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Connecting evidence to policy and practice in Benin: lessons and perspectives

25 September 2021

Over the past few years, ACED has been very active in making Benin’s ecosystem of evidence use work better. We have implemented several activities and improved our understanding of how evidence-informed policymaking (EIP) can be fostered in the food and nutrition security sector in Benin. The process has been a continuous learning opportunity, and we were able to document the following lessons.

  • Access to policy-relevant evidence is still a big challenge. There is still much work to ensure that timely and policy-relevant evidence is produced and accessible to users. We have made an effort to create a platform that would consolidate and display the available statistical data, research findings, and evaluation findings. However, improving the situation would require more strategic actions to support the production and sharing of evidence that is demanded and will be used. Therefore, we will implement a series of strategic (e.g., research agenda) and operational (e.g., research-policy dialogues) activities in the future.
  • Involve the central government in EIP processes. Initially, our work was focused on local governments to foster policy decisions that would directly impact local communities. However, over the years, we learned that our work on EIP should explicitly involve both the local and central governments because the policymaking cycle involves the two levels. Although municipalities are independent, they are influenced by strategic directions and policy processes of the central government.
  • Navigating unclear authorities is challenging. Our experience working with the different stakeholders has shown that it is often challenging to identify the main stakeholder to work with to positively influence the evidence-informed policymaking processes. Three types of authorities were identified: The apparent decision-makers – they act as if they have the decision power, but it is not the case; the constrained decision-makers – they hold power but cannot use it, and the unwilling decision-makers – they have the power of decisions but do not want to use it. Moreover, beyond policymakers, other actors (e.g., civil society, development partners) are involved in the policymaking processes and influence the outcomes. It is essential to work closely with stakeholders to understand the power games in place and develop strategic partnerships.
  • Implementers are also important in the evidence ecosystem. When we were conducting our study on the landscape of evidence use in Benin, we interacted with many stakeholders. As a result, we realized the critical role that implementers (practitioners) such as NGOs play in the ecosystem, either as brokers, evidence producers, or evidence users. We will, therefore, add practitioners as another target group to work with, along with the policymakers.
  • Institutionalization of EIP will not be an easy task. The past two years have shown that institutionalizing evidence is a long-term objective. We learned that while we are working on getting formal signals towards institutionalization, we should also support decision-makers in routine use of evidence to show the added value of the approach and make it more intuitive in the process of decision making. Our hypothesis is that continued efforts to support evidence use will create opportunities for establishing institutional rules that would govern and provide orientation to the process, even beyond the current decision-makers.
  • Focus on how policies are made to improve evidence use. We need to understand what our stakeholders, especially policymakers, are trying to achieve and how the wider context impacts it, then identify opportunities for evidence use. This lesson has enabled us to improve how we engage stakeholders on EIP.

Improving evidence use is a continuous learning experience, and it is important to acknowledge that and be flexible and innovative to adapt.