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Forming part of a side event at the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) conference 2019, the Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results Anglophone Africa (CLEAR-AA), and Twende Mbele hosted a peer-learning Symposium on ‘Strengthening Systems of Evidence in Parliaments’.

The symposium reflected on a number of key issues affecting evidence use within parliaments. The discussions centred on what participants had learnt during the past 12-months and what should be taken forward to strengthen monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems and capacity for evidence use in parliaments. It was based on discussions from a broader peer learning programme undertaken in the year 2018.

This broader peer learning programme facilitated peer learning between parliamentarians and parliamentary support staff from various parliaments in the African region. It was delivered collaboratively by the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA), African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), African Parliamentarians’ Network on Development Evaluation (APNODE), UNWomen and, the two symposium hosts CLEAR-AA and Twende Mbele.

Taking a ‘world café’ approach, the symposium traversed six key issues affecting evidence use within parliaments including oversight, legislation, representation, communities of practice & peer learning, institutional components and incentives. Also discussed were strengths/opportunities and challenges of evidence use, and what should be taken forward in the efforts to strengthen evidence use in parliaments.

This blog is the first of three addressing the topics discussed above. This first blog will focus on the institutional components and incentives for evidence use.

Institutional components and evidence use

Participants noted that there are a variety of institutional components where M&E functions are located, depending on the different type of parliamentary system. The research department, library, civic education, and audit committees are just a few of these institutional structures within parliaments that support parliamentarians in discussions and debates. Linkages between the various institutional components and the sources of evidence for parliamentarians is necessary to strengthen evidence use in parliaments.

The committee system is a key institutional component in most parliaments as it scrutinises legislation and monitors the work of the executive. Committees are considered a good starting point for strengthening evidence systems, particularly if evidence use is integrated into the strategic plans of the committees.

According to participants, determining which units within parliament will drive the agenda of strengthening the evidence systems within parliament is paramount. This unit should consider the role of the capacity building/training unit within parliament in the broader evidence system strengthening process.

The M&E function within some African parliaments plays a strategic role in supporting and strengthening evidence use. The significance of this institutional component is that it should ideally play a central and dual function in terms of M&E by parliaments (oversight of government performance) and M&E of parliaments (internally focused M&E on parliament’s performance). Its positioning within the institutional structure needs to be carefully considered since the M&E function will take on a different character depending on where in parliaments it sits. For example, if it sits in auditing units it may become a compliance tool, while if it sits in strategy units, it may take on a broader, overarching nature. While the decision on where to situate the M&E function in parliaments should be determined based on the needs and context of that individual parliament, participants at the symposium all agreed that ensuring the M&E function is placed in a strategic unit (ie, not auditing) will have a more positive outcome for parliaments.

Another important consideration is the resourcing of M&E units  within parliaments as these specialised staff and budgets but are often under-resourced. One symposium participant put forward some potential ways in which to strengthen the M&E function within parliaments suggesting that  the M&E function should be guided by strategic plans and should be better aligned with other institutional structures within parliament. Further exploration is needed regarding each parliament’s unique structure.

Incentives for evidence use

This issue received as much attention at the symposium as it did during the 2018 peer-learning workshops, while being particularly sensitive to address. Understanding the politics of evidence use is key to understanding the systemic drivers for evidence use e.g. political power and patronage. The ideal scenario is a situation where the incentives for evidence use should be focused on achieving outcomes for the national good. Ultimately the incentive for evidence use in parliament should assist parliamentarians to fulfill their mandates.

The key role of a parliamentarian is to contribute towards better development outcomes and to hold the executive accountable for its work. Parliamentarians need to make sure the right evidence is used for the right arguments to be advanced to ensure better service delivery by government. In other words, evidence can be used to identify the problems that hinder service delivery and to come up with solutions to address them. Parliamentarians can draw on a range of evidence sources from government, civil society, and international organisations, and even the media to gain a better understanding and to be able to ask more evaluative questions.

Conclusion and ideas on a way forward

Passionate discussions were followed by ideas on the way forward, as described by participants:

  • To mobilise resources and budgets for capacity building and infrastructure which will strengthen institutional components supporting evidence use.
  • Follow up with more technical support / learning exchanges for the development and strengthening of M&E frameworks for parliaments, and for understanding how the location of the M&E function affects objectives
  • Piloting of the oversight app – a mobile tool designed to enhance oversight research processes


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