative sample of households in Siaya County and steep drops in revenue and profit for a representative sample of firms. Paul Otung, Economic Advisor at the Foriegn Commonwealth and Development office in Kenya, shared how the findings point to the importance of targeting social safety nets.

Jayne Tusiime (Soroti University) shared an evaluation of the effectiveness of nurses versus doctors in initiating and monitoring antiretroviral therapy (ART) in HIV-infected adults. Results show that nurses perform on par to doctors in this setting, and task shifting to trained nurses may be a viable option to supplement the low proportion of doctors in the country. Patrick Okello, Commissioner at the Ministry of Health, Uganda, suggested a hybrid approach to ART that highlights collaboration between nurses and doctors.

Anthony Mveyange (TradeMark East Africa) presented the results of a flagship report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on East African trade, highlighting the need to strengthen regional value chains, redouble policies to diversify economies so they perform better in crises, and support development and implementation of technological advances. Sarah Kimani, Technical Adviser on Trade, Cabinet Secretary for Industrialization, Trade, and Enterprise Development Kenya, concurred that a focus on a shorter-supply chain is essential, and pointed to how Kenya was able to repurpose and refocus on local production during the pandemic.Josh Blumenstock (University of California, Berkeley) discussed his work using machine learning to improve the targeting of Novissi, a digital platform for emergency mobile aid transfers to Togolese citizens. The innovative approach is promising for other contexts and future responses to humanitarian crises.

Josh Blumenstock(University of California, Berkeley) discussed his work using machine learning to improve the targeting of Novissi, a digital platform for emergency mobile aid transfers to Togolese citizens. The innovative approach is promising for other contexts and future responses to humanitarian crises.

Lightning Talks on Health

Benjamin Chibuye (University of Kiel) discussed an experiment in Zambia that finds performance-based financial incentives can distort provider decision making in this setting and that altruism and other counteracting measures often do not mitigate these effects.

Alessandra Cassar(University of San Francisco) shared results from her study [publication forthcoming] in Uganda, finding that a perceived lack of support from babies’ fathers can be linked to higher depression risk in mothers, suggesting that interventions such as couples therapy may be a viable way to treat perinatal depression.

Aaron Abuosi (University of Ghana) shared a research design (conducted together with CEGA Postdoctoral Researcher Aleksandra Jakubowski) for a cross-randomized intervention to test multiple ways to improve antenatal care in Northern Ghana, including community education at village meetings, phone calls, and home visits.

Lightning Talks on Gender and Education

Christina Fille(Institute of Social Work Tanzania) shared a research design (conducted together with CEGA Affiliate Chad Hazlett) that measures the effects of earning a secondary school certificate in Tanzania on outcomes measured ten years later, including employment, delay of parenthood, physical health, and status within society.

Natalie Bau (University of California, Los Angeles) presented findings from a study that examines how large-scale school construction programs, aimed at increasing female education, vary with bride price in Indonesia and Zambia. She finds that for groups that practice bride price, the value of bride price payments that the parents receive tend to increase with their daughter’s education.

James Khakshi(BRAC International) shared initial findings from a randomized evaluation of BRAC’s Education, Empowerment and Life-skills for Adolescent Girls and Young Children (EELAY) program (conducted together with CEGA affiliated faculty Ketki Sheth), that show EELAY can be successful in increasing dropout girls’ participation in the secondary school exit exam.

Panel on African Led Impact Evaluation

CEGA’s Executive Director Carson Christiano moderated a panel featuring African leaders in Impact Evaluation — Annet Adong from NIERA, Jane Mariara from Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), Charles Amoatey from Development Impact West Africa (DIWA), Constantine Manda Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) and Ronald Mulebeke from Impact Evaluation Evidence to guide Decision Making (IEED) at Makerere University, who highlighted their respective programs and thoughts on the future of research capacity on the continent.

The panel reflected on the state of inclusion in global development research, agreeing that there is limited collaboration between African researchers and researchers from the global north. Constantine Manda (ESRF/NIERA) encouraged economists at northern institutions to learn from other disciplines, such as public health, that better integrate local researchers throughout the research pipeline. He also called on local African institutions to push young scholars to become the next generation of leading researchers. Others added that disparities in the recognition of African-led studies in top journals disproportionately affects the publication rate of local researchers. Moving forward, panelists suggested pushing for local government support of research funding; supporting African journals as a dissemination pipeline; and advocating for greater representation of African editors in top journals.

The discussion concluded with panelists reviewing gains and necessary actions to transform the evaluation ecosystem on the continent.

This blog post was originally published by the Center for Effective Global Action


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