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EASST Expands its Footprint

This post was written by Maya Ranganath who manages CEGA’s training and capacity building portfolio, which includes programs in East Africa and Bangladesh that contribute to local leadership in rigorous program evaluation.

(L-R) Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health in Uganda Dr. Diana Atwine, EASST Program Manager Maya Ranganath, CEGA Faculty Director Ted Miguel, CEGA Deputy Director Carson Christiano, and EASST Fellow Jayne Tusiime convening in Kampala in July 2018.

Since 2011, the East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative has focused on expanding the leadership of East African academics in cutting-edge, data-intensive economics research. The Collaborative knits together policy-minded academics within the East Africa region, while also forging equal and productive collaborations with leading U.S. researchers. It supports curriculum development, field research, and evidence dissemination — all with the goal of mainstreaming impact evaluation within East African universities. Our theory of change is that regional and global collaboration can result in higher quality research, more relevant insights for East African policy-makers, and faster transition of knowledge into use.

EASST was actually the first major initiative created by CEGA; it predates our landmark work in agriculture. The approach — which connects academics across continents, institutionalizes rigorous evaluation, and promotes policy engagement — is part of CEGA’s DNA. While we have launched a handful of other international collaboratives in recent years, EASST remains a flagship initiative. With this as context, we are particularly excited to announce that the Collaborative has received a 5-year commitment of support from a constellation of donors, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Over the next five years, we will offer sabbaticals in the U.S. for roughly 20 new EASST fellows, granting each of them funding to train others upon their return home. This will nearly double the size of the EASST network. We will award nearly 15 research grants to pairs of EASST and CEGA researchers, and we will continue to host an annual evidence summit in the region. Importantly, we have also established a “policy and partnerships” fund for fellows, enabling them to work with governments — on demand — to scale rigorously tested policy interventions (see an example of Kizito Omala’s work here).

We have a few other changes ahead. While EASST has traditionally focused on research institutions in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, in the coming years we will explore including academics from Burundi and South Sudan. We are also looking toward West Africa to explore whether we can replicate our approach in a new region. In addition, we are expanding our disciplinary scope. Funding from the NIH will focus on the application of rigorous “implementation science” methods to infectious disease challenges. For this, we will work in partnership with the African Population Health Research Center in Kenya.

EASST fellows and staff in Kampala, July 2018. Photo Credit: Maya Ranganath

While EASST will continue to evolve and grow, it has also given birth to a new, independent institution. At the 2017 evidence summit in Addis Ababa, the EASST network of fellows decided to form their own entity, based in East Africa, called the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA). This Network will build on EASST’s investments in research and training, working to increase the scope, rigor, and influence of impact evaluations in East Africa. Initially hosted at the U.S. International University in Kenya, it will eventually become an independent institution that harnesses local research talent to address critical policy challenges. The Hewlett Foundation will be supporting NIERA with a grant of $175,000 in their crucial “Year Zero”, as they undertake a rapid needs assessment and stakeholder analysis, and develop a strategic plan for the coming years. EASST is excited to work alongside NIERA to achieve our shared goals of advancing evidence-informed public policy in East Africa.

Stay tuned for future updates from NIERA and EASST. In the meantime, we are excited to welcome six new fellows to the network: Apollo Maima, Werner Maokola, Grace Mhalu, Muthoni N’gang’a, Getachew Kassa, and Tewodros Tesemma. This new cohort of East African researchers will help shape the future of the Collaborative. They all participated in the 7th Annual EASST Summit held in Kampala in July 2018. The event, opened by CEGA faculty director Ted Miguel, featured research by 8 EASST fellows and 5 CEGA affiliates, addressing regional challenges in health, agriculture, education, and financial inclusion. It is an exciting time for impact evaluation in East Africa.

EASST Fellows Fred Manang, Hailemariam Ayalew, and Kizito Omala at UC Berkeley. Photo Credit: Kuranda Morgan.

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Maya Ranganath

Maya Ranganath

Senior Program Manager, Global Networks @ CEGA_UC

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