Formative Research to inform education policy implementation in Africa Summary Outline

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Formative Research to inform education policy implementation in Africa



  • What is formative research?

  • How can it support systemic ed. change?

  • Why is WGESA interested?

What is formative research?

  • Proscriptive rather than descriptive

  • Entails asking:

  • - What methods worked well?

  • - What did not work well?

  • - How can implementation be improved?

  • - How can the theory informing the policy,

  • and the policy itself, be improved?


  • SYSTEMIC approach

  • PROCESS-oriented

  • designed to support CHANGE

  • PRACTICAL – informs decision-makers

  • draws on CASE STUDY approach and QUALITATIVE research methodologies



  • USA

  • Indiana School District Systemic Change Effort

  • Formative research process accompanied implementation of Guidance System for Transforming Education (GSTE)

  • Included studies on:

    • Assessing the district`s readiness for change
    • Core Team concerns: selecting participants,
    • creating Team dynamic, providing training in systems design
    • Identifying competing change efforts
    • Evolution of mindsets about education
  • Process is called ``Journey Toward Excellence``


  • Transforming the South African Higher Education System

  • South Africa - Norway Tertiary Education

  • Development Programme (SANTED)

EXAMPLE No. 2 (SANTED, con’t.)

  • Formative Research aims:

    • Provide research results during project implementation.
    • Provide summative results upon completion.
    • Facilitate sharing of learning experiences between the two institutions.
    • Provide sound base for decision-making on components to be sustained and/or modified.
    • Contribute to the success of the projects.
    • Develop comparative insights into the processes of leadership and management and organisational learning.
  • Actors:

    • South Africa (SA) Ministries of Finance and Education and Norwegian agency for development cooperation
    • Center for Education Policy Development, Evaluation and Management (CEPD) in SA as formative research coordinator
    • SA institutions of higher learning (two universities), research partner (Norwegian university)
    • Appropriate research entities and individuals at above institutions
  • Activities included: research proposal, reading lists, training seminars, visit to Norwegian University to ``observe`its quality reform process

  • For more information:


  • Ghana

  • Free Compulsory Basic Education (FCUBE)

  • Program, 1995-2005

  • Mid-term stocktaking on quality of teaching and learning:

    • Changes since 1996 vis-à-vis achievement of FCUBE strategic objectives (beneficiary assessment – schools, communities, newspaper reports)
    • Development of statistical database for assessing achievements, weaknesses and constraints of the program and mapping strategies for improvement
    • Management for efficiency
  • Recommendations included:

    • Continuous Assessment training for teachers
    • Capacity building at district level for management of budget and other resources – to counter neglect of regional offices in implementation
    • National contributory Education Fund
    • Mobilizing all stakeholders to improve quality of education for girls


  • Appropriate for analyzing macro and complex processes

  • Support policy implementation process

  • Promotes dialogue tethered to implementation and improvement

  • Expands research base

  • Facilitates appropriation of research results for decision-making

  • Builds competencies and confidence

  • Steers the process of change to improve results

Towards a Learning System

  • Formative research moves us toward “learning systems” described by ADEA as follows:

  • Move towards a system of learning institutions

  • Focus on learning permeates such a system and gives it coherence

  • Emphasize continuous improvement and a sustained effort over time

  • Rely on evidence based strategies grounded in lessons from experience

  • Create framework for systemic learning from national, regional and international experience

Criteria for pilot countries

  • country desire, commitment

  • well-conceived education sector program, at initial stages of implementation

  • history of using research in decision-making

  • country willingness/ability to “convince” sector funders to support process

  • network of in-country funders that will fund process (with WGESA seed grant)

  • good researchers and national research institutions that will contribute to success/value of exercise

  • fairly good statistical database or monitoring system that brings relevant key data

  • Burkina Faso: Plan décennal de l’éducation de base (PDDEB),  2001-2010

  • Gambia: National Education Policy, 1988-2003; developing new via highly participatory process

  • Ghana: Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) Program, 1995-2005

  • Mali: Programme Décennal de l’Education (PRODEC), 1998-2008

  • Niger: Programme Décennal de Développement de l’Education (PDDE), 2003-2013

  • Nigeria: Universal Basic Education program

  • Sénégal: Programme Décennal de l’Éducation et de la Formation (PDEF), 2000-2010

WGESA involvement – why?

  • Knowledgeable about national situations, Facilitator

  • Well-situated among governments,

  • funding and technical agencies,

  • and research community

  • Understands analytical work as a technical activity and as political activity

  • Can contribute to refining approach and promote its use

WGESA involvement – how?

  • Review formative research as applied to education and reform processes

  • Identify pilot countries

  • Provide seed grants, technical expertise and mechanism for exchange among pilot countries and international partner(s)

  • Conduct meta-analysis of formative research process

  • Promote model of formative research and lessons learned on wider scale

Articulation with WGESA strategies

  • Africanization:

    • deeper appropriation of sector analysis
    • national and regional capacity among individuals and within institutions
    • more local shaping of issues and approaches
  • Renewed SA: beyond planning to implementation


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