Friday, 30 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

China’s Health care Reform: Towards “Health Care for All”

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 07:46 AM PDT

BY Dezhi YU, Xuefei GU, Yunping WANG (China National Health Development Research Center)

[Editor's note: This piece originally appeared as an Editorial for the IHP newsletter, and has been reproduced here with their permission.]

China launched a new round of healthcare reform in 2009 with the overall goal to establish a basic healthcare system for all, and provide the people with safe, efficient, convenient and affordable health care services.

In the past three years, substantial efforts have been made and 850 billion RMB has been committed to invest in the following five priority areas: (1) accelerate the establishment of basic health protection; (2) set up a national essential drugs system; (3) improve the grass-roots health services delivery system; (4) gradually equalize public health services; and (5) pilot test public hospital reforms.

Evidence has shown that significant achievements have already been made in the reform of the urban and rural grass-roots health services delivery system, in terms of both facility construction and capacity building. Meanwhile, people’s financial access to essential health services has improved and the economic burden of disease has been reduced with the rapid development of a basic health protection system, composed of the New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme (NRCMS), the Basic Medical Insurance scheme for Urban Employees (BMIUE), the Basic Medical Scheme for Urban Residents (BMSUR) and the Medical Assistance Scheme (MA) for urban and rural poor households. MA has helped to improve the equity in health services utilization and enhance the reimbursement level for poor households through subsidizing NRCMS premiums, paying costs below the deductible, cross-reimbursing, and providing immediate financial assistance for catastrophic costs.

By the end of 2011, more than 95% of the Chinese citizens were covered by this system. For the NRCMS enrollees, average financing has increased to 250 RMB per capita, while the out-of-pocket rate has dropped to 49.5%. The percentage of rural households residing within 15 minutes of a health facility increased from 75.6% (in 2008) to 80.8% (in 2011). Out- and in- patient health expenditure now increase by less than 7% in public hospitals annually (i.e. less than economic growth). The infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have declined from 14.9‰ to 12.1‰, and 34.2/100,000 to 26.1/100,000 respectively.

Yet, great challenges remain on the road towards “health services for all”. Typical challenges include: (1) compared with the increasing expectations of beneficiaries, the benefit package of the basic medical security system remains rather narrow and the reimbursement level is considered low; also, the insurance is not portable between provinces. The pooling fund should thus get the best out of every penny spent to ensure access to quality health services and prevent the risk of overspending with proper cost-containing measures and a payment system reform, as well as an appropriate policy on cross-government transfer payments. (2) Deepening the comprehensive reform of the grass-roots health facilities in terms of management mechanism, financing mechanism, drug supply system, personnel management and remuneration mechanism, and information system. A GP system also has to be established. (3) Accelerating the public hospital reform by innovating the management and service delivery pattern, establishing a corporate governance structure, changing the financing mechanism and incentives, encouraging the private sector to invest in the public hospital reform, etc.

In the next five years, the Chinese government is expected to make further progress towards a basic healthcare system for all, by improving the allocation of health resources and ensuring equity, to ultimately enhance the health status of the entire population.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger


Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:17 AM PDT

Planet Under Pressure, which ends today, is a big conference – not only in terms of the crowds of people here, but in the grand scale of the problems we're here to tackle. Global changes in populations, weather patterns and food systems create complex, interrelated problems. A bewildering array of answers to these problems is on show here, ranging from scientific analyses to governance and policy responses. One of the interesting things to note is how they relate to a variety of forms of knowledge and ways of understanding the world.

On day 1, a discussion about the Least Developed Countries threw up a number of problems about knowledge. The first is strikingly ironic: David Smith's research on knowledge for disaster relief in island states revealed that records on extreme weather patterns are kept on paper in vulnerable store rooms, which can be damaged by storms or fire. Even collecting the data itself is difficult, as extreme events can destroy or damage the measuring equipment.

