Eco-system services and multi-dimensional poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: Co-producing demand-led evidence syntheses to inform policy-making

Lead Research Organisation: University of Johannesburg
Department Name: Anthropology


This project aims to support the use of eco-system services evidence to inform policy-making that is more relevant to the realities and multitudes of people living in LMICs and their complex use of eco-system services. By generating practical tools, supporting capacity, and increasing research demand and awareness, this research aims to influence the behaviour of decision-makers in order to support pro-poor eco-system services policy-making in Sub-Saharan Africa.
It uses evidence synthesis, evidence mapping and systematic review methodologies to provide answers for policy and practice across the region. The first step set out in the research will be to understand the nature and extent of the evidence-base generated by the ESPA programme in relation to eco-system services in LMICs, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. We will go on to search comprehensively for research evidence from the region to produce a systematic evidence map. This will be the basis for a user-friendly evidence interface to enable an active dialogue between decision-makers in government, NGOs, and researchers. This evidence interface will be tailored to inform decision-making in a policy context and allow policy-makers to critically interrogate the gaps and policy-relevance of the existing research evidence. We will launch the evidence interface at a high-level meeting of senior African environmental policy-makers, the International Biodiversity Research and Evidence Indaba. As a result of this stakeholder engagement, we will agree four demand-driven syntheses, which will then be produced during the remainder of the project.
These four pieces of more focused work will synthesise evidence to answer four specific questions in the region as prioritized by our government partners. These have been preliminarily scoped with government colleagues as follows, but will be refined in consultation with stakeholders: i) what works in the management of ecosystems services in drylands in the region, ii) how best to provide effective governance of ecosystems services in low income countries, iii) what guidelines and decision-making tools are available to support decision-makers and do these include multiple dimensional measures of poverty? and iv) how can research methodologies be better aligned to decision-makers' needs?
We will engage in an active process of co-production with government colleagues to answer research questions (iii) and (iv). That is, these two evidence syntheses will be produced by an active collaboration between the research team and government colleagues. This will include direct mentoring, applied learning, and on-demand capacity-building. It will allow us to not just synthesise insights on decision-making tools and applied research methods; but to also adapt and develop new decision-making tools and to enhance policy-makers' understanding and appraisal of the existing evidence-base. The project will therefore leave eco-system service policy-makers in Sub-Saharan Africa with two tangible tools to support their decision-making. The first tool refers to the evidence interface, while the second refers to the jointly-produced (or adapted) decision-making tool, which is assumed to be more policy-relevant and by design of the synthesis will pay particular attention to multi-dimensional poverty measures.
This work will be led from the University of Johannesburg by their Evidence to Action team, with support from specialists in evidence synthesis (at University College London's EPPI-Centre), from international leaders in understanding multi-dimensional poverty in Africa (from the Southern Africa Social Poverty Research Institute - SASPRI), and from specialists in eco-systems services (including the South African National Biodiversity Institute - SANBI). Last but certainly not least, this proposal has been driven by colleagues from South Africa's national Department for Environmental Affairs, and their recognised priorities across the region.

