|Bridging the Gap between Academic Research and Energy Policy in Uganda|
|Monday, 01 August 2016 14:14|
The DRUSSA program support for Fellowships in Uganda aims to promote more use of evidence-based policies by enhancing the processes for interaction and networking between researchers and policy-makers. DRUSSA Fellow Dr Geofrey Bakkabulindi from Makerere University was based at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) of Uganda from December 2015 to May 2016 and worked with ministry officlals on the review of the National Energy Policy for Uganda (2002). Dr Bakkabulindi recounts his experiences.
My fellowship at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) of Uganda has challenged my preconceptions about academic research’s influence on policy formulation. Policy makers and academics tend to have divergent approaches to their crafts. Public sector agencies and academic institutions have different cultures, incentives and expertise. Such differences can present barriers to research uptake in policy formulation.
The policy fellowship at MEMD focused on providing updated research evidence for the review of the Energy Policy of Uganda formulated in 2002. The ministry initiated the review of the energy policy in 2014. Various events and developments over the last decade have overtaken the initial considerations of the 2002 policy. The ministry has since developed complementary policies to guide different energy sub-sectors, e.g. the Biomass Energy Strategy, Renewable Energy Policy (2007), Oil and Gas Policy (2008) and the Atomic Energy Act (2008), among others.
I integrated smoothly into the policy environment at MEMD, mainly because the ministry has a track record of working with University academics. Perhaps a minor challenge encountered was the view of my work as a consultancy, rather than a research fellowship attached to the Ministry. This potentially distorted the expected scope of my contribution to the far-reaching policy review process. This was clarified, however, and my role was properly established. Interactions with the ministry officials were amicable overall, and the importance of aligning the energy policy with the current and emerging trends was well acknowledged.
Role of Research in the Policy Environment
Historically, the media and other lobby groups have had more influence on Ugandan policy than academic researchers. Academic research has traditionally been focused on publications for academic tenure track advancement, rather than on policy impact. Ugandan academics have also had no specific incentive to tailor their research and communication towards policy. Two factors currently contribute to bridging the gap: the need for policies based on sound evidence, and the increasing importance of showing potential research impact to secure funding for academic research.
Ministry officials provided some insights into how academic research could be designed to maximise impact on policy. The research should provide clear outcome descriptions and identify the policy implications, rather than focus on lengthy methodological and theoretical details. The findings should be communicated using short briefings and plain language that is accessible to non-specialists. Additionally, research should be targeted towards the long term government plans, e.g. the Vision 2040, so that findings are timely aligned with the national goals. A key issue cited was that the timing of research results was often out of sync with immediate policy decisions that follow defined, and sometimes short, political priorities and cycles. The research is therefore not available when needed.
Bringing Stakeholders together
Among the activities of the Fellowship was the organisation of two symposia held in March and June 2016. The symposia were aimed at stimulating and generating wider discussions on the energy policy review among stakeholders from both public and academic institutions. The symposia were well attended and successful with regard to highlighting evidence based policy review. Furthermore, they presented an important platform for bringing academics and policy-makers together. This helped to address a barrier cited by academic colleagues at Makerere University on engaging with policy; i.e. the high threshold and effort costs required to build relationships with policy makers.
The DRUSSA Fellowship experience has been meaningful both from my and the ministry officials’ perspective. We prepared a paper on the key considerations for the evidence based review of the energy policy 2002. The paper generated wide ranging feedback and input from the ministry and stakeholders after presentation at the symposium in June 2016. The various inputs to this discussion will carry the important discussions forward towards an updated energy policy that will guide Uganda’s energy sector in the coming decade. In addition, we developed a web-based repository where stakeholders and researchers can access energy policy documents and upload relevant research findings centrally. The repository is intended to sustain the interaction between academic researchers and energy policy makers beyond the DRUSSA fellowship.
Dr. Geofrey Bakkabulindi is a Lecturer at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Makerere University