In the same session, Genene Mulugeta highlighted the lack of preparedness for disasters in Africa, suggesting that more participation is needed in assessing risk, and that research needs to cross disciplines. Local people's knowledge can sometimes hold vital clues to coping with disasters, but this knowledge is often overlooked by researchers based in urban centres, focused on gathering empirical data.

Adrian Ely developed this point during the same panel. The STEPS Centre's New Manifesto on innovation, sustainability and development includes diversity as one of its pillars. Part of this diversity means including more forms of knowledge in assessing or developing new technologies and forms of innovation. The need for inclusion and participation came back again in the STEPS Centre's panel session on technological futures, where successes in participatory plant breeding were listed – a way for scientists and non-scientists to share valuable information to help create better seeds. And in a session on "global environmental change: perspectives from the global South", research from Namibia showed efforts to recognise the value of indigenous knowledge in plant science.

Overshadowing all of these questions are risk and uncertainty – and the lack of knowledge that we don't always want to admit. It's easiest to deal in "known knowns", as Donald Rumsfeld would put it - but what about the other murkier problems, where "we don't know what we don't know"? Science needs to learn from its past mistakes – the problems with the Green Revolution in India, for example, were illustrated by Tom Wakeford with an account of the Prajateerpu hearings (in a session on the governance of emerging technologies). Farmers were able to confront scientists with the reality of the unexpected and negative effects of technology on their livelihoods. This was an unusual example where well-intentioned scientists came face to face with human reality.

Bringing together different forms of knowledge may sound a noble goal, but it's not easy. Social and natural scientists, for example, find it notoriously difficult to speak the same language. Yet they desperately need each other to overcome some of the big problems discussed at Planet Under Pressure. More than that, official science needs to learn to listen to some of the non-scientific voices with powerful things to say. That's a challenge that urgently needs to be overcome if we are to move forward.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Supporting research on land grabs: small grant winners announced

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 04:29 AM PDT

The Future Agricultures Consortium announces awards for 21 small grants for research on 'land grabbing' across 15 countries in Africa.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger


Posted: 27 Mar 2012 04:29 AM PDT

The journalist and author Fred Pearce, Oxfam campaigns and policy director Phil Bloomer and ESRC associate research director Paul Rouse are among those to tell us about their one big hope for Rio+20 at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London this week. We're asking people at Planet Under Pressure and other events to tell us what sustainable development issue they want to see addressed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June.We were particularly glad to have caught the thoughts of some of the evetn's youth organisers on camera.

If you are at PUP, you can record your response at our stand in the exhibitor area. but if you are not in London, we'd love to include your views. You can comment on this blog, or send us your videos to feature. Email us at

Monday, 26 March 2012


The STEPS Centre is mounting a variety of exciting activities at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, this week (March 26-29): convening a key session, taking part in four other sessions, hosting an evening event to launch our book series, exhibiting with a stand and recording video interviews for our Rio+20 project.

Key Session
Tuesday: Adrian Ely is convening a key session, chaired by STEPS director Melissa Leach, entitled Pathways to Sustainability: opening up diverse technological futures in the green economy. We are delighted that Lawrence Gudza (Practical Action, South Africa) and Dinesh Abrol (National Institute for Science, Technology and Development Studies, India) are among those taking part. The session will be held on Day 2 of the conference at 10.30am in Room 1.

Other sessions
Monday: Adrian Ely is on a panel discussing Global environmental change and sustainable development in least-developed countries from 16.00-17.30 in the ICC auditorium

Wednesday: Adrian Ely presenting in a session entitled Governance of Emerging Technologies in the Context of Sustainable Development, on Wednesday 28 March, 4pm, Room 4.

Wednesday: Alan Nicol will be presenting in a session entitled Collective governance of shared resources: examples of sustainable approaches for complex multi-scale 'commons' at 16.00-17.30,

Thursday: Adrian Ely will be on a panel discussing Research and policy for sustainable consumption: what is needed? at 15.00-16.30 in Room 12.

