Written by Malcolm Hartmann
In the summer of 2017 I had the pleasure of travelling to South Africa for three months through the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship program. My work and travels have been an extremely formative time and I have learned many personal and professional lessons. I’ll start by describing my time working for the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluations and then highlight the top three takeaways from this experience.
What is the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluations and how did you fit in?
The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluations, or DPME as everyone calls it, is a national department in the Republic of South Africa. The DPME’s work is centered on improving government outcomes and facilitating improved program service delivery, outcomes and impact on society. (1) Within the department I was placed in the research unit, a team that consisted of my supervisor, two colleagues and myself. During my time with DPME the research unit was primarily focused on informing the implementation of Chapter 13 of the National Development Plan (NDP).
The NDP is a long-term plan that lays out South Africa’s developmental vision in each sector of society. (2) Chapter 13 speaks to ‘building a capable state and developmental state’; a statement which many policy-makers and legislators needed clarification on to unpack what this would look like for South Africa. The term developmental state was classically used to describe the economic growth model of specific East Asian states and over time its use has been applied to a variety of countries that have had successful growth. (3)
How did the team work to unpack the ‘capable and developmental’ state?
The research project aimed to:
- Understand the evidence on developmental states to construct a knowledge base consisting of relevant evidence, and;
- Synthesize findings from identified cases on the attributes and policy mixes of developmental states for further analysis and interpretation
These goals were accomplished by following a modified systematic review methodology. Prior to the start of my internship, and throughout my time in South Africa the team:
- Performed literature searches (scientific and grey literature);
- Screened articles for inclusion;
- Extracted data (using the CoFOG organization framework (4)), and;
- Synthesized findings (multiple formats used depending on the specifics of the policymaker request)
This research process was very collaborative and the team worked with stakeholders across government departments and various academic experts.
What did you takeaway from your experience in South Africa and at the DPME?
Policy research should be driven by policymakers
Since I was coming from an academic background, working in a government setting was an eye opening opportunity. I was able to gain insight on what truly ‘policy-relevant’ research looked like by listening to my colleagues’ experiences. There were many stories of the disconnect between academia and government policy and how more often than not, academic research was not guided by government priorities.
A wonderful exception to this was the team at the Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE). (5) This academic center was fully engaged with the research unit and catered their research and capacity building activities to suit the needs of the department.
Now that I am coming back into academia I will value this experience of being on the opposite side of the academic-government interface. By actively seeking out EIDM champions within the government and allowing them to drive research I know that I will be able to achieve a larger impact.
Students can offer value to senior level teams
When I first learned of the research project I was fearful due to my lack of knowledge (none) on economic theory. However I quickly discovered that not having this content knowledge would not hinder me in any large way. I found that I was able to bring new ideas, resources and offer feedback on the project, all skills which students possess. Senior members of the team valued my ability to think systematically and have a critical mind rather than know the specific details of an economic theory.
My time working at the McMaster Health Forum gave me a toolbox that I was able to adapt to this new topic. Understanding how to conduct searches, appraise literature and synthesize the results in a format that is easily digestible are transferable skills that I can carry with me going forward.
If someone offers you an opportunity, say yes
This whole experience took me out of my comfort zone and it was sometimes difficult to say ‘yes’. Looking back, every time I said yes to an opportunity I was able to personally/professional grow and have a fantastic time. I cannot think of an instance when I regretted my decision to say yes, but there are times where I regret saying no. Whether it was facilitating a workshop, exploring a new part of the country, or meeting up with my host’s family/friends, saying yes always preceded the most memorable moments of my trip. I have found that being a QE Scholar is all about trying new things, learning and making memories; I am glad that I said yes.
Watch the video from Malcolm’s QE Scholar Insights webinar:
- Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluations. About Us [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from: http://www.dpme.gov.za/about/Pages/default.aspx
- National Planning Commission. National development plan vision 2030. 2013;
- Routley L. Developmental states: a review of the literature. ESID Working Paper. 2012;
- Schiavo-Campo S, Tommasi D. Managing government expenditure. Asian Development Bank; 1999.
- Africa Centre for Evidence. Home [Internet]. ACE. 2017 [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from: https://africacentreforevidence.org/