ALL-IN News

Q&A with ARN Researcher Dr.  Mercy Kamau

  1. Tell us a little about yourself?

I am married and a mother of three adult children.I did my post graduate schooling while also taking on my role as a mother to my children – a major challenge which I would not recommend. Though women often have to juggle between the family and professional development – the social pressure is too high. Good support from family and social networks was critical and really helped me reach the end of this tight rope. I am eternally grateful to my husband and family.

I am really passionate about capacity building. In fact, all my research proposals have an element of capacity building – of students, of analysts attached to the project, of partners in the public or private sector.

     2. What are the most interesting research findings from your work so far?

Given the many gaps in capacity in SSA within the research circles and well as in programmes and policy design, I think it is really important to carry others in this space along as we strengthen our impact evaluation (IE) and rigorous research.

Given the push for evidence informed decision and policy making, there is urgent need, not only to generate and disseminate the evidence, but also for capacities in the public sphere, to demand and use credible evidence. We actually do not have the luxury of enhancing capacities only of students and researchers in economics and IE.

4. What are some of you research interests and what are you passionate about?

My passion is to save my country from use of pedestrian and conventional wisdom in decision and policy making. I really would like our country to get to the point where rigorous research is demanded. You know, fighting corruption through rigid public procurement systems, audit and the court is important but not sufficient to move our countries forward. It is critical to stop wastage of resources – not only from withdrawal of office teas and flowers.

Most wastage of public resources occurs from roll-out of programmes which have not been informed by evidence, and scaling-up of interventions without lack of rigorous evidence on their impact.  Many public programmes and projects in my country are not subjected to scrutiny about the value, and too often are not required to answer the ‘so what’ question.

I lead a unit in Tegemeo Institute that is dedicated to enhance capacities in public spaces with a view to increase resources (demand) for rigorous Impact Evaluation. Since 2014 we’ve been engaging in this space, first through a grant from the Gates Foundation through which Tegemeo Institute’s capacity in evaluations including Impact Evaluation grew, and subsequent grants such as the ALL-IN grant which have empowered me and other colleagues to undertake rigorous research, build capacities and engage with public officers.

I have a keen interest in rigorous evaluation and impact evaluation. I am also interested in policy research and technology adoption studies – in addition to fertiliser and improved seed. My current interest is on the impact of interventions in increasing smallholder farmers’ adaptation to climate change.

Other current interests include the economics of soil health and policy issues.  I recently contributed in preparation of a technical report on fertiliser and soil health – being prepared for the AFSH summit 2023, and political economy on agricultural transformation – collaborative work with MSU.  

What are some challenges you face in your industry?

My biggest challenge has been in getting buy-in from public officers to integrate Impact Evaluation (IE) into programme design and implementation. In-spite of being granted resources for Impact Evaluation, the challenge of buy-in by the leaders and implementers of public programmes remain. Many deem IE designs such as RCTs to be an interference with implementation, while IE in general is viewed as a tool for making judgement. The control is totally misjudged, the common view being that it is impossible to get a good control – to make comparisons.

Second challenge is lack of good data to support rigorous IE, mainly because resources allocated are inadequate and Impact Evaluation, is usually an afterthought. This is mainly because of low IE capacity amongst designers and implementers – not planned in advance.

Due to these challenges, IEs are often undertaken by researchers from the north – they are often relatively well funded; have more opportunities. Lastly, for some strange reason, public officers and or decision makers are usually smitten with researchers from the west, hence are more likely to cooperate with them in an IE.

On a personal level, one of the challenges, has been finding a life –work balance. There is a lot to do with very few resources. Furthermore, often I find myself learning as I undertake studies, thus requiring much more effort and time, than would be the case if we were in a perfect scenario of every one working in their areas of expertise.

This is normally not the case because demand for work and studies are often not well resourced either due to limited funding.

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