Understanding parliamentarian’s incentives to engage with evidence, the parliamentarian’s compass.

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By Kieron Crawley

Over the last year and a half CLEAR AA has been working with parliamentarians across Africa as part of its strategy to strengthen national evaluation systems. Parliamentarians have a unique role acting as a both a source of demand for quality evaluations for oversight and as key players in creating an enabling environment for evaluation systems through enacting policies into law. Raising awareness amongst parliamentarians about the usefulness of evaluation as well as building their capacity to source and interpret evaluation evidence is the foundation of CLEAR’s programming in this area.

Parliamentarians are by their very nature, political animals and in developing approaches to awareness raising and capacity-building, CLEAR AA staff have strived to develop an understanding of the influences and incentives that shape their decision-making behaviour. In pursuit of this the centre has developed a simple framework to support conversations with African parliamentarians that shed light on the factors that influence their inclination to engage with evidence as part of oversight decision making. The approach builds on the centre’s use of graphic devices to make sense of structural knowledge (Crawley, 2017).

Within the “parliamentarian’s compass” (illustrated below), parliamentarians are positioned at the centre while factors that serve to shape MPs’ decision making are represented at each of the cardinal points. To the North is the MP’s constitutional role as custodian of oversight; to the West are the MP’s obligations to citizens and constituents; to the East is personal and professional ambition; and to the South are obligations to the political party. These various sources of influence serve to inform MPs’ decision-making and while at any given time due consideration of a single pole will lead to a clear decision-making strategy, attempts to meet the interests of more than one pole may well result in the MP being pulled in different directions. The “art” of the politician is therefore hypothesised as the ability to reliably calculate the likely outcome of meeting (or failing to meet) a combination of expectations that emanate from the parliamentarians compass, and to make decisions that maximise individual political benefits while minimising negative political fallout.

An initial testing of the tool with African parliamentarians attending the APNODE annual general meeting has demonstrated that it seems to resonate with parliamentarians’ actual experience. Amongst the insights gathered so far, parliamentarians point out that;

  • Political whipping is a powerful force that influences individual MPs oversight decision-making and may run counter to the interests or expectations of constituents,
  • Constituents’ expectations of elected MPs are a powerful force in shaping decision making and are not always aligned with party priorities or an MPs constitutional role as representative; these became particularly powerful in the run up to elections,
  • Political whipping may also provide incentives that run counter to individual conscience and MPs role as outlined in the constitution,
  • A rigorous interpretation of constitutional oversight duties requires an MP to call to account members of the executive who are performing poorly. In pursuing this, members of the opposition will likely be applauded while members of the governing may be regarded as disloyal (particularly if the minister in question is a senior party official),
  • The action outlined above may well reinforce personal career outcomes for members of the opposition while scuppering hopes of political progress for junior governing party members.

Figure 1 The Parliamentarian’s Compass

Response from MPs so far suggests that the tool may help build an understanding of the complex network of incentives that politicians navigate on a daily basis; only through better understanding of the factors that shape political decision-making are we likely to be able to support greater use of evaluation evidence.

Crawley, K. (2017). The Six-Sphere Framework: a visual tool for assessing institutional readiness for M&E systems. African Evaluation Journal , 5 (1).




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