Evening drinks book launch
Tuesday: And, at 5.30pm on the evening of Day 2 – Tuesday 27 March – we will be holding a drinks event to celebrate the launch of our Pathways to Sustainability book series, published by Routledge-Earthscan.

Melissa will joined at the event by Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, who will say a few words. As well as two new books in the series to discuss – there will be drinks and nibbles and plenty of opportunity to wind down and chat after a hard day's conferencing. The event will be held in the Connaught room of the Raamada Docklands Hotel (next to Exel).

Exhibition stand
We will have a stand in the exhibition area, where will be launching our Pathways to Sustainability book series and a variety of STEPS materials will be available, including free CDs of our two films, on maize innovation and water justice, and Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto. You can also take part in our Rio+20 video project, see below.

Video: Hopes for Rio+20
We're asking people at Planet Under Pressure and other events to tell us what sustainable development issue they want to see addressed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June. If you are at PUP, you can record your response at our stand in the exhibitor area. Here are a selection of the responses we have collected so far:

You can also contribute your own messages for Rio+20 by commenting on our blog.
If you are at the conference, please do come and say hello at one of our events.
Also keep an eye on our Rio+20 and Beyond page, where will be posting material about our engagements at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger


Posted: 22 Mar 2012 02:36 AM PDT

Ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, we are asking academics, practitioners, policymakers and other stakeholders to tell us about the one sustainable development issue they would like to see addressed at Rio+20. At the World Water Forum in Marseille we gathered responses from delegates.
The videos on the STEPS Centre's YouTube channel are among a range of new resources from the STEPS Centre published to coincide with World Water Day. You can read blogs here from our team at the 6th WWF as well as a post on water and sanitation from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) director Lawrence Haddad, on his own blog, Development Horizons.

We are holding a seminar at the IDS entitled Some for all? Politics and pathways in water and sanitation, launching a new edition of the IDS Bulletin, featuring work collected at the STEPS Centre's 2011 water symposium.

The Bulletin focuses on STEPS work on water and sanitation, bringing together papers from participants at our 2011 Water Symposium, including Barbara Frost, Gourisankar Ghosh and Kamal Kar. A selection of papers from the Bulletin will be available to view online, for free, until 2 April.

You can also view a full list of the STEPS Centre's STEPS water publications and resources. Or you can search via the publications page.

You can find out more about our water and sanitation work and our World Water Day and World Water Forum events on our website.

And, finally, we made a film called Water and Justice: Peri-urban Pathways about our water and sanitation work in New Delhi, India. You can watch a short 4 minute trailer or the longer 20 minute film via our website.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

IDS at the 6th World Water Forum, Marseilles

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 02:07 AM PDT

IDS researchers give their unguarded reflections on the 2012 World Water Forum.


Posted: 21 Mar 2012 02:13 PM PDT

By Phemo Kgomotso, IDS Phd Student

The editors of the IDS Bulletin titled 'Some for All? Politics and Pathways in Water and Sanitation', Volume 43, No. 2, March 2012 launched the publication at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France on 15 March, 2012. In contrast to most of the Forum's more formalised and rigid sessions, this was an effective, reflective and lively panel discussion.

It featured the STEPS Centre's water and sanitation team members Jeremy Allouche, Lyla Mehta and Alan Nicol as well as prominent practitioners and thinkers in water and sanitation who also contributed articles to the Bulletin, among them Kamal Kar - the founder and chief driver of Community-Led Total Sanitation – foundation, Tom Slaymaker – senior policy officer at WaterAid, and Archana Patkar, Manager of the Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council's (WSSCC) Networking and Knowledge Management Programme.

