The quest for innovations that can solve the complex social issues of African citizens has been ongoing, but with the need for countries to achieve the commitments made towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), action is attaining a level of urgency.
It is with this urgency in mind that a collaborative master’s programme with emphasis on research and public policy governance was hatched to focus on improving the skills and abilities of public policy formulators.
The programme is designed to train and present a suite of policy solutions to our development challenges that have been subjected to rigorous research, analysis and part of the response in dealing with that problem, said Prof Tade Akin Aina the Executive Director of Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR).
The PASGR, according to him emerged to build capacity and reclaim excellence in social science training and public policy on the continent. The programme that was established in 12 partner universities and eight countries on the continent, in 2011, has its headquarters in Nairobi and already has an enrolment of over 150 students.
Launched to encourage and motivate civil servants to engage in research and disseminate knowledge about successful practices in good governance, the programme is supposed to enhance the skills of policy actors and groom a new crop of public policy formulators and social scientists.
The development draws from the belief that there is the need for policy decisions to be better informed by research evidence than has hitherto been the case.
Discussions about the extent of research utilisation within the policy-making process at the launch ceremony held in Nairobi last week, were concerned predominantly with the apparent lack of attention to research and how policy makers’ enrolment in the programme may address this problem.
The research policy nexus is a little baffling. Researchers and policy makers don’t really seem to be needing each other when indeed they should be. Can’t you use the research that we produce? posed Prof Judith Bahemuka a member of the PASGR board.
According to Prof Bahemuka, PASGR is acutely aware of this missing link and the fatigue that sets in with local policy makers.
They seem to have forgotten their days in university and as researchers when they did informed research which they expected others should look at as policy. So get off that seat of sitting aloof and begin doing what others expect you to do, said Prof Bahemuka. She also pointed out that weak capacity in research and its uptake for policy solutions has been a hindrance to the improvement of lives.
She observed that this master’s programme, which is intended for policy makers, scholars and practitioners with a keen interest in concrete solutions to governance challenges, is the much needed solution. The programme will also bring together research think tanks, civil society, business and policy communities.
Use the research which we are doing so that we develop Africa, was her message to public administrators.
But it was also noted that as is, Kenya like many other countries on the continent has an insufficient human capital base for research because there is no real collaboration between public research organisation (universities and research institutes) and the public policy making machineries.
PASGR was established to identify and plug those key gaps in research knowledge in the public sector on the continent and to create a hub of vibrant social science community that will address existing public policy issues.
According to Prof Bahemuka, the way out requires deliberate interventions and investment in research, some rethinking of policy processes, and the development of mechanisms for bringing research and policy closer to one another, while bringing in the element of implementation.
The programme is designed to support African Governments’ efforts to improve national research and governance capacity and increase its impact on the social wellbeing of citizens.
The programme has also been undertaking pedagogical skills and staff development building capacity of the lecturers to improve the teaching methods.
She feels improvement of performance in the public sector requires enhanced research capabilities of public policy practitioners.
The framework of cooperation established by the programme has the potential to provide the opportunity for peer-to-peer learning among Member States and trigger a bigger process of transformation of the States and produce general positive benefits for citizens through improved service delivery, she says of the programme..
Joseph Bbirikadde a student under the programme at the Uganda Martyrs University in Uganda called upon African governments to embrace research being produced by the scholars.
Emphasis was made on the need to develop in-house research capacity as opposed to overreliance on external research from World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other foreign institutions which the CS for National Treasury claimed were the key providers of research outcomes.
The CS had admitted that research and policy worlds have different priorities, use different languages, operate to different timescales, thus making it had for policy makers to wait upon research for solutions to urgent problems. says Prof Bahemuka.
According to Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury, Henry Rotich, the project will be of great help to public servants. I hope the programme will culminate into a Public service programme so that our civil servants can benefit from it so we can come with as many policy makers as possible, he said.
It is hoped the programme by bringing the two sides under the same institutional setting will deliver the much-needed response to these problems by amalgamating the two or at least improving communication between researchers and policy makers, and establishing better mechanisms to bridge the research-policy divide.
Dr Nandera Mhando, one of the programme’s faculty at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, stated that there was a need for a journal where African research papers that are contextual to the realities of the continent, could be published. This is an opportunity that has eluded many African publishers in international journals.