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Small and Medium Enterprise Policies (SMEPOL) Workshop to Promote Evidence-based Policy Making in the Small and Medium Enterprise Sector

Date
Time (GMT +00) 00:00 23:59

Speakers:

John Young - ODI

Julius Court - ODI

There is an increasing emphasis on, and better understanding of the value and processes necessary for evidence-based policy making and implementation in developed and developing countries around the world. The CIDA/IDRC/GOE Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises Policy Development (SMEPOL) Project aims to support Egypt's transition towards a market economy, by assisting the Government of Egypt (GoE) to improve the policy environment for micro, small and medium enterprises (M/SME) development. The project identified the need for a workshop to expose project stakeholders to current theory and practice of evidence-based policy making and asked ODI, which has been working on these issues for the last five years, to run a workshop for key Government of Egypt and SMEPOL staff. The objectives of the course were to: 1) re-enforce the need for evidence-based policy reform decision making; 2) introduce some of the latest theories about evidence-based policy making; 3) outline some of the best international approaches and practice to ensure sustainable evidence-based policy making; 4) provide practical tools; and 5) help staff to develop strategies to influence policy in the SME sector in Egypt.

The first day explored some experiences of evidence-based policy making in the UK and other countries. In the Tanzania Essential Health Interventions Project (TEHIP), collaborative research involving researchers, local health service policy makers and the community informed a process of health service reforms which contributed to over 40% reductions in infant mortality between 2000 and 2003 in two districts. On the other hand, the HIV/AIDS crisis has deepened in some countries because of the reluctance of governments to implement effective control programmes, despite clear evidence of what causes the disease and how to prevent it spreading.

Evidence worldwide seems to suggest that research is most likely to influence policy if researchers, policy makers and practitioners: (a) understand why evidence is needed in the policy making process; (b) understand where evidence is needed in the policy making process; (c) have access to and participate in national and international policy networks; (d) communicate their different concerns in an effective and clear manner; and (e) have the capacity to use evidence in policy processes. In group work, participants identified a number of features of policy and research processes in Egypt that make this difficult: Many policies are developed "from the top down"; Ministers often play a key role; research-based data availability and quality is very variable; both research and policy capacity is limited; coordination between all the different stakeholders is often poor; and the SMEs themselves often don't trust the policy makers.

These factors are not uncommon in developing countries. Based on research over the last few years, ODI's RAPID Programme has developed a framework to help researchers to identify the key factors influencing research-policy linkages in their own situation. They seem to fall into four groups: the political context (political and economic structures and processes, culture, institutional pressures, incremental vs radical change etc); the evidence (credibility, the degree it challenges received wisdom, research approaches and methodology, simplicity of the message, how it is packaged etc); the links between policy and research communities (networks, relationships, power, competing discourses, trust, knowledge etc); and external Influences (socio-economic and cultural influences, donor policies etc).

On the second day, participants used a simple mapping approach to develop a policy process map for small and medium scale enterprise policies in Egypt. The Economic Committee of the National Democratic, the Council of Ministers, the Social Development Fund, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Investment are all important for policy formulation, whereas the local bureaucracies are important for implementation. The private sector and especially the SMEs themselves, seem to play a very minor role in policy development.

Participants also learned about how the RAPID Framework can also be used as a practical tool to identify what they should do to maximise the impact of their work. First, they need to develop a detailed understanding of i) the policymaking process - what are the key influencing factors, and how do they relate to each other? ii) the nature of the evidence they have, or hope to get - is it credible, practical and operationally useful? and iii) all the other stakeholders involved in the policy area - who else can help to get the message across? Second, they need to develop an overall strategy for their work - identify political supporters and opponents, keep an eye out for, and be able to react to policy windows, ensure the evidence is credible and practically useful, and build coalitions with like-minded groups. Third, they need to be entrepreneurial - get to know, and work with the policymakers, build long term programmes of credible research, communicate effectively, use participatory approaches, identify key networkers and salesmen and use shadow networks. Although this looks daunting, there are a lot of well developed tools researchers can use for mapping policy processes, research, communication and policy influence.

On the third day, participants used a number of these approaches to develop strategies to achieve three specific policy objectives: 1) to operationalize the National SME Competitiveness Strategy by October 2005; 2) to set up private credit bureaus by January 2007; and 3) to establish and operate 5 "Trading Houses" in 1 year. A key feature of most of these was a recognition that the project needs to engage more actively with a wider range of stakeholders throughout the whole SME policy process from policy formulation to policy implementation, and in particular to work closely with the SMEs themselves to try out new ideas on the ground.

In their evaluation of the workshop, most participants felt the workshop was useful and relevant to their work, and they particularly liked the RAPID framework, and policy process tools. Many though, felt that more time was needed to really learn how to use the tools and apply them in earnest to their own work

Description

The CIDA/IDRC/GOE Small and Medium Enterprise Policies (SMEPOL) Project aims to support Egypt's transition towards a market economy, by assisting the Government of Egypt (GoE) to improve the policy environment for micro, small and medium enterprises (M/SME) development. It is doing this by supporting the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of Foreign Trade (MOFT) in the development of policies, legislation and regulations supporting M/SME development. The project commissioned ODI's Research and Policy in Development Programme to run a workshop to expose project stakeholders to current theory and practice of evidence-based policy making.

Cairo, Egypt