A common road ahead:Transparency, mutual trust and extending EVIPNet’s network and infrastructure for more sustainable and equitable evidence-to-policy translation

16 November 2021

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A short look at selected country case studies, keynote presentations, and a stakeholder panel on how to improve trust and legitimacy for using evidence in politics and society formed core elements of the third and last day of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global Evidence-to-Policy (E2P) Summit. The event culminated in the launch of the draft EVIPNet Call for Action and strong support from stakeholders and senior leaders forming a new partner coalition for sustainable evidence-policy-society systems.

The third day of the E2P Summit started with a short recap of the regional and global focus events on the second day, followed by short video statements in which selected countries recounted some of their experiences in tackling the pandemic with a rapidly evolving body of evidence. In Iran, for example, a rapid response system helped politicians to answer more than 30 pressing policy issues with the best available evidence. In Nigeria, a team conducted situational and social network analysis for implementing evidence into multisectoral policy. In Kazakhstan, an improved process to develop evidence-informed clinical guidelines helped decision makers amidst and beyond the health crisis.

In the day’s main panel discussion, the focus was on the key roles of trust and legitimacy to driving evidence-informed change in politics and society. Keynote speaker Michael Ban Petersen, Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University, Denmark, pointed out that “to earn the trust of citizens in government, governments have to trust their own citizens in turn." For effective and sustainable evidence-to-policy processes, it is crucial to be transparent, empower citizens and give them a voice, he added. Methods used in social sciences, such as surveys or focus group discussions, can additionally help to “turn epidemic control into a co-production of government and citizens”.

​Patricia Garcia, Professor at the School of Public Health at Cayetano Heredia University, Peru, recounted how an overload of new facts and misinformation negatively influenced Peru’s politicians during the pandemic. While decision-makers and citizens were often unable to follow latest scientific recommendations, some people took ineffective medication hoping to prevent the disease. According to the former Minister of Health in Peru, the lack of contextual evidence, funding support, poor health literary, and an insufficiently trained workforce, combined with political populism, hampered successful evidence-to-policy translation.

Cass Sunstein, founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School and Professor at the Department of Psychological and Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science, stressed the importance of working with behavior hypotheses for evidence-informed change in policy. “Just having evidence is not enough – we need behavioral science, and a testable hypothesis is equally important to an evidence-based decision”, he elaborated at the Summit.

Among the diverse group of panelists representing the medical sector, civil society organizations, the media and other actors, Euphrasia Ebai-Atuh Ndi, team lead at Cameroon’s Consumer Service Organization, critically reflected that “consumers were left at the mercy of clinicians and politicians” during the pandemic. This problematic disconnect and lack of trust between stakeholders need to be addressed and overcome, she added. Canadian Senior Health Correspondent Julia Belluz advised to “create scientific literacy amongst the people”. Scientists, in turn, should not only develop public communication skills, but also actively engage with media, as “the media currently informs politicians, not scientists”, the VOX Health Correspondent added.

For doctors working in low-resource environments, the challenge is often a lack of access to evidence, said James Lee, emergency and critical care referent at Médecins Sans Frontières’ Medical Department in Belgium. More cooperation with local public health institutes, along with strengthening local capacity building initiatives is needed, underlined Lee. Otherwise, local doctors may obtain their evidence from social media, which is often lacking trustworthiness.

Dr. Farida Al Hosani, Spokesperson for the Health Sector at the Department of Health Abu Dhabi, explained how the United Arab Emirates built their evidence-to-policy approach on knowledge gained during former crisis. “We simplified our research results to the community and engaged with them”, Farida said, and in one case briefed and included community members in stages of an ongoing clinical trial. “In doing so, we created trust between scientists and the community.”, she explained.

As a highlight of the Summit, the third day saw the launch of the draft EVIPNet Call for Action and partner coalition for sustainable evidence-policy-society systems. “We aim to institutionalize successful evidence-to-policy approaches, use high quality norms and ensure ongoing capacity for knowledge translation”, explained John Reeder, Director of the Research for Health Department and the Science Division at WHO. EVIPNet – a network of networks – has been existing for more than fifteen years added Reeder, and “has greatly paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also called for a coalition of partners to take the Call for Action forward into implementation.

For Jorge Barreto from EVIPNet Brazil, the draft Call for Action means a “shift in culture” among policy-makers and actors of the evidence ecosystem. “We hope that using evidence in policy will be the norm rather than the exception”, Barreto underlined in his support statement. Network champions from Lebanon and Hungary additionally shared their personal views and support of the call.

Multiple strategic global partners and stakeholders expressed their explicit support for the draft Call for Action. Kerry Albright from UNICEF’s Office of Research Innocenti, for instance, re-enforced that “whole-of-society approaches and collaboration across sectors and the evidence ecosystem are needed to better tackle the future health emergencies”. Susann Roth, Advisor and Chief of Knowledge Advisory Services Center at the Asian Development Bank, supported the Call by emphasizing that “financing must flow into knowledge and into using that knowledge”. John Lavis, heading the Secretariat of the Global Comission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, described the Call as an opportunity for a “deep dive into using evidence-to-policy mechanisms”. Karla Soares-Weiser, editor-in-chief of the Cochrane Library, and Suzy Lessof, Coordinator of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Politics, both welcomed the new partnership and praised EVIPNet’s practical focus. Patrick Okwen, Lead at Effective Basic Services (eBASE), expressed his hope that the call will also help rally support from global leaders to show more commitment to evidence-based decision-making.

In the near future, evidence-to-policy processes can be taken to a new level, concluded John Reeder. “We will mobilize resources, strengthen collaborative approaches and leverage a multitude of methodologies”, stressed the Director of the WHO Research for Health Department. “Tangible actions based on best practices and the best available evidence will pave the road towards more sustainable evidence-to-policy mechanisms”, he added.