Planned Impact

This research aims to increase the use of research evidence by eco-system service policy-makers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The research framework approaches eco-system service evidence from a policy-maker perspective. This is reflected in the demand-led approach to the conducted evidence syntheses, the active process of co-production to generate these syntheses, and the tangible tools produced by these syntheses (the evidence interface and the policy-relevant decision-making tool). The direct audience for this research is eco-system service policy-makers in SSA, in particular policy-makers across LMICs in the region. We are working closely with the national IPBES focal point for South Africa and the Departmental coordinator of the IPBES Technical Support Unit for Africa. The findings of this project will feed directly into the South African national agenda, as well as the SSA policy arena. By generating practical tools, supporting capacity, and increasing research demand and awareness, this research aims to influence the decision-making behaviour of these individuals in order to support pro-poor eco-system services policy-making in SSA.
This research applies an explicit behaviour change framework to conceptualise outcomes and activities required to support policy-makers' behaviour change. The proposed project aims to influence policy-makers' i) capability to use evidence; ii) awareness of and demand to use evidence; iii) opportunity to use evidence; and iv) relationship and network-building between policy-makers and researchers. To these ends the project will engage in a process of co-production, which entails mentoring, collaboration and applied learning as well as on-demand capacity-building. The evidence interface will provide institutional capacity and increase policy-makers' understanding of the eco-system services evidence-base. As policy-makers critically interrogate this evidence-base, they will support a definition of what constitutes policy-relevant eco-systems evidence and the role of policy-makers in ensuring this type of evidence is produced and available to inform their decision-making. This evidence interface will be user-friendly, visually engaging and interactive to ensure it is an active form of access to the evidence (rather than passive access as in research-driven databases). These activities to enhance access to evidence will be complemented by an evidence-informed dissemination strategy to communicate the main research findings.
The importance of relationships and networks between policy-makers and researchers is key. The proposed research is embedded within strong existing research to policy networks and will draw from these relationships throughout. The research is supported by South Africa's national government departments for Environmental Affairs and for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and is linked with the IPBES Technical Support Unit for Africa. These relationships will facilitate the presentation of the evidence interface at a high-profile gathering of senior African environmental policy-makers and ensure the produced syntheses are demand-led. As a Southern-led research programme, this project is ideally positioned to strengthen the existing networks and facilitate policy-makers and research interaction in a manner that allows for the increased exchange and application of policy-relevant research evidence.
In sum, this research aims to support SSA eco-system policy-makers to make evidence-informed policy decisions that are of relevance to the needs of people depending on eco-system services for their livelihoods. It does so by supporting policy-makers capability to use evidence; by producing policy-relevant evidence in a demand-led process; by increasing decision-makers awareness, demand, and ownership of eco-system services evidence; and by actively facilitating decision-making behaviour change by producing two tangible tools owned by and tailored for SSA policy-makers.


