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UNICEF identifies top research projects in 2019

'Best of UNICEF Research' publication showcases best research papers world wide
23 Dec 2019

(23 December 2019)  The seventh edition of UNICEF Innocenti’s Best of UNICEF Research (BOUR) publication has been released. The publication features ten research papers selected through competitive review, representing the most innovative and rigorous research produced across the global UNICEF organization in 2019. 

BOUR, which reviews submissions of research from UNICEF offices and national committees around the world, continues to be an important compendium of inspiring, rigorous and potentially influential research efforts for children. This year’s winners included reports from Cambodia and the Philippines that were notable for their incorporation of behavioral science and insights into the research process. A systematic review of the response to the Ebola crisis in West and Central Africa highlighted the importance of combining epidemiological research with social and behavioral science to enhance programming efficacy. Investigation of how programmes contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets was an emerging trend in 2019, providing valuable insights for impact and system strengthening. Another trend was research on growing inequality and marginalization, including access to services and education in Ethiopia, Europe and Central Asia and the UK.

IDP camp near Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where inter-communal violence displaced approximately 343,000 persons in 2018. The Effects of Humanitarian Assistance: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial in DRC was judged to be one of top three research papers produced in all of UNICEF in 2019. 

Each year, UNICEF Innocenti invites UNICEF offices around the world – including country offices, regional offices, national committees, and headquarters – to submit recent examples of research for children. The aim is to bring attention to work that contributes to shifting policy agendas and has a high potential for impact on policies and programmes that benefit children.

“As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, what is interesting about this year’s selection of finalists is how many of these reflect emerging strategic issues of potential interest to UNICEF over the next thirty years,” said UNICEF Innocenti’s Kerry Albright, Chief of Research Facilitation and Knowledge Management, the team that coordinates the BOUR competition.  “These highlighted projects reflect the organization’s growing use of behavioural science to accelerate positive programmatic and policy outcomes; in scenario analysis to plan future policy responses and in systems-strengthening, cross-sectoral working and understanding trade-offs,” she added.

Read More About UNICEF Innocenti's Research Uptake and Impact Work

“Methodologically, we also see a growing organizational confidence in the use of evidence synthesis and secondary analysis as well as primary research. We also see offices taking on the challenge of research and impact evaluation in complex humanitarian contexts and in trying to counter positive publication bias by also documenting negative or inconclusive results.  Finally, we see a continued commitment to tackling growing inequality and marginalization as well as in enhancing the voices and participation of young people within the research process.”

This year’s winners cover a range of topics, locations, cultures and levels of economic development, including health, poverty, finance, disability, and more. Following an internal review of many eligible submissions, qualified UNICEF Innocenti staff identified 10 finalists which were then independently reviewed by an external panel of international experts. The most prevalent themes this year include child protection and health, as well as submissions with cross-cutting themes.

Acknowledging their strong conceptualization, sound methodology, originality and potential for impact, BOUR evaluation panels selected three winners from countries that have never been shortlisted as finalists:

Four year old children involved in a learning activity in Chinna Kanjarla Village, Telangana, India. The India Early Childhood Education Impact Study produced by CECED, the Aser Centre and UNICEF India was judged to be one of top three research projects in all of UNICEF in 2019.

The India Early Childhood Education Impact Study

Produced by the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED), the Aser Centre and UNICEF India. The panel commended the rigorous nature of this research as well as the methods adopted to assess the quality of early childhood education programs. As an observational, longitudinal study, poor and marginalized children were followed for 4 years in two districts of the 3 Indian states of Telangana, Assam and Rajasthan. The choice of measures and assessment tools are considered appropriate and clearly highlight the links between school readiness and subsequent early grade outcomes.

Violent Discipline in the Middle East and North Africa Region

Produced by UNICEF MENA Regional Office. The panel lauded this piece for its original contribution to a sensitive, yet policy relevant topic for vulnerable populations in the MENA region. The report employs a multidisciplinary approach to analyze secondary data available in the region, notably the MICS and DHS modules on violence against children. It also provides a comprehensive analysis of survey data on violent discipline among children aged 2-14 years.

Effects of Humanitarian Assistance: Evidence From a Randomized Control Trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Produced by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), DRC Humanitarian Pooled Fund, UNOCHA and UNICEF DR Congo. The panel found this report to fill an important gap in the literature by providing rigorous evidence with a counterfactual on the impacts of vouchers in humanitarian settings. Also, the researchers demonstrated their commitment to rigorous research within a complex environment and adopted creative solutions to overcome some implementation obstacles. Overall, the presentation is well-targeted to a practitioner audience, but at the same time demonstrates rigorous methods and high academic standards.

UNICEF Innocenti is pleased to see that India is not only ranked as a finalist but also as a top three this year having previously ranked as finalist in 2017. We also note that research from the MENA region is now featuring as a top-three finalist for the third year in a row (the two previous editions being submissions from Egypt and Palestine). It is also exciting to see a new entrant – DR Congo – shortlisted as a finalist and a top three this year. Submissions for the 2019 Best of UNICEF Research were received from different thematic areas, the most prevalent being child protection, health and cross-cutting themes.

The Top 10 Finalists

The external panel noted the robustness and quality of research in all 10 finalists’ submissions and specifically noted their added policy relevance. The panel further noted the potential replicability of the reports in other countries/contexts.

Full reports from the top 10 finalists available to download:

In addition to the BOUR 2019 publication, this year UNICEF Innocenti has undertaken and published Best of UNICEF Research Retrospective: Documenting Impact and Lessons Learned (Link at right). This new publication investigated the impact of BOUR finalists research studies between 2013 and 2018 in order to better understand the role BOUR has played in generating impact for children in the countries where the research was conducted. The publication provides six case studies of impact on safe water, social protection, child rights advocacy, emergency preparedness, child health and child disability.