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Dr Leyla Abdullahi: Why African universities and people should embrace EIDM

Entebbe I On the sidelines of the concluded three-day Africa Evidence 2023 Summit held at Protea Hotel in Entebbe, Uganda, TND News was honoured to meet Dr Leyla Abdullahi, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP).

From Wednesday, September 13, to Friday 15, over 500 delegates from more than 50 countries (new figures announced by the organisers on the last day) in Africa attended the Evidence 2023 Summit – the first of its kind outside South Africa to be held in Uganda. The attendances were in-person and virtually.

On the second day, TND News Milton Emmy Akwam and Dr Leyla discussed ‘evidence’ with a bias on Evidence Informed Decision Making (EIDM).

EIDM or EIPM is a process of involving the best available research evidence in the decision-making process anywhere. Read our exclusive interview below:

Tell us the general ideas about EIDM and the progress AFIDEP has made already.

In the project that we piloted from 2019 to 2022, the main objective was to institutionalize EIDM and through that, we introduced Evidence Informed Decision Making Curriculum (EIDMC) at certain targeted Universities.

So, we piloted with three Universities in Kenya and one in Malawi and the main impact following the introduction was having the curriculum introduced as a short course in the meantime. Why I’m saying meantime is because the introduction of curriculum within the University takes a little process and bureaucracy and they need to revise the curriculum for it to be embedded.

So, for now, we have introduced it as a short course. We have managed to convince the management to introduce it as a short course and this has been embraced and taken up very positively, some Universities have moved ahead compared to some because of the processes and the bureaucracies of the Universities.

The end game was to have this course introduced and how we did that was to train the lecturers within the four Universities through training of trainers of the EIDM Curriculum. They have embraced it, they have taken it up and they are now training their students.

Some Universities, for example within Kenya and institutes where we introduced it; graduate school within Cambridge; Jomo Kenyatta University have advertised for this course. It has been received and the demand was quite massive. So, the end game is to have a critical mass of all future professionals who will be trained in gathering and applying evidence which is the lifelong approach of EIDM.

Also read: Interview: AFIDEP’s Dr. Rose Oronje on the power of evidence for Africa’s development

How many students have enrolled for the EIDM course?

Because this is now sitting within the Universities it’s hard for us to know how many have been enrolled but during the pilot phase, for example, the Jomo Kenyatta University that had introduced, we saw the advertisement that has gone public and just from the word it was fully subscribed.

When do you think EIDM Curriculum is going to kick off widely across Universities and Institutions in Africa now that it has been piloted?

Sure. This project has come to an end which is why we wish it’s beyond a project phase. We are trying to see opportunities where we can get other funding and introduce this curriculum to other Universities, for example, Kenya where the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) has kicked in. The team will be joining the Universities in the next four years. All Universities have been urged to revise the curriculum. This is a window of opportunity for us. When I say ‘us’ it is the EIDM Ecosystem to see how this can sit in all the Universities.

That is the main approach. We are talking to all the Universities at different levels to see how they can introduce it with the full curriculum and the good thing is this is a ‘lifelong approach’ where students will gather and apply those skills. EIDM is cross-cutting: it could be in Engineering or Information Technology (IT) – it is a skill that is cross-cutting within all the Universities.

Once introduced within a certain curriculum it can be a core course for all the students who are coming to Universities.

According to AFIDEP’s evaluation, do you think there is going to be funding to take this project forward?

The good thing is: the issue of funding, we are collaborating with many partners. It is not only AFIDEP to implement it. We are passing this idea now through this forum (interview). We are trying to see who can collaborate with us, or who can we sell this idea to and they can run it in their country.

Also read: Africa Evidence Network I 2023 Conference: What Ugandan Minister Beatrice Akori said before the official start

We have many countries in Africa and let’s say, ‘If Uganda can run this within its instructions, it is still a win-win for us.’ We have a full curriculum on our website, it is public. We can support, we can mentor and we can come and support people who have resources or likely if we manage to secure resources. The idea is to introduce this to as many countries as possible.

Is there a time frame within which you think this is possible?

For example, the time frame depends on the country and what is happening. Like now, the window of opportunity has come through Kenya. Every University should revise its curriculum to accommodate CBC or EIDM. So, in the education sector, each country should see where opportunity arises. Let’s say Uganda has an opportunity to implement it next year, we are happy to come and support the teams and collaborate accordingly.

Let’s also say if Cameroon has it the other coming year like SDGs are being done. Each country has its own opportunity but it is good to watch and see the window of opportunities and this can happen only if we map our stakeholders and understand who is working in what area.

Do you think EIDM is one of the motivations for curbing the unemployment rate in Africa?

Yes, 100 per cent. Because you don’t have to be employed in the formal sector to be able to apply your EIDM. If we train EIDM at all levels of the Universities, if you leave that institution, as long as you can gather and apply evidence there are many ways you can use it. You can even use it in business-entrepreneurship. The idea is to make sure you use evidence to inform your decision. That is the key message.

It can happen at all levels. Even those who apply in formal settlement can use it to guide in their career prospect and also to have bargaining power in terms of employment opportunities and when they are being offered on the table.

Also read: Worldwide generosity, Galo’s visit pours hope in ailing Dr Anthony Buhangamaiso 

So, it is a matter of applying and seeing what is out there in terms of what is existing and how can I apply this…

It has been all about ‘Evidence and Data’ at the ongoing conference, everyone here is talking about evidence and data. What is your understanding of the Evidence we have on the continent and how it’s being used to spur development?

I believe that in the context of Africa, we have vast evidence. Like we have a lot of evidence but we are sitting on those treasures. The sooner we try to apply this evidence the better, and we can only apply if you have synthesized this evidence. It could be new research or existing work. For example, the Universities. Every day people are getting funding, and opportunities to do research. It could be new; it could be data already sitting there.

Dr Leyla (R) with other panellists on Thursday.

Once we synthesize this information and then we try to apply this evidence, it will show you that in Africa we will be led and this will be led by African brains. All these good data can be synthesized, informed and applied to certain sectors and contexts within Africa.

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