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Best of UNICEF Research and Evaluation 2020

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For children growing up now, the year 2020 will forever be marked by the virus that locked down their world.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also a crisis for child rights, as health care and education are thrown into disarray. In May 2020, UNICEF estimated that, without intervention, disrupted systems could claim the lives of 6,000 children every day for six months.

The pandemic has demanded from UNICEF a response like no other in its 74-year history. With teams on the ground in more than 190 countries, the organization has acted to protect the most vulnerable children, mobilize the global community and advocate for the interruption to the status quo to be used to reimagine a world fit for every child.
The UNICEF Reimagine campaign provides a holistic vision of the world after 2020 – one which includes the full participation of children and young people. Notably, the enactment of this vision requires sound, evidenceinformed decision-making. We cannot stop searching for answers to key questions, nor can we delay gathering more data and generating evaluative evidence to influence change.

In previous years, UNICEF has recognized excellent research and evaluations through two award schemes: Best of UNICEF Research and Most Influential Evaluations.

For 2020, the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti and the UNICEF Evaluation Office joined forces to produce a single publication based on these exercises. It is with great pleasure that we present the Best of UNICEF Research and Evaluation 2020.

In the current global political climate, evidence, facts and objective assessment are needed more than ever to help enhance the rights and well-being of the world’s children and to ensure that we achieve maximum value for money for children with every UNICEF dollar spent. Researching the changing world around us and evaluating progress towards a better world are two sides of the same coin, both critical to reimagining the future.

The Best of UNICEF Research 2020 finalists consist of 10 research pieces originally published in English,
French and Spanish. They cover diverse goal areas of UNICEF programming around the world, from health, education and child protection to social policy.

Some of this research is especially relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of understanding the influence of community linkages and social inequalities on Ebola virus disease preparedness in Uganda reveals essential principles for shaping policy responses to other epidemics.

An analysis of impacts on Chad of the 2014–2016 oil price crisis holds lessons for oil-dependent countries now facing a much deeper price shock.

A youth-led exploration of social media use across East Asia has significant potential for impact as more of life moves online than ever before.

Other finalists went to great lengths to bring young voices into their research. In Italy, unaccompanied and separated children shared stories of their transition into adulthood, while adjusting to a new context and healing from traumas. Research on child labour in Ethiopia enriched existing national data by surveying ‘hard-to-reach’ children, especially those with disabilities and those without a home.

The prevalence of locally owned and conducted research is another encouraging trend. Researchers from Belarus captured the effects of social and fiscal policies on children while applying the first measurement of multidimensional child poverty in the country. The most comprehensive assessment of student learning ever conducted in Uzbekistan, as a collaboration between UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Education, is informing ongoing education sector reforms. A comparative analysis of maternity, paternity and parental leave and breastfeeding support across 24 Latin American countries makes a compelling case for policy change throughout the region.

A number of research pieces expertly applied rigorous, yet innovative mixed methods. UNICEF Mozambique reviewed its school readiness pilot programme using a strong mix of tools, including a longitudinal trial, cost analysis, qualitative interviews and parent-led focus group discussions. Research on integrated safety net programmes in Ethiopia also combined quantitative and qualitative instruments with a substantial process evaluation.
For the eight evaluation finalists featured in this publication, the key factors were quality and ‘significant influence’ – that is, influence that is consequential to social change and which is likely to lead, or has already led, to improvements at scale in the lives of children.

One factor leading to influence is the articulation of alternative approaches that can support a world fit for all children. In Bulgaria, which has significant rates of institutionalized children, an evaluation of a more family-centric approach to childcare, based on alternative care and risk prevention, showed a different pathway. Evidence on an early childhood development strategy in Nepal demonstrated the need to coordinate action across the multiple sectoral ministries responsible for service delivery. An evaluation in El Salvador proved the benefits of a pilot programme that connected education and early childhood care to violence prevention and a culture of coexistence.

The best evaluations lead not only to the reimagining of our world, but also to commitments that can help to realize this vision. An evaluation of the national Birth Registration Programme in Nigeria spurred political commitment to support more registration centres, while also influencing within UNICEF the integrated programming approach to registration. In the State of Palestine, fading commitment to communitybased family centres was revitalized when an independent evaluation revealed the essential child protection services they provide.

Other finalists demonstrated, and enabled, better targeting through better evidence. An evaluation of UNICEF responses to complex humanitarian emergencies worldwide influenced the development of UNICEF’s current Strategic Plan (2018–2021) through an evidenceinformed understanding of how to reach the most vulnerable. In Thailand, an evaluation of a child support grant successfully argued for an expansion of the programme that avoids excluding significant numbers of families in need. Both of these evaluations also have strong relevance in facing the COVID-19 emergency and its socioeconomic fallout. So, too, does an evaluation of a community-led sanitation and hygiene programme in Malawi, which assessed solutions in a country where 15 million people lack a place to wash their hands.
From where we are now, the path to a better world for all children will not be a clear and well-paved one. Yet we know that high-quality research and evaluations, combined with a commitment to enhancing influence and use from the outset, will help show the way. We welcome you to the 2020 Best of UNICEF Research and Evaluation report with feelings of both urgency and hope