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Five years of recognizing research distinction to promote evidence based programming

(14 December 2017)  The latest edition of the Best of UNICEF Research publication is now available on the UNICEF Innocenti website. Each year this publication presents the top 12 research papers produced across the global organization,* following a review process managed by the Office of Research - Innocenti. Now in its fifth year of existence, the Best of UNICEF Research competition has become an important part of UNICEF’s annual knowledge and evidence calendar.

“What stands out is the sheer variety of research going on across UNICEF with a wide range of diverse topics highly relevant to advancing UNICEF’s work in the field,” said Kerry Albright, chief of research facilitation at UNICEF Innocenti. “This year we see innovative approaches emerging strongly, as well as a clear focus on tackling key strategic evidence gaps.”

A student with a sight impairment reading a textbook in her school in Hebron, State of Palestine. A recent study conducted by ODI, UNICEF and the State of Palestine Government on the needs and perspectives of children with disability demonstrated high potential for international policy impact. The study was sited as one of the best research papers produced by UNICEF in 2016.

 

The competition was initiated in 2013 to showcase excellence in research throughout UNICEF and to strengthen an organisational culture and commitment to quality research.

[Download Best of UNICEF Research 2017 in easy-to-read E-book format]

“Good research should inform the strategic direction and priorities of the organization, providing evidence for policies or programming,” said Albright. “In our new Strategic Plan, evidence is explicitly stated as a key driver of change for children and how we operate as an agency is changing as more countries attain middle income status.  As such,  the need for research and evidence and knowledge brokering become stronger and stronger.”

Following the rigorous internal and external review process, 12 research studies were identified as finalists from a field of 91 submissions. The new publication provides colourful, informative summaries of the finalist research listed here in alphabetical order:

A four month old baby in Gorkha district, Nepal. A recent study conducted by UNICEF and Uppsala University looks at the impact of the 'Helping Babies Breath' therapy on preventing neo-natal mortality. The study was sited as one of the best research papers produced by UNICEF in 2016.

Some notable findings

Around 10 million babies are born not breathing each year and the first minute after birth (the ‘Golden Minute’) affords a vital window for resuscitating them. The Nepal office in collaboration with Uppsala University funded research testing a basic neonatal resuscitation protocol called ‘Helping Babies Breathe.’ The results were dramatic with not only a high potential for saving lives but also for improving operational performance in neonatal units in district hospitals. Reviewers felt that it had high potential for replication elsewhere as it was designed as a low-cost intervention for countries where resources are constrained.”

The urgent need for alternatives to detention of children in conflict with the law is widely understood, yet little analysis exists on successful practices that are also compliant with international standards of human and child rights. This study, commissioned by the East Asia & Pacific regional office, looks at the law, policies and practices of ‘diversion’ – a neglected area of research. The value lies in detailed and ambitious cross-country comparison of legal and policy gaps, leading to highly context-specific policy recommendations.

Children with disabilities experience widespread violations of their rights The Palestine office commissioned original research, led by ODI-UK, that addressed a clear global evidence gap through a robust mix of original quantitative and qualitative approaches. Reviewers assessed it as having high potential for impact on UNICEF policy and programming. 

Teenagers are seen inside a youth rehabilitation center for youth Cebu, Philippines. A recent study conducted by the UNICEF East Asia Regional Office assesses alternative measures to detention of children in conflict with the law in countries of the region. The study was sited as one of the best research papers produced by UNICEF in 2016.

Strengthening the research function in UNICEF

In the Foreword of this year’s report, Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti, writes: “There is increasing acknowledgement that UNICEF requires a stronger evidence base, more systematically used, to support its programmes, policy and advocacy… This evidence needs to be rigorous, reliable and obtained with attention to the highest standards of ethics – given the focus on children, and often children in particularly vulnerable circumstances.”

One of the significant changes implemented in the shortlisting criteria in 2017 was the assessment of ethical considerations in primary data gathering and/or sensitive secondary data collection according to UNICEF’s procedure on ethical standards in evidence generation involving children. In prior years submissions were given special consideration if ethical principles were documented in their research; however, this year compliance with UNICEF ethical research standards, where appropriate, was elevated to a condition for evaluation of quality.

“Alongside other evidence products coming out of Innocenti and elsewhere which aim to explicitly identify evidence gaps for children, the Best of UNICEF Research exercise can help highlight where what we are doing is working and where it could be considered for replication in other regions, sectors or other agencies beyond UNICEF,” said Albright.

In providing overall comments on the competition, the external review panel noted the diverse range of topics highly relevant for advancing UNICEF’s work in the field with a few papers exploring new and under-researched areas of inquiry. They also noted that several research questions were formulated to better understand constraints at the local decentralized level of programming as well as giving attention to ensuring a wide range of stakeholder engagement and some examples of ‘people centred design.’

Interesting Facts and Figures

A statistical review of the global assessment process reveals some noteworthy data points.

  • Submissions from the MENA region have dramatically increased, rising from one in 2016 to 7 in 2017 with one of the three ultimate winners also coming from Palestine in the MENA region.
  • The ESARO region submitted the highest number of research papers with 21 followed by EAPRO and ROSA which submitted 12 and 11 papers respectively.
  • The number of research papers submitted by headquarters dropped by more than half from 9 papers submitted in 2016 to 4 in 2017.
  • The number of research teams made up of internal and external experts has continued to rise with the number of external teams maintaining a diminishing trend.

Access previous Best of UNICEF Research publications here

*Research conducted by UNICEF Innocenti is excluded from the assessment.