Policy Fellows program expands from individuals to form institutional partnerships, promoting local leadership and sustainability.
September 30, 2022
Regional Representative for West and Central Africa
Since the 1980s, PRB’s Policy Fellows program has been grounded in the belief that while research often has profound policy implications, it must be communicated effectively to a variety of nontechnical audiences to have an impact. The program, with nearly 400 alumni from 65 countries, builds the skills of young researchers, typically Ph.D. students, to translate evidence into action.
Until recently, PRB administered the Policy Fellows program as an individual capacity strengthening initiative, preparing fellows for effective policy communication leadership wherever their careers may take them. Fellows complete an intensive training course based on the policy communication toolkit of the USAID-funded PACE project, which focuses on population and reproductive health. Today, many former fellows hold successful careers in the policy space, and many also serve in leadership roles.
However, PRB recognized that involving institutions in the program would help promote local leadership and sustainability. In 2020, PACE rolled out the program in Francophone Africa under a new vision: to cultivate teams of policy communication experts based at regional universities and research institutions who can then directly administer the training year after year.
To build our institutional partnerships, PRB explored and received interest in the program from three prominent West African research institutions: the Higher Institute of Population Sciences (Burkina Faso); the Institute for Demographic Training and Research (Cameroon); and the Institute of Population, Development, and Reproductive Health (Senegal). The Ouagadougou Partnership Coordination Unit, a partnership that supports the nine Francophone countries in West Africa to accelerate the implementation of family planning interventions, and PACE selected 15 Policy Fellows from the region, including graduate students at the partner institutions. Participants, representing five Ouagadougou Partnership countries and Cameroon, conducted research on demographic transitions, family planning and reproductive health, and maternal and child health.
Facilitators for the program, alongside PACE, were identified from faculty at each of the three institutions. Professor Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, a renowned demographer at Cornell University and a Policy Fellows alumnus, taught the facilitators how to administer PRB’s training using an innovative teaching method—designed in collaboration with the three professors to reinforce the professional relationship between the students and professors in a Francophone context.
The trained facilitators, PACE, and the Ouagadougou Partnership co-hosted a virtual policy communication training for the 15 fellows from October 22 through Nov. 6, 2020. The training was followed by six months of practical work during which students wrote scientific articles and produced analyses of political landscapes, presenting them during discussions with policy decisionmakers.
In August 2021, PRB advanced the program with a training-of-trainers led by Professor Eloundou-Enyegue, working with teams of 2020 program fellows affiliated with the Institute for Demographic Training and Research (IFORD), the Higher Institute of Population Sciences (ISSP), and the Center of Excellence for Research in Generational Economics (CREG), based in Senegal. Over the next eight months, IFORD, ISSP, and CREG each adapted the training materials for their local contexts and priorities and cascaded the training to Ph.D. and master’s-level students and professionals in their respective institutions, with PACE providing technical support, mentoring, and feedback to course facilitators. The Policy Fellows program was also expanded to institutions in Anglophone Africa.
This transitioned approach enabled PRB’s policy communication methods to reach actors at multiple levels of the policy development process. While ISSP and IFORD train the current and next generation of researchers and civil servants, respectively, CREG reaches senior researchers who already occupy positions as advisers to decisionmakers. In a promising sign for sustainability, all three institutions plan to offer the program independently in future years, long after the end of the PACE project.
The integration of PACE’s policy communication modules in the curriculum of three renowned institutions revealed an appetite to strengthen the interface between research and practice and informed policy change in West Africa. Gervais Beninguisse, a professor at IFORD, explained: “This training provides significant added value in the face of the gap observed among graduates who are called upon to play a role in steering the statistical information systems of their countries, as well as in the face of the persistent and worrying insufficiency of the use of research results to enlighten the decision-making processes in the area of public policy in Francophone Africa.”