The session reflected on pathways in global water and sanitation discourse since the 1990 UN conference and New Dehli Statement- 'Some for All Rather than More for Some', the 1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) held in Dublin in January and the June 1992 Rio Earth Summit. STEPS Centre panellists noted the significance of a three-year period from Delhi via Dublin to Rio, and how, during this short timespan, major shaping of water and sanitation discourse, policy and practice took place. The most significant step being a now notorious focus on the 4th Dublin Principle which proclaimed 'Water as an Economic Good'.

The session reflected that various interpretations surrounding this statement had in many respects polarised debates, overshadowed progress made towards the provision of basic water and sanitation services, and focused the efforts of powerful institutions on advocating application more market-led approach to service delivery, including greater commoditisation of water as a resource.

This chimed with wider development trajectories in the 1990s during which state-led development was pared back overall and market-driven, private-sector options were given greater emphasis. With the observed failure of the private sector to engage effectively from the 1990s onwards and to support greater service provision, today over 2.6 billion still lack improved sanitation and nearly 900 million rely on unsafe drinking sources.

Panellists challenged the water and sanitation community to reflect on why the situation had not changed despite repeated global principles, declarations and targets. With the deadline for the 2015 MDG targets approaching, what the future may look like? Would the new global consensus on the human right to water prove a watershed in global citizens making claims on their governments to deliver on their rights? And with the MDGs as part of this emerging global consensus, whom do we hold accountable?

The panellists also reflected on the positive outcomes of the past two decades, in particular the increased attention to, and actions on, sanitation in global fora. This was also reflected at the sixth World Water Forum, with issues including menstrual hygiene on the agenda. The other positive development has been the declaration of water as a human right and discussion on whether the 'Right to Sanitation' should also be declared a basic human right.

The panellists highlighted the need to move beyond these achievements and successes and questioned whether the poorest of the poor and the truly marginalised are being reached, or if, in fact, there is still largely unequal provision. Should equity and sustainability be given far greater emphasis in the coming period, perhaps over the achievement of 'numbers' with access to water and sanitation?

The discussion reflected on the process of coming up with solutions, but in a critical way, and emphasised the issue of sustainability. As the forum focused on solutions and targets, the IDS team questioned what should be done next in the area of water management, and whether targets can bring about more sustainable solutions – or whether sustainability targets were in themselves now required. They posed the question of how we could achieve 'Some for all' in the next period, arguing that a focus on equity would be essential in combination with more integrated thinking if we are to really address the core problems of water supply and sanitation access.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Youth, tea and appropriate jobs: aspirations in agriculture

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 03:44 AM PDT

Tea drinking in Mali

"Why Aspirations? Aren't we assuming too much opportunity?" was the hot potato, if you'll pardon the pun, of question-time during the panel on aspirations and attitudes towards agriculture. Three papers documenting youth aspirations in relation to agriculture, two based on field research in Ghana and one from the Young Lives project in Ethiopia, provided plenty of answers.

International Conference on Global Land Grabbing II: call for papers

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 03:21 AM PDT

Following the highly successful IDS-hosted Global Land Grab Conference in 2011, the Future Agricultures Consortium announce a second Land Grab conference and issue a call for papers.

Young People, Farming & Food: Do young men and women want to work within agricultural food chains?

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 01:23 AM PDT

The Young People, Farming and Food conference is taking place in Ghana from 19-21 March. Blogs from the conference will be appearing on this website as the event progresses.

The discussion on livelihoods on day 2, featuring one paper from Ethiopia and two from Kenya, continued to provide additional insights into the income-earning opportunities of young men and women in the agri-food sector.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

The need to change young people’s attitudes towards agriculture

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 04:16 AM PDT

James Karuga is a Kenyan journalist and one of the winners of our journalism competition for reporting on young people, farming and food.

Agriculture's contribution to Ghana's economy has nearly halved over the last 20 years. In 1990 the sector contributed 40% but by 2011 it had dipped to 24.4%, according to Dr Samuel Kojo Dapaah of Ghana's Ministry of Agriculture, speaking at the Young People, Farming and Food conference yesterday.

