Background: Evidence-informed policy making (EIPM) is about incorporating research evidence along with other important information in decision making. This requires the research evidence to be summarised, optimally packaged and available at the right time. Over the past five years we have participated in various EIPM engagements, mostly in South Africa, but also in other African countries.
Objective: To describe institutional approaches taken by our unit on aiming to influence and engage in policy in Africa around priority health problems.
Methods: We identified four engagements we have participated in that included supporting EIPM as a main goal and evidence advocacy activities, with a minimum duration of two months. These were involvements in a national Ministerial advisory committee; national policy development task team; multi-sectoral technical consultation with 13 African countries; and, components of a sub-national project in two African countries. Drawing on project reports, dialogues, meeting minutes, activities and experiences from these engagements, we conceptualised key lessons we have learned.
Results: Types of policies included individual-level (clinical programmes and services), societal-level (public and population health programmes and services) and health-system arrangements. Evidence advocacy differs depending on the type of policy and type of engagement, and starts with a clear understanding of needs. Policy-making processes and key role-players differ between various types of engagements, and an in-depth understanding these is needed to tailor evidence advocacy approaches. Good relationships and building two-way communication and trust between researchers and policymakers underpins building evidence demand. Researchers need to be willing, responsive and make time to engage. Increasing the currency of research as an essential information source is an important part of advocating for evidence.
Conclusion: Strategies for evidence advocacy need to be flexible and fit for purpose. Institutionalisation of EIPM is a long-term process that requires ongoing and inventive evidence advocacy approaches.