The PACE Project (Policy, Advocacy, and Communication Enhanced for Population and Reproductive Health), funded by USAID and implemented by PRB, debuted its Policy Communication Fellows Program in French in October 2020, in collaboration with the Ouagadougou Partnership Coordination Unit (OPCU).
Bridging the Gap Between Research and Policymaking
PRB created the program in the 1980s to increase the use of research results to inform public policy decisionmaking processes. It aims to strengthen researchers’ capacity to communicate scientific information and develop a bridge between research and national policymaking—in other words, improve the interface between science and policy. Strengthening this interface is especially critical in sub-Saharan Africa to overcome the gap between public resources and social needs. This training represents a major investment for sub-Saharan Africa and the development of appropriate policies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The program has trained close to 400 doctoral students to date. They now hold high-level positions in population studies in the United States and other areas of the world, including East Africa and now in West and Central Africa.
The rollout of PRB’s first course for French speakers reflects its desire, as an institution, to be more present in the subregion and contribute to efforts supporting sustainable policy changes founded on evidence-based decisionmaking processes.
Combining Instruction With Hands-on Application
Three professors from renowned universities in the subregion taught the curriculum, representing the Higher Institute of Population Science (ISSP, Burkina Faso); the Institute of Population, Development, and Reproductive Health (IPDSR, Senegal); and the Institute for Training and Research in Population Studies (IFORD, Cameroon).
Professor Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, head of the Department of Global Development at Cornell University and a program alumnus, adapted the pedagogy and curriculum to the West African regional context and the virtual format required by the coronavirus pandemic.
The selection process considered the applications of doctoral students from the nine OPCU countries and Cameroon. The students had a background in a wide range of disciplines related to the PACE Project’s priorities—population sciences, in the broad sense, and demographic transition, reproductive health, family planning, and maternal health, in particular. A jury of OPCU, USAID, and PRB staff evaluated applications with a criteria rubric. The 15 students selected for the 2020 session hailed from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Senegal, and Togo. Some of them, affiliated with universities in the subregion, are currently pursuing their doctorates in Belgium, Canada, and Spain.
The program was carried out in two stages: 1) intensive courses, and 2) practical work.
Three weeks of intensive courses. Participants first learned the practical application of the principles in PACE’s Policy Communication Toolkit modules. They prepared for each session using video recordings produced by five former French-speaking participants of the English program.
The courses focused on reinforcing key concepts through discussions, application exercises, and role-play scenarios. For example, students made an elevator pitch to convince a “minister” or the minister’s “chief of staff”—played by people they had never met—to convince them of a policy change. During a roundtable, current students of the program interacted with former students to discuss the value of this training in their jobs and how they’ve been able to personally influence policy change. Another roundtable allowed students to debate the challenges and opportunities related to the relationship between researchers and policymakers with a member of parliament, a journalist, a donor, a senior researcher, and a former senior official from a ministry of health, all working at the interface between science and development planning.
Finally, each doctoral student presented their research topic, applying the various concepts they learned through the training.
Three months of practical work. Following the coursework, students wrote scientific articles, with support from professionals, and produced analyses of political landscapes. Their articles will be published in the Cameroonian journal Sciences & Watch.
The doctoral students and university professors involved in the implementation of this innovative training found it a great success.
Beyond knowledge transfer, this capacity-building program has shown the immense potential in the region’s countries: On the one hand, young, skilled researchers can champion the new role that research must play to provide effective information for public policies; on the other hand, collaboration between French-speaking African research institutes creates synergies with high added value.
Based on the strong, positive response to the debut of its Policy Communication Fellows Program in French, PRB—through the PACE Project—will pursue its collaboration within sub-Saharan African countries to continue to strengthen the interface between science and policy and contribute to sustainable and informed policy change.
This program has established a new space for networking in French, allowing the connections between students, professors, institutions, and PRB to endure. As of this writing, discussions are underway to offer this training at ISSP, IPDSR, and IFORD in 2021.