By Lucy Maina and Caroline Thiong’o
“Nobody has succeeded in influencing the policy!” someone blurted out during a recent Regional Education Learning Initiative get-together.
It occurred to us that even though the policy engagement piece was yet to be formulated, some people were already feeling frustrated; and rightly so. In the course of our work, we have all tried to engage a policy maker or a government official on different areas of concern to us. We have all tried to be heard. But the process is daunting and can easily lead one to lose confidence in public participation – a principle laid out in the constitution of Kenya.
This has certainly been the experience of members of the RELI Kenya Equity and Inclusion thematic group over the past two years. As we thought through ways to influence policies, it dawned on us that while most organisations had attempted to do this in their respective areas of work, including being part of ongoing discussions of policy reviews within the Ministry of Education, they rarely got past the initial stages.
As we discussed it one key obstacle became clear: sometimes the policy debate moves so fast that we could barely get our evidence ready and table it. It was clear that we needed a more structured way of tracking policies in Kenya if we were to have any influence on them.
This is how we first began considering using policy tracking systems and we’ve been happily surprised.
Policy tracking systems monitor policy status, including their implementation at different levels. They vary from very simple ones to more elaborate ones, involving software development. These policy tracking systems are also used to collect feedback from the public thus they should at the very minimum be user friendly and interactive. Rather than reinvent the wheel we decided to look into using existing platforms.
We reached out to Mzalendo; a non –partisan entity that keeps an eye on the Kenyan Parliament. It has a mission to facilitate public participation in parliamentary processes through information sharing, research, and networking. Lucy Maina, the Equity thematic group leader invited us to a meeting with Mzalendo staff. Nestled closely in the meeting room, Caroline Gaita Mzalendo’s Executive Director and Sylvia Katua, a research officer at Mzalendo explained the policy engagement process and various options for policy tracking. They gave us a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes, explaining how they go about the difficult task of monitoring Hansard (the report of Parliamentary proceedings) and how they then follow up with lawmakers on the various bills and motions being discussed in parliament.
They too acknowledged the challenge of public participation:
“This is why we designed the online platform, including short messages, that could ease the process and encourage public participation.”
With this platform, RELI member organisations can work at a national level to identify opportunities to prepare their evidence ahead of time. They can then use Hansard to identify champions of education and support them by providing the evidence that they need to make their arguments to parliament.
There is also room to collaborate with Mzalendo to identify education sector areas that they would like tracked. RELI could also be part of Mzalendo’s awarding ceremony ‘Shujaa awards’ (meaning hero) ‘which celebrates parliamentarians for championing issues of great interest to the public.
Organisations within RELI can also raise awareness on the Mzalendo platform among the communities they work with and encourage them to use it to have voices heard. Mzalendo offers communities an opportunity to be heard on all policy matters, not just education. There is also an opportunity to engage with Mzalendo at the regional level as they sit on different forums including the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the African Parliamentarians Network Against Corruption (APNAC).
For RELI members policy advocacy has never been easier or closer! We are excited to use this platform to improve access to quality education and learning outcomes for ALL; thus, making a difference to the lives of those children who most need an equitable and inclusive education!
Check them out today: influencing policy just got easier.