Agricultural experts in Africa agree this downward trend needs to be reduced if Africa has to overcome her food crisis where 1 in 3 people are nutritionally challenged. As a result, focus has turned to the youth who making up over 60 percent of Africa's population can play a key role in ensuring Africa is able to feed her people and grow her food sector industry in the future.

Monday, 19 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger


Posted: 19 Mar 2012 07:53 AM PDT

By Lyla Mehta and Harriet Dudley

This was our third World Water Forum, and compared with the other ones we've attended it was pretty tame, far more low-key and lacked open protest and contestation. The overall theme – Le temps des solutions – seemed rather bombastic given that solutions to addressing water and sanitation problems cannot come from a global forum in Marseille hosted by the World Water Council which has no official UN recognition. These instead clearly need to be context specific and stem from local communities who will have their own visions of water justice and sustainability. Like several others, we are sceptical of such global jamborees but still attended a few days in order to get a sense of what's new (or not) and to network and meet up with old and new watery colleagues and friends.

There were plenty of opportunities to do this at Marseille for in true French style the lunches were elaborate with wine flowing. So how much was new and how much was old wine in new bottles? Some issues appear to be repackaged in new lingo – so instead of large dams we have 'infrastructure', and one wonders where all this is going ten years on from the World Commission on Dams report.

Old players such as the World Bank and other conventional players are no longer involved in dam building. Instead, it's China, Brazil and others who are the new forces which may explain their large and elaborate Forum stalls (though of course the Brazilian stand was the only one with live music).

Dams are also part of the so called 'Green Economy' discussion of which also dominated this Forum, not surprisingly in the run up to to Rio+20. The 'Green Economy' seems to be slowly replacing 'Sustainable Development' as the new mantra. It is equally fuzzy and blanks out contestation, power and politics. Apart from the activists, very few people were asking 'Green for whom?' And 'how do we get beyond business as usual?'

The big corporations seem to be recognising the role of water as big business in this Green Economy, be it for waste water re-use or for legitimising their role in the water sector. It allows them to be green and 'responsible' whilst at the same time grabbing water and trampling on poor people's rights and livelihoods.
One refreshing change at this meeting was the mainstreaming of sanitation, and STEPS Centre friend Kamal Kar, the pioneer of community-led total sanitation was in demand everywhere. There were many sessions on sanitation and even one on menstrual hygiene.

The other development we were pleased to observe was the mainstreaming of the human right to water. Ten years ago there was so much resistance to discussion of this right. Sadly though, the official Ministerial declaration still does not explicitly recognise human right to water. This is no doubt due to the influence of powerful North American players such as Canada and the US, and their traditional resistance to socio-economic rights.

Not surprisingly, the post-MDG agenda and what will happen after 2015 was the topic of many sessions. It was interesting to hear speakers from the WHO / Joint Monitoring Programme. WaterAid and others admit that the current water and sanitation indicators are inadequate. There are currently three working groups (on water, sanitation and hygiene) that are seeking to develop more comprehensive and sophisticated indicators around monitoring access to water and sanitation.

It is good that normative issues such as non- discrimination, equity and rights are on the agenda (whether they will stay on the agenda until the end is up for grabs). The current water MDG for example ignores water quality, sustainability, gender dynamics, regional variation and equity as well as rapidly growing urban and peri-urban centres. This makes us think that last week's celebrations of meeting the water MDG were a bit premature.

Will the new water and sanitation target regime be any better? Or will it also overly focus on the process of number counting and indicator definition and monitoring? We believe that targets tell us little of what's happening on the ground, don't capture the diversity of local people's choices and preferences and ignore diverse pathways to sustainable access to water and sanitation that could be drawn upon and improved.

