Citizen-generated evidence: the role of feedback in policy making

We at Development Initiatives (DI) and Development Research and Training (DRT) attended the first Africa Evidence Network Colloquium hosted by the University of Johannesburg (25–28th November 2014) to present emerging findings from our project in northern Uganda on resource tracking and feedback loops.

Established in December 2012, the African Evidence Network is a community of researchers, academics, policy makers and practitioners who have interest in evidence, its production and use in decision making. More than 120 participants were assembled in Johannesburg to ask: can evidence change lives?

What is ‘evidence’? Feedback as evidence

When you hear the word ‘evidence’, what do you think of? Evidence is information that serves to inform a particular position. DRT and DI wanted to bring a grounded perspective to the Africa Evidence Network: feedback from citizens is also evidence. We were awarded one of two prizes for ‘best poster presentation’ for this work.

Resource tracking_DI and DRT

Citizens are often in the front-line to know and understand the impact of policies on their lives. A mother will know whether a school feeding programme is having an effect on her child, and lorry drivers are aware of road infrastructure issues. This idea that citizens can be the ones generating evidence led to DRT and DI partnering in 2011 to work on resource tracking in northern Uganda.

Three years’ work in northern Uganda: how feedback can have impact

Resource trackers are selected by their community and trained by DRT. They are volunteers who gather feedback from their fellow citizens on the resources reaching their community and the responsiveness of these resources to their needs. Trackers take this information back to local government officials and other decision makers. This feedback provides evidence to the government on which resources are reaching communities and if these resources are meeting needs.

For example, resource trackers in the Gulu district identified a broken bridge as a key issue constraining their community’s movements and safety. Trackers fed back to local government on the state of the bridge, followed-up for several months to ensure allocation of resources for reconstruction of the bridge, and monitored procurement and construction processes. When the trackers observed the contractor using sub-standard materials for constructing the bridge, they notified the local government. By developing a closed feedback loop with local government, trackers were able to ensure that resources were meeting the needs of their community: the bridge is now functional.

As detailed in our Using resource tracking and feedback to enhance accountability and resource effectiveness report, published in November 2014, through feedback loops between decision makers and citizens, evidence can be shared in a way that empowers citizen to voice their needs and track how they are being met. Feedback loops also enable governments to use citizen feedback as evidence for decision making. In the long term, this can strengthen the citizen–government accountability relationship.

Enhancing accountability: evidence and relationships both matter

In order to extend the use of feedback as evidence, and encourage evidence-based policymaking, there is a need to promote:

  • Increased opportunities for citizens to feed back to decision makers through a range of channels
  • Increased awareness and use of feedback as evidence among government and development partners

For evidence to be integrated into decision making, however, relationships are also key. Building connections and trust with policymakers is essential to ensure that evidence-informed policymaking becomes a reality across Africa. This is why DRT and DI work closely with local governments in northern Uganda. This is also why we engage at national and international levels. The Africa Evidence Network is therefore an important initiative to nourish relationships between policymakers, the research community and practitioners. DRT and DI look forward to working closely with network members.