Chelsea Downs, Program Associate for CEGA’s East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative, interviews Anthony Mveyange, Research and Impact Director at TradeMark East Africa and co-founder and treasurer of the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA), about his vision for the network.
CEGA’s East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative is celebrating a major milestone: the formation of the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA). Hosted at United States International University (USIU) in Kenya, NIERA is the first-ever impact evaluation network made up of solely African scholars. So far, its leadership and network members include the 27 EASST fellows trained by CEGA over the past six years. NIERA represents a groundbreaking shift in the global development research space, and an important step towards sustainably bridging the gap in knowledge generation between high income and low-and-middle-income countries.
EASST Associate Chelsea Downs sat down with Anthony Mveyange, Research and Impact Director at TradeMark East Africa and co-founder and treasurer of NIERA, to discuss his vision for the new network.
CD: Can you explain the overarching vision behind NIERA?
AM: The overarching vision of NIERA is to increase uptake of impact evaluation in the region. As we know, there are huge gaps in the technical capacity of the people who can actually make a difference. EASST has strengthened fellows’ capacity as impact evaluation researchers and connected them to a strong network of global experts in the field. NIERA is a vehicle to carry this forward after the fellowship, ensuring fellows are leaders in the effort to use evidence to inform social and economic policies across Africa. When you look at countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia, the demand for impact evaluation is high — the driving force for NIERA is to deliver on these fronts.
CD: When did the discussions on NIERA begin and what spurred this idea into action?
AM: The idea started off with me, Sam Oti, Fitsum Mulugeta and JB Asiimwe in Kigali during a World Bank SIEF training we were facilitating. Initially, the idea started off as a for-profit consultancy, but later we realized that we can do more and help our countries directly as a non-profit organization. We continued to think about it more after discussing it with all fellows at the 2017 Summit in Addis Ababa. Shortly after, fellow Constantine Manda met with a Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation and mentioned the NIERA idea to her. When the others heard about Hewlett’s interest to potentially fund, they started to take it seriously and worked on a proposal that resulted in funding of $175,000 for year zero.
CD: With seed funding from the Hewlett Foundation, what does the year ahead look like for NIERA, both in terms of goals and planned activities?
AM: As we speak, countries are doing a needs assessment that we agreed upon when formulating the strategic plan for NIERA. We wanted to find out what the potential risks and needs are and conduct something like a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), to inform a strategic document that will be shared.
CD: How will NIERA contribute to generating evidence in IE?
AM: Right now we are partnering with Utrecht University in the Netherlands, which is funding us to select university lecturers across all five EASST countries, train them on impact evaluation and develop training materials to incorporate into their curriculum in their universities. We will use the NIERA country coordinators as focal points, to ensure that the courses are being taught properly. So that is the starting point for our model, focusing on long-term impact and building this critical mass of researchers with impact evaluation knowledge.
CD: How would you describe NIERA’s relationship with EASST?
AM: They complement one another. NIERA cannot afford opportunities for fellows to come train in the US, whereas EASST cannot have constant on-the-ground interaction. EASST fellows go to Berkeley to get trained, then NIERA complements their post-fellowship activities (catalyst grant trainings, policy grants, and research grants) and offers more opportunities for direct engagement with stakeholders. We are planning on co-branding several of the EASST catalyst grant trainings and potentially the EASST summit this year with NIERA.
CD: How does NIERA intend to promote the uptake of IE in policy making across Africa?
AM: Uptake is a bit tricky, but we are using what we call nudging. Currently, we are talking with the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) in Kenya, and are hoping to train the entire organization on impact evaluation. In Tanzania, Fred Manang met with the Deputy Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Trade and they really want to train government staff in Tanzania.Our role is to ensure that people are properly trained with the right skills and evidence to support their decisions.
CD: What advice would you give to young researchers in Africa who are looking to enhance their skills in impact evaluation and contribute to evidence-informed policy making?
AM: One of the challenges I’ve seen in the region is that education systems don’t encourage people to be vocal and thirsty for knowledge. The unique feature you see in NIERA and EASST members is our thirst for knowledge. My best advice for young scholars is to firstly have the desire to learn… once you have the desire, reach out to the right people. NIERA members are more than happy to help.
CD: Building off of that, how can young researchers or policy makers in East Africa engage with NIERA?
AM: We currently have a Twitter and LinkedIn, and we hope through these handles we can reach out to many people. Also, through the training of teachers, we hope to engage the brightest of students that have been trained and create a community of practice for impact evaluation.