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Each year the Office of Research - Innocenti invites the global UNICEF network to share recently completed research for the Best of UNICEF Research competition. The aim is to bring attention to a vital part of UNICEF’s work that contributes to shifting policy agendas and/or has a high potential for impact on policies and programmes that benefit children. The results are disseminated in annual Innocenti catalogue publications. The Best of UNICEF Research is an excellent opportunity to scan the latest (non Innocenti) research initiatives in the organization and share emerging knowledge with the development community.

Best of UNICEF Research 2016


The Best of UNICEF competition identifies a number of studies that are assessed to be of particular merit on a number of criteria: in terms of the relevance and interest of the topic and findings; the rigour of their methodology; and the potential for impact, including lessons that could inform programmes elsewhere, or the capacity for replication or scaling up. Issues covered include health, education, WASH, child protection and social inclusion. There was also a strong emphasis on qualitative and mixed methods research, demonstrating the value of rigorous qualitative studies. A number of studies selected as of special merit in 2016 involved research directly with children and there is an increasing recognition that children’s perspectives are of primary importance. There was also a welcome attention to gender in some of the studies, including research with both adolescent boys and girls.

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2016 Finalists List

Education in Ghana. Do capitation grants work? -The 1992 Republic of Ghana Constitution enjoins government to take steps to ensure that basic education is made compulsory and free. With this goal in mind, successive Ghanaian governments over the past decade and a half have made improving education outcomes a key priority of national development policy. 

Stillbirths in China. A neglected problem - Rates of infant mortality and under-five mortality have been carefully monitored for decades and are accepted as significant indicators by all countries. Moreover, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) made the reduction of these rates, both worldwide and within countries, a high priority. Similarly, while for many years maternal mortality received too little attention, the MDGs were instrumental in putting the reduction of maternal deaths on the international agenda.

Cash Transfers in Ethiopia. A successful pilot - Direct cash transfers have, in recent years, been increasingly recognized as an effective mechanism for reaching the poorest groups in society, leading many governments to explore their potential in their own local context.

Nepal’s Child Grant. Reaching Dalit children - Social protection has become an increasingly prominent public policy tool in Nepal over the past two decades, with cash transfers even provided throughout the Maoist insurgency between 1996 and 2000. Since the conflict’s end, the Government of Nepal has explicitly integrated social-protection programming into the broader post-conflict development and reconstruction agenda.

Improving Infant and Young Child Feeding in Nigeria - Supplementing the diets of young children with micronutrient powder can be a vital means of improving their nutritional health. However, persuading parents of the importance of this kind of supplementation and making it a regular part of their children’s diet is by no means a straightforward process. Each community may well need to be approached in a different way, with strategies adapted to take account of local circumstances and cultural practices.

Girls in Indonesian Schools. Managing menstrual hygiene - In recent years there has been growing recognition of the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) as a factor in encouraging or deterring girls’ participation in school. In many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, girls are less inclined to attend school if decent and sufficiently private sanitation facilities are not provided – and this is particularly the case once they have reached the menarche.

Paediatric Care in West Africa. A child's-eye view - Worldwide, children are one of the most important groups to access and use health services. The first weeks and years of life are potentially fraught with difficulties – from accidents to pathologies or nutrition problems – yet there is next to no data available on the quality of care provided to them, especially not as it is seen and experienced by the children themselves. This unique West African research programme sought to provide insight by not only describing the ways in which paediatric care is accessed but also allowing children to ‘assess’ the quality of such care in their own voices and with drawings.

Violence against Women and Children in South Africa. Victims and perpetrators - Interpersonal violence is a dynamic phenomenon that arises out of the complex interplay between multiple experiences over the course of individuals’ lives. Such complexity and dynamism are amplified where large population groups are considered, since not all individuals with similar experiences will become victims of, and/or perpetrate, violence. Such violence cannot therefore be understood through a root-cause analysis such as is typically applied to single events such as a plane crash or the collapse of a building.

Education Worldwide. Investing more equitably - There are about one billion children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age globally, and the youth population is growing. When preprimary-age children are included, the figure is closer to 1.4 billion. Education is a human right for all of them. Yet far too many remain out of school, many of them excluded because of poverty, discrimination related to gender, ethnic origin or disability, or living in areas afflicted by conflict.

 Child Marriage in Zambia. Beyond the Stereotypes - Child marriage is often considered to be a problem that involves an adolescent girl being required to wed an older man, most often against her wishes. It is often assumed that the driving force behind the practice is local tradition and culture, and that the children involved are victims rather than active agents in the process. A ground-breaking research project now indicates that, in Zambia at least, the reality is much more complex and diverse – and that understanding child marriage sufficiently to work towards reducing its incidence will involve shedding many preconceptions.

 Domestic Workers in Haiti. A multi-faceted problemFrench version - Child domestic workers in Haiti have long been a focus for the interest of both campaigners and academic researchers. This is because of the relatively high proportion of children in the country who live in families or households other than their own and are expected to do domestic work there.

Disability in South Africa. The hidden cost - It is clear that there are significant economic and financial costs to disability that are little researched and understood, particularly in low- and middle income countries. As increasing numbers of countries sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the concept of ‘disability-inclusive development’ has become more central. A government aiming to fulfil its obligations under the CRPD needs not only to pursue legislative reform but also to allocate its resources effectively so as to deliver the greatest possible benefit to persons with disabilities. In order to do so, it needs to understand the economic vulnerability caused by disability-related costs.


In 2013 the Office of Research-Innocenti initiated a competition to discover and highlight the outstanding research undertaken by UNICEF offices. This publication reports on a number of projects submitted to the 2015 Best of UNICEF Research competition which illustrate the range of research being undertaken by UNICEF staff in country and regional offices, at headquarters, and in collaboration with academic and government partners.

In order to showcase the best UNICEF research from around the world, the Office of Research-Innocenti undertakes an annual selection process carried out across the organization: in country and regional offices, at headquarters divisions and National Committees. Following a rigorous review and selection process, a very strong group of twelve studies were short-listed from the submissions.

This volume represents the first systematic attempt to showcase the breadth and depth of UNICEF's research work. At the end of 2012, the Office of Research invited UNICEF's country and regional offices, national committees and headquarters to submit recent examples of research for children.