While targets galvanise action, help monitor progress and help politicians, do they make a difference to poor women and men? They are neither accountable nor justifiable. Is it time to say, no more targets? We unfortunately didn't make it to the Alternative Forum which is a shame. We were rather busy organising our own side event  to launch the IDS Bulletin 'Some for All? Politics and Pathways in Water and Sanitation', based on outcomes from the second STEPS Centre Water and Sanitation Symposium, which traces the politics and pathways of water and sanitation since New Delhi 1990.


Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:59 AM PDT

By Jeremy Allouche

There was a certain sense of excitement around the Forum and the slogan 'a time for solutions', set the tone. It's time for post MDGs and Rio+20. As a result, a few trendy words and concepts were floating around: the green economy, the human right to water, the water-energy-food nexus. There was a widespread belief that we need to rethink and renovate the global water governance system. And the human right to water is certainly seen as a way to improve ways to monitor access to water and sanitation or as a strong norm and safeguard against the technological driven green economy agenda.

Overall, many participants emphasized that something new was needed and that we are at a critical juncture in the way water should be managed and governed. However, one should not get carried away in our way of looking forward without looking back. This is what we did in our session, in part as a way to critically reflect on how global water governance is evolving.

Interestingly, one can see this tendency again to dichotomise how water should be approached. While debates 20 years ago were around water as a human right versus water as an economic good, one can again see a tendency to oppose the human right approach to the green economy. At the same time, if human right and equity are considered as central to new monitoring systems, other critics will argue that human rights has been mainstreamed, a little bit like the concept of green economy right now.

Looking backwards, one can see that dichotomising or mainstreaming key concepts have polarised and in some ways limited the debate and failed to recognize the complexity and multi-dimensional aspects of water.

However, the most worrying aspect is the failure to recognise the limits of global collective action and the 'business as usual' scenario that these multi-stakeholders forum have the capacity to generate and address global water issues. Isn't it time to question to what extent these forums are effective in addressing and improving global water governance? Are these not a mascarade to cover for the lack of commitment by governments to address these fundamental issues?

In the forum gazette no. 2, Sujiro Seam wrote an editorial on the commitment of political leaders to the Forum and how this political process constitute a crucial component to define the priorities for water in the perspective of the upcoming Earth Summit 2012.

But the commitments by these governments are non-binding and we are at the Sixth World Water Forum hoping for a sea of change from unfortunately nowhere...until we address questions of accountability, these multi-stakeholder forums will not be about decision time!


Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:50 AM PDT

by Alan Nicol

World Water Forum six is drawing to a close here in Marseille. Booths are emptying and participants are dwindling at the slightly drab Parc Chanot. The monolithic Art Deco architecture and box-like hangars host 'water security' debates, parliamentarians' session, African ministers councils, and the occasional riot police (amongst many other characters and processes). All are focused, to a greater or lesser extent, on the huge range of global water issues.

The programme addresses a simple theme – Le temps des solutions – but behind this lies a surprisingly low level of energy (perhaps a certain ennui setting in?) which begs the question, who's to take forward these ideas or will they simply evaporate into the ether? There is no question that the hosts and organizers cannot lead on this – the World Water Council has no accepted global mandate.

At the same time, the other side of town, the alternative forum takes place, but you wouldn't know it. There is no visible protest, no guerrilla posters or fliers, nothing in fact to stir up the rather torpid atmosphere over here. It's all pretty anodyne. One participant tells me that these global gatherings have probably reached their sell-by date, made superfluous in part by advances in digital networking (a large number of delegates from all corners of the globe seem to spend chunks of time on their touch-pads networking with the rest of the world).

One feature of the event remains fascinating, nonetheless. And that is the opportunity it provides for a snapshot of who is buying into or opting out of global water issues (DFID is invisible, for example, as are other aid agencies). But the BRIC(K)S are out in force. China has multiple organisations in attendance, Korea (to host the 7th Forum in Daegu in 2015) is very present, and Brazil and Russia are both showcasing their water management expertise (and coffee brewing prowess in the case of the former).

