This last month the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) joined over 600 delegates who registered for EVIDENCE 2020 ONLINE, hosted by the Africa Evidence Network (AEN). The three-days event brought together stakeholders from across the African evidence ecosystem to forge new collaborations, enhance capacities, and explore the art and science of evidence-use. A mix of policy-makers, evidence synthesisers, evaluators, funders, parliamentarians, practitioners, students and many more who participated in the event, share a common interest of supporting evidence-use in Africa for a better life for all. CEE participated as a virtual exhibitor, and colleagues from our South African centre (CEE Joburg) were involved in organising the event.
Not only was this the first fully online biennial conference of the AEN, it was also the first working meeting, meaning that participants contributed to the outputs from three working streams. EVIDENCE2020 Online is the anchor event for a range of activities that happened before the event, and numerous ones following on after the event. The programme itself featured different types of sessions: inspiration sessions, working sessions, networking sessions, collective reflection sessions, and exhibition spaces. It was especially exciting to have members across the AEN engaging and contributing in the working sessions of three work streams. The working stream on ‘the art and science of evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in Africa’ focused on exploring principles that underpin the mechanism, tools, strategies and interventions for evidence-use in Africa. The working stream on ‘enhancing evidence capacities’ drafted a manifesto on capacity development for EIDM in Africa that foreground an Africa-led approach to capacity sharing at individual, organisational and systems-wide levels across the whole evidence ecosystem. The third working stream on ‘making connections and building collaborations’ not only provided fun opportunities for ‘evidence animals’ to connect with one another, but also explored key elements for successful collaboration to support EIDM in Africa. In the final collective reflection session various cross-cutting themes were highlighted, including the crucial role of trusting relationships, to ensure the authentic voices of all are heard through amongst others equity considerations (including language), the role of stories of evidence bases in times of crises, and the need for system-level changes in the “new-normal” of our current times. These clearly spoke to a theme of “Together we are stronger. Together we will make EIDM a reality”.
For us as CEE it was our first time being part of an online exhibition, and we learned much about the possibilities of online spaces and engagements at conferences. We’re looking forward to exploring and taking part in other online events, connecting with those anywhere in the world interested in the synthesis of environmental evidence and its use.