Impact Story

Evidence-handling skills improve policymaking in Zanzibar

Published on 3 September 2020

Alan Stanley

Digital Knowledge Manager

In much of our work, it takes time to discover if we have achieved the impacts hoped for. Just occasionally, that feedback comes more swiftly – as in the case of our capacity-building activities on evidence use in Zanzibar, where the impacts on policymaking appear to be almost immediate.

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Through a series of workshops and training events during 2019, IDS staff worked with the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and Zanzibar’s government ministries to help improve the way that evidence is used to develop and implement policy. COSTECH is the country’s main advisory body for the government on science and technology, and on their application.

Thanks to the debates and conversations that were stimulated during the activities, several participants were spurred on to develop policy ideas, using evidence in a completely fresh way. For some of the participants, this was the first time in their careers that they had worked on evidence syntheses or policy briefs.

These ideas have the potential to improve development outcomes in pre-primary education and in agriculture in Zanzibar. Near the end of our engagement with the participants, we asked how they intended to apply their skills in future work – to which some replied that they were already putting them into practice.

A bespoke approach

The activities were part of a bespoke professional development engagement, an area that IDS is evolving considerably. The IDS team – Tony Roberts and Kevin Hernandez of the Digital cluster, plus Alan Stanley and Alistair Scott, with support of others in the Knowledge, Impact and Policy team – used in-depth interviews and focus groups with COSTECH to identify the needs of staff in government ministries.

This led to three in-country workshops with government ministries staff on building skills around evidence identification, quality assessment, synthesis and communication. Several of the COSTECH team came to IDS for the 2019 short course on Engaging Evidence for Policy and Social Change.

In the workshops, participants developed policy briefs on real-world priorities for the Zanzibar government. This included one brief on pre-primary education entitled Poor Creativeness in Rich Learning Contexts, which was then reviewed by the Zanzibar Institute of Education and presented in a validation workshop with government and non-government stakeholders. The Permanent Secretary for the Zanzibar Education Ministry planned to take the policy forward to the national government.

Coconut production impacts

Following the workshops, participants also reported being able to use new skills and confidence in handling evidence to inform other policy initiatives. One participant told how in response to the problem of widespread clearance of coconut palms, they had used skills developed in stakeholder analysis and evidence synthesis to support a policy development process in the Ministry of Agriculture.

The result was a draft of Zanzibar’s first ever coconut development policy. The policy has now been approved and is currently being published for dissemination and implementation.

In Tanzania 600,000 families are supported by income from coconut production but production levels are falling due to land clearance for coastal development. The new policy will help to prevent palm clearance, increase coconut production, and so secure the livelihoods of families supported by coconut palm production. The IDS work was part of the DFID-funded Human Development and Innovation Fund (HDIF) project that spans Tanzania and Zanzibar.



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