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PEERSS teams successful in bringing evidence to policymaking


The Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems (PEERSS), launched in 2018, is a five-year CAD8.7 million partnership funded jointly by the International Development Research Centre and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 

PEERSS aims to strengthen the use of appropriate mechanisms and build conducive environments for advancing evidence-informed policymaking in social systems, with a focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It comprises a cohort of 13 IDRC projects across the globe, and it aims to increase the use of evidence-informed policymaking to improve social systems. 

A principal tenet of PEERSS is collaboration among sectors — between countries and within countries — including government departments, civil society organizations, academia and citizens. This intersectoral collaboration generates diverse input and perspectives from many stakeholders, encouraging greater uptake of research into policy by incorporating broader stakeholder perspectives and driving increased support for research-based policy changes. These qualities are demonstrated across three PEERSS projects: in Brazil, Chile and South Africa. 

Involving youth in developing National Youth Plan guidelines in Brazil 

In 2022, the PEERSS Brazil team developed Guidelines for a National Youth Plan, which were presented to the newly elected President Lula da Silva and informed his national plan. The Veredas Institute, a Brazilian non-governmental organization dedicated to knowledge translation for social policies, led the PEERSS collaboration with Atlas das Juventudes (Youth Atlas), youth from across Brazil and various government representatives at the state and federal levels. Youth Atlas is a collection of civil society organizations dedicated to producing, systematizing and disseminating data on youth issues and working with government officials to improve policies related to youth.  

While youth are afforded 11 main rights via the Statute of Youth in Brazil, including citizenship, education, culture, and sport and leisure, the PEERSS team in Brazil found there was a lack of policy or plan to put the rights into practice. After conducting reviews on each of the rights, Youth Atlas and Veredas engaged with government members and youth. Through various stakeholder meetings, they helped develop guidelines. 

The COVID-19 pandemic foregrounded and exacerbated issues affecting young people. Research in Brazil suggests that youth mental health suffered greatly, as many of their rights — including education and experiencing culture, sport and leisure — were violated by the circumstances. These impacts acted as a catalyst for change and helped promote higher engagement, particularly from youth, in formulating guidelines. 

Laura Boeira, Director of the Veredas Institute and PEERSS Brazil’s project leader, explained that youth were enthusiastic in development sessions about uptake of evidence in policy, saying, “… most of our youth representatives were very supportive of step #4 [of the guidelines]: making the policy and the plan evidence informed. So, it showed us great momentum for youth, engaging with science, engaging with evidence, trying to make the best use of data and whatever research they had on hand to inform their decisions.” 

By involving Brazilian youth in the development of National Youth Plan guidelines, the PEERSS team ensured that the guidelines incorporated youths’ needs and desires, ultimately engendering widespread support for policy change that culminated in evidence uptake by Brazil’s new president.  

Working to expand food-labelling laws in Chile 

Chile’s PEERSS team did deliberative work to prepare an evidence summary that expanded the country’s food-labeling laws for fast food restaurants in an effort to tackle obesity over the long term. The Evidence-Informed Health Policies Unit (UPSIE) in Chile’s Ministry of Health guided the PEERSS project in collaboration with the Ministry’s Department of Nutrition and Food, citizens and interest groups. 

In 2016, Chile passed a policy mandating front-of-package nutrient warning labels, restricting the marketing of food to children and banning the sale of packaged foods and drinks that were dense in calories, sugar, sodium or saturated fat. The PEERSS team created an evidence summary to be used to expand this food labeling policy to fast food restaurants. They then underwent deliberative processes with citizens and interest groups, including a citizen dialogue in October 2022, to incorporate citizen perceptions and knowledge into the policy. 

This type of participatory process is of high value in creating well-rounded policies. The Chilean Department of Nutrition and Food has since ratified the deliberative work on food labelling. The PEERSS team is evaluating the contribution of citizens to the policy-making process as a first step to institutionalizing these deliberative processes, specifically with respect to citizens, in the Ministry of Health. 

A group of PEERSS partners from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Lebanon, Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia and other countries together at Africa Evidence Week in Johannesburg in September 2022.
PEERSS partners from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Lebanon, Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia and other countries. Africa Evidence Week, Johannesburg (September 2022).

This evidence-informed policy is an example of successful intersectoral collaboration among different government units and citizens. After this progress, the Department of Mental Health requested similar processes be used to formulate a national mental health plan, also spearheaded by the PEERSS team in the UPSIE. Both the Departments of Mental Health and of Nutrition and Food are very interested in the use of deliberative processes as part of the design phase for national plans and policies. 

The UPSIE team notes that, “Strengthening trust in relationships within the health sector is vital to institutionalize the use of evidence to support decision-making. At the same time, building intersectoral collaborations across health and other social policy areas is a challenge we should address in the near future to advance in evidence-informed policies and social determinants of health. The identification of the different stakeholders in the evidence ecosystem will allow us to establish those relationships strategically.” 

Through continued intersectoral collaborations, stakeholder perspectives can drive the uptake of evidence-informed policymaking. 

Informing the National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa 

The South Africa PEERSS team informed the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) by collating evidence for implementation through specific policy and program changes aligned with the NSP.  

Led by the Africa Centre for Evidence, based at the University of Johannesburg, representatives from multiple government agencies — including the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation’s (DPME) Research and Knowledge Management Unit, DPME’s gender-based violence focal point, and the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities’ Chief Directorate on Research and Policy Analysis — collaborated to inform the process of developing the NSP evidence map. The evidence map was then presented to the NSP coordinating council, which comprised stakeholders from civil society, the private sector, academia and government. 

The NSP is a high-level tool and policy framework aiming to address the high rates of GBVF in South Africa. Under the NSP for GBVF, the South African government has implemented new legislation aiming to protect and support survivors. 

On co-production sessions with government members, PEERSS South Africa co-leader Andile Madonsela said, “… throughout the process we also capacitated the government departments we're working with to be able to do their evidence maps themselves to a point where they don't even need us to be knowledge brokers... So, I've found that it's quite important that we continue to promote the importance of co-production and partnership.” She emphasized the importance of the collaborative process between the team and the government to integrate evidence into policy. 

The PEERSS South Africa co-leader Andile Madonsela presents the evidence map.
Andile Madonsela, PEERSS South Africa co-leader, presents the evidence map.

The evidence base developed for the NSP implementation by the PEERSS team and intersectoral government collaborators encompassed 129 pieces of evidence tailored to the needs of the NSP. It was presented in a dedicated exhibition space at the Presidential Summit on GBVF. The South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, engaged with the team and evidence map at the event.  

Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa, looks at the evidence map in November 2022.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa looks at the evidence map (November 2022).

The evidence base is being updated this year to further its integration into the NSP. By involving multiple government sectors and the diverse stakeholders on the NSP coordinating council, the PEERSS South Africa team ensured that evidence incorporation into the NSP implementation was prioritized and supported.

These PEERSS projects in Brazil, Chile and South Africa show that intersectoral collaboration encouraged the uptake of research into policy by incorporating stakeholder perspectives, and driving greater support for research and evidence-based policy changes.