Background: Although weak capacity for evidence use among policy makers has been acknowledged as being among the key barriers to evidence use, we still do not know much about what works and what doesn't in strengthening capacity of policy makers for increased evidence use or consideration.
Objectives: Implemented 3-year project to test interventions for strengthening institutional and individual capacity for evidence use among health-sector policy makers in Kenya and Malawi.
Methods: To strengthen institutional leadership and capacity, we conducted sustained high-level advocacy, developed guidelines for evidence use, and facilitated increased interaction between policy makers and researchers. To strengthen individual capacity, we conducted training workshops on evidence-informed policy making (EIPM) and on-the-job follow-up support to technical staff in ministries of health in the two countries.
Results: Evaluation results show that while the project was highly effective in improving individual technical capacity of policy makers in EIPM, it registered mixed results in its efforts to strengthen institutional leadership and capacity for EIPM. At individual level, evaluation results show notable increase in knowledge and skills in EIPM among trained staff. The results also reveal notable mind-set shift and increased confidence in EIPM among those trained - some of the staff are championing and supporting better and improved use of evidence in their units. At institutional level, the programme increased priority to evidence use, developed institutional guidelines for evidence use, and stimulated some institutional reforms for improving evidence use, but failed to bring about major changes in institutional structures that support evidence use.
Conclusions: Project’s limited performance on strengthening institutional capacity is not surprising since changing institutions is complex and requires long-term investments. Results point to the fact that efforts to improve individual and institutional capacity for evidence use need to go hand-in-hand or risk losing gains made at individual level over time if institutional strengthening efforts are not sustained.