Evidence, if it were needed, that future water 'solutions' are more than likely to come from factories, financing frameworks and policies in these countries than from the more established aid-academic-policy making environments in Europe and elsewhere. The 7th Forum could (and should) be a landmark. This one isn't. So see you there!

Talkin' to the Next Generation: Lawrence Haddad on #ypff2012

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:45 AM PDT

Today is the first day of the Young People, Farming and Food conference in Accra, Ghana. Lawrence Haddad, director of the Institute of Development Studies,has written about the conference on his blog:

"The organisers aim for youth and children to participate in the development of this policy agenda.

They are right to do so. Humanity is becoming more aware of the long wave cycles we are caught up in: climate change, natural resource limits, and the peaking of the population in the middle of the 21st century have contributed to this longer view. This means we have an even stronger ethical duty to engage with the next generation in a meaningful way.

But how easy is it to include children and youth in the policy process? And what are the benefits of doing it?"

You can keep up with more blogs from the conference on this website and on Twitter.

Friday, 16 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

An interview with Dr Kirsty Newman: Understanding evidence-informed policy

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 05:11 AM PDT


Dr Kirsty Newman, INASPAt the end of February, I travelled to Nigeria for the International Conference on Evidence-informed Policy Making. I've already posted some of my reflections on and takeaways from the conference, but while there I also had the opportunity to interview Dr Kirsty Newman, the Head of the Evidence-Informed Policy Making Programme at INASP.

As one of the organisers of the conference, she had a lot to say about the role of evidence in the policy-making process. Below are her answers to five questions I posed her around research, evidence use, and policy processes.

1.      What is your understanding of 'policy'?

Usually when I talk about policy I am thinking about public policy- in other words the decisions made by governments about what to do or indeed what not to do! It is important to realise that policy does not necessarily mean legislation.

I recognize that there are other types of policy too. For example, large non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross or Oxfam make decisions on what to do that also can have a big impact on people's lives.

2.      Who are the stakeholders in the policy making process that should be targeted with research based evidence for policy influence?

I feel that too much energy is put into trying to influence Members of Parliament- these are sometimes seen as the only policy makers! It is important to realise that the executive arm of government as opposed to the parliament is usually the key driver of policy making. Although parliament has a role in scrutinizing policy, many parliaments are in reality quite weak. So for a start I would suggest thinking about the executive as well as the parliament. This might include relevant ministries but also para-statal or semi-autonomous agencies which sit below ministry level. I would also suggest looking at the staff who work within policy making institutions. These might include policy analysts, legislative drafters, advisors, researchers, librarians and so on. These people play a key role in providing information and advice to the high level policy makers and so it is very important that they are well informed.

3.      In what ways can researchers get the attention of these stakeholders with an aim of understanding their needs or constraints to using research for evidence informed policy making?

I believe that one of the key things that we all need to think about is that policy makers and their staff will never make use of research evidence if they don't understand what it is. Therefore, I think it is crucial that as well as pushing out research to them (supply) we consider how to build their capacity to understand, critically evaluate and use research (demand). This might involve training policy makers and their staff or simply taking the time to explain research concepts to them.

Given my own background in medical science, I am constantly surprised by how many people are making decisions on medical issues without even a basic understanding of key research concepts such as randomized placebo controlled trials. If you don't understand this method then there is no reason that you would think that a properly tested drug is better than a drug for which there is only anecdotal evidence.

4.      Do we have success stories to look at in terms of uptake of research evidence for policy making?

Last time I was in Nairobi, I was watching a local TV station and they were discussing herbal medicines. They had a Kenyan scientist on explaining how these medicines can be tested to see if they are really effective. Rather than relying on her status and just saying 'we are the experts so we can tell you what works', she was taking the time to explain concepts such as the placebo effect, confirmation bias etc. and explaining why rigorous research methodologies are needed in order to determine if a given drug really works. I was really impressed by this approach- it went far beyond what I would usually expect of a news channel in the UK.

