Without research evidence, it is difficult for public policies to respond effectively to the needs of the population and realties on the ground. In many countries, the capacity of government departments to use evidence rigorously and effectively is limited. Between 2015 and 2016, Jimma University developed and ran a training and mentoring programme with the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health to improve the ministry’s capacity to use evidence in policy making.
The three main challenges identified in this ministry were: 1) lack of an institutional culture promoting the use of best available evidence to support policymaking, 2) limited staff capacity (in terms of skills and time), and 3) limited evidence availability, related to internet connectivity and the availability of free databases.
Ministries can be supported to increase evidence-based policymaking by training and mentoring staff. After this training, 1) participants’ understanding of evidence had improved by an average of around 20% and 2) those who were fully involved in the mentoring reported that the project had improved their skills, knowledge and attitude towards the use of research evidence. Combining the training with mentorship allowed the ministry staff to put the training into practice and obtain feedback on what they were doing. However, time limitations remain relevant and full participation is key to achieving changes in behaviour.
Future interventions should: 1) be targeted to the needs of specific groups of policymakers and planners, 2) focus on training on systematic review and knowledge translation tools (translation into a language accessible to policymakers), and 3) increase access to information.