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Description (1) Publically available, interactive evidence map on the links between ecosystem services and poverty alleviation in Africa. The map illustrates that: evidence on the links between ecosystem services and multi-dimensional poverty is focussed on income as an outcome indicator; regionally, southern and eastern Africa dominate as areas where research about the links between ecosystem services interventions and multi-dimensional poverty alleviation has taken place; and various synthesis and primary research gaps still exist.
(2) Rapid evidence assessment (REA) on the impact of different types of governance in protected are on multidimensional poverty measures in Sub-Saharan Africa. The REA found that: The different governance types in protected areas do not seem to result in the alleviation of poverty in any form, but findings suggest that there is increased livelihood insecurity among affected communities. It is surprising that when governance types are considered independently of one another there are few differences in outcomes by type. That is, different forms of governance results in the same equity concerns and subsequent conflicts hindering positive socio-economic effects. The evidence base contains little information on conservation rates measured, or on aspects of sustainable use. As a result, there is an absence of evidence on the impact of different governance structures on environmental outcomes. There is similarity across governance types in the barriers to effective governance structures. In protected areas governed by government and by communities, participation by communities in the governance structures is insufficient and unequal, and communication between governance structures and communities are inadequate, while there is evidence of elite capture of governance structures. It is major weakness of the included evidence-base that these environmental outcomes are not assessed empirically. It is challenging to investigate the links and synergies between ecosystem services and conservation activities and poverty reduction if not both outcomes are empirically assessed.
(3) Rapid evidence assessment (REA) on the impact of marine resource management on multidimensional poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and found that: Marine national parks (IUCN category II) have neutral to negative impacts on socio-economic outcomes, while IUCN category VI MPAs have a negative impact on the same outcomes, with only one study finding a positive impact on income (measured as fish sales). Community-based MPAs have mostly negative perceived impacts on well-being and livelihoods (this evidence-base though is only constituted of two studies). Gender, geographical location, and socio-economic factors (such as fisheries livelihood) all influenced the experience of impact for all types of MPAs. Whereas the socio-economic impacts of no-take zones were found to be positive for livelihoods and food security, the impacts of this intervention included a sense of displacement and despair for communities, and the perception that benefits accrue to government more than to self and communities. Gear restriction was perceived to have a positive impact on income, and it was also the preferred fisheries management intervention for local fishers; this though is from a small evidence-base.
(4) Rapid evidence assessment (REA) on the methods used in ecosystem services and poverty alleviation research: The conclusion from our snapshot of research frames within the general literature is that poverty is not consistently recognised or measured as multi-dimensional, and the same is true for our snapshot of ESPA-funded outputs. Regarding local knowledge, again our snapshot of general literature reveals that local knowledge is not considered within research frames of studies on ecosystem services and poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa. The ESPA-funded research considers local knowledge slightly more than the general research. On the aspect of policy-relevance of research frames, the snapshots of the general research and ESPA-funded research on ecosystem services and poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa indicate that whilst there are some attempts to ensure methods take into account policy contexts, very few go far enough to be considered policy-relevant.
(5) Rapid evidence assessment (REA) on decision-tools for ecosystem services and poverty alleviation. The conclusion from our snapshot of decision-making tools within the general literature is that multi-dimensional understanding of poverty is not sufficiently considered; and the same can be said about ESPA-funded literature. Regarding local knowledge, our conclusion from this snapshot of decision-tools within the general literature is that local knowledge was not taken into account. For ESPA-funded research the picture is slightly more positive, but our conclusion remains that this literature on decision-tools does not take into account local knowledges. The picture in relation to the policy-relevance of decision-tools in both the general and ESPA literature appears more positive than the snapshots described above on both multi-dimensional poverty and local knowledge. However, there are still sizable gaps in the consideration of relevant policies when these decision-tools are described and discussed.
Exploitation Route The interactive evidence map is publically available and a good resources for both decision-makers and researchers to locate evidence related to particular topics as they can create new maps by using the available filters. Evidence maps are useful for funders as they illustrate areas where research is concentrated and synthesis should perhaps be funded before more primary research is commissioned; while also illustrating areas in which little research exists and funding could be directed. Similarly, the rapid evidence assessments are sources for both researchers and policy makers that answers the research questions based on the available evidence as a whole, rather than focusing on a single research study.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Our project has contributed to better evidence on the linkages between ecosystem services and multi-dimensional poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Better evidence has been created through high quality syntheses that did not exist before; through the focus of the syntheses on questions that were considered to be relevant to decision-makers; and through the participation of decision-makers in various stages of our project. The relationship between project team members (from the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) Johannesburg) and our decision-maker partners (South African Department of Environmental Affairs) is continuing in the form of submitting funding proposals for the development of a responsive evidence synthesis service for the department, and this service is currently being piloted. A positive result/impact of the ESPA-funded work has been the strengthening of the working relationship between the university and the department culminating in the signing of a MoU for future collaboration on evidence synthesis. In addition, the findings of our various research outputs will be presented at both regional and international scientific events. The evidence map exists as a public good, accessible to anyone with an interest in this evidence-base.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description SA story
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Title Mapping framework, map and decsion-making assessment tool 
Description We developed a framework that maps a broad scope of ecosystem services interventions against the sustainable development goals. We have developed an interactive evidence map that decision-makers can use to create various smaller maps based on their area of interest. We developed and piloted a tool to assess decision-making tools that considers the extent to which the policy context, indigenous knowledge, and multi-dimensional poverty have been considered within particular ecosystem services decision-making tools. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Decision-makers and researchers are using the interactive evidence map to identify research on areas of interest, and to rethink how they conduct research in future. 
Description Engagement with DEA 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We have taken a novel approach to engaging with stakeholders by presenting our research findings at decision-maker forums and engaging with them throughout our project. For example, as part of our engagement with decision-makers, we were requested to present the evidence map at the internal government Biodiversity Branch meeting. Presenting the map and promoting its use as a decision-making tool was well-received by government colleagues. We have since been invited to other closed and open forums to present on our work. An example of an open forum was presentations of the interactive evidence map at the South African Department of Environmental Affairs' (DEA) annual Biodiversity and Research Evidence Indaba, 17-18 August 2017, Pretoria, South Africa. In addition, we also consulted widely with decision makers in Africa through an online poll on what the relevant questions should be for our various evidence syntheses reports.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017