I think the only way that policy making will ever be evidence-based is if the population understands research and demands policies based on sound evidence. So in a way I see this as a success story- or at least a step in the right direction. I think that if we put more effort into explaining what research evidence is and how it can help us to make better decisions, then we will achieve more evidence-based policy in the future.

5.      How best can researchers communicate their findings to policy makers?

Education, education, education! Of policy makers but also of the public. If they understand research they will be far more receptive to the findings you have to offer. If they don't understand research then you are just competing with all the other lobbyists to see who can shout the loudest!


Posted: 15 Mar 2012 08:49 AM PDT

Before and during the Planet Under Pressure conference in London next week, we're asking people to tell us what sustainable development issue they want to see addressed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June. Here are a selection of the responses:

Direct link to the YouTube playlist

Have your say: your hopes for Rio+20

What's the one sustainable development issue you'd like to see addressed at Rio? Leave your answers in the comment box below.

STEPS at Planet Under Pressure

For more details on what we're doing at Planet Under Pressure and in the lead up to Rio, see the links below.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger


Posted: 15 Mar 2012 03:16 AM PDT

The STEPS Centre water and sanitation team is at the sixth World Water Forum in Marseille where they are preparing for our event this evening, where the progress - or lack of it - made since  the New Delhi statement on safe water and sanitation in 1990 will be debated.

If you would like to know more about the STEPS Centre's work on water and sanitation, led by Lyla Mehta, please have a look at the water pages on our new website. Or you can download a flyer detailing all our publiations and resources. Alternatively, to can access all our publications via the website.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Understanding the policy process: Reflections from the International Conference on Evidence-informed Policy Making

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 08:44 AM PDT


Picture a gathering of researchers and other stakeholders interested in evidence-informed policy-making. And to this gathering a question is posed: what are the three main roles of parliament? The ‘examiner’ distributes pieces of paper on which respondents should write the answers.

Well, that is the ‘exam’ which kick started the International Conference on Evidence-informed Policy Making at the end of February at Nigeria’s National Centre for Technology Management, which I attended.

While the task seemed simple, only one participant (who also happened to be a parliamentarian from Uganda) got all the three correct answers. That's legislation, oversight and representation, in case you wanted to test your own knowledge. I got two out of three having forgotten the obvious role of representation.

Such simple tasks remind us that sometimes we take many things for granted. For instance, up until the conference, a good number of participants -- including myself -- thought that in order to influence policy, members of parliament should be the main target of research evidence. But while members of parliament might be an ultimate target, they hardly have time and it is their clerks and assistants who do the lion's share of their research. Equally, I learned that furnishing the Parliament Library with research is invaluable. There may equally be a need to lobby the cabinet where the white papers are prepared before presentation to parliament.

I was in attendance at this conference as an observer on a mission to learn. As such, I took note of the above. When asked how he would want researchers to approach him with evidence, Ugandan legislator Obua Denis Hamson, who also chairs the Science and Technology Committee of Parliament, was concise in his response: “Probably the easiest way is to first give me a brief summary of your research findings. We can start from there.” What I got from this short and snappy reply was that researchers need to make the most out of research summaries and policy briefs.

The other thing I observed at this conference is that while 'evidence-informed policy making' has become a buzz word in international development, most of the work that has been done on this subject focuses on the 'supply side' (i.e. dissemination of research rather than the capacity to demand and use research from the policy side). Little has been done to understand both the incentives that drive policy makers to look for research information and their capacity to find and evaluate it. The only work around this area presented at the conference was done in Uganda with support from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. But going by presentations about ongoing research funded by the co-organizers of the conference (International Network for Availability of Scientific Publications), substantial evidence on the demand side will be forth coming.

And with the final words of INASP’s Dr Kirsty Newman came the take home message. Researchers, when approaching policy makers, should not only use their research but a wide range of related evidence to argue their case.