Best of UNICEF Research and Evaluation 2020

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Best of UNICEF Research and Evaluation

Every year, UNICEF showcases quality research and evaluations for children through Best of UNICEF Research and Most Influential Evaluations. For 2020, the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti and the UNICEF Evaluation Office have joined forces to produce a single publication awarding reports with a high potential for impact on policies and programmes that benefit children.

Submitted by UNICEF offices from around the world, the reports analyse the changing world around us and evaluate progress towards a better world. 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 reimagine a better future for every child.

The Best of UNICEF Research and Evaluation 2020 showcases 18 finalists grouped according to UNICEF's five goal areas, as well as those who cover multiple goals. Download the full report or scroll through summaries of the winning entries below.


Goal Area 1: Every child survives and thrives 

Every child has the right to grow up healthy and strong. And yet, poverty, the environment, malnutrition and inaccessible or inadequate care, maternal health and nurturing practices prevent millions of children from surviving and thriving. Three reports explore what can be done to ensure children live a healthy and fulfilled life, which is especially relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


How was evidence used to reshape early childhood development policies in Nepal?

Early childhood development is complex and so requires an integrated approach across multiple sectors, such as education, nutrition, and protection. In Nepal, evidence was used to reshape early childhood development policies to facilitate better coordination across the multiple ministries responsible for service delivery to ensure that every child from 0-5 years received the minimum early childhood development services.

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What was the impact of the Birth Registration Programme in Nigeria?

Birth registration is a fundamental right with the aim of providing legal identity to all. Through substantial engagement with community and government stakeholders, an evaluation of the Birth Registration Programme Nigeria spurred political commitment to support more registration centres, while also influencing UNICEF's approach to registration.

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What can community perspectives bring to Ebola virus disease preparedness in Uganda's border districts?

Unequal social structures and structural violence shape community responses. These pre-existing inequalities can be exacerbated by health crises. Participatory research on the Ebola epidemic and response in Uganda reveals the importance of understanding the influence of community and social inequalities and outlines essential principles for shaping policy responses to other epidemics.

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Goal Area 2: Every child learns 

Every child has the right to an education and quality learning opportunities from early childhood to adolescence. And yet, a range of factors – including geographic location, economic circumstances, gender, disability, low-quality teaching and schools, disruption from conflicts and other shocks – prevent millions of children from learning. Three reports showcase how this goal can be achieved around the world—from East Africa, to Latin America, to Central Asia.



How did a pilot programme evaluation influence El Salvador to scale up early childhood interventions nationwide?

Less than 3% of children under 4 years of age have access to comprehensive early childhood care services in El Salvador. An evaluation was undertaken to prove the benefits of a pilot programme connecting education and early childhood care to violence prevention and a culture of coexistence. Not only did the evaluation result in the creation of a new strategy, it also highlighted the importance of evaluations of pilots to bring about long-term sustainable change for children.

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Can accelerated school readiness programmes help to prepare Mozambique’s children for primary education?

While primary school enrolment in Mozambique has doubled in the last 15 years, only 32% of children complete it. Children’s readiness for school is a crucial factor in determining their future educational outcomes, with preschool provision a key part of this. This mixed-methods study—comprising interviews, focus groups, a longitudinal trial, and a cost analysis—reviewed Mozambique’s school readiness pilot programme. This innovative approach helps to increase its potential for impact in addressing learning poverty.

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What factors are associated with positive primary education outcomes in Uzbekistan?

To improve the quality of education and learning among children and youth, UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Education completed the most comprehensive assessment of student learning quality ever conducted in Uzbekistan. This collaboration means the research has a strong potential for impact on policymaking thanks to the Ministry's ownership of the process and its results.

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Violence & Exploitation

Goal Area 3: Every child is protected from violence and exploitation

Every child has the right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse. And yet, social norms, cultural practices, intra-state conflict and displacement, and other harmful actions undermine children’s safety and well-being. Reports from three different countries provide examples of how we can better protect children around the world.



Has deinstitutionalization improved the situation of children in Bulgaria?

Proposing alternative approaches to long-standing historical practices can influence responses and have a profound effect on children’s rights. In Bulgaria, which has significant rates of institutionalized children, an evaluation of a more family-centric approach to childcare allowed the Government to reverse the practice of institutionalizing children and to scale up alternative care approaches, helping restore children’s right to family relations. 

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What are the causes and consequences of child labour in Ethiopia?

Nearly 43% of children aged 5–17 years in Ethiopia were engaged in some form of employment or family labour in 2015. By surveying ‘hard-to-reach’ children, such as those with disabilities and those without a home, this mixed-method research enriched existing national data and revealed the complexity of factors behind individual and household decisions. 

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Family Centres in the State of Palestine are child friendly, community-run spaces offering psychosocial, educational, health and protection services to children and caregivers living in the conflict-ravaged Gaza Strip. Fading commitment to these centres was revitalized when this evaluation revealed the essential child protection services they provide, leading to improvements in the design, management and quality of service delivery. 

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Safe Environment

Goal Area 4: Every child lives in a safe and clean environment

Every child has a right to live in an environment that is conducive to his or her growth and safety, including being protected from pollutants and other hazards. And yet, climate change, weak local and national governance, unplanned urbanization and insufficient awareness of the dangers posed by environmental risks – including inadequate water and sanitation systems – expose millions of children to potential harm.



How can rigorous evidence help to inform Malawi’s national water, sanitation and hygiene strategy?

Although impressive gains have been made in building sanitation infrastructure in Malawi, waterborne diseases still contribute to 3,000 under-five deaths in annually. In 2007, Malawi pioneered a Community Led Total Sanitation programme to ending open defecation as part of its national water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) strategy. This evaluation assessed the programme strengths and weaknesses, helping UNICEF and the Government of Malawi to evolve the water, sanitation and hygiene sector strategy.

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Goal Area 5: Every child has an equitable chance in life

Every child has the right to fulfil his or her potential. And yet, extreme poverty, geography, conflict, discrimination, exclusion and other barriers hold back millions of children around the world, with lifelong consequences for themselves and their societies as inequity and deprivation perpetuate poverty across generations.



How can fiscal policies in Belarus reduce child poverty more effectively?

Poverty among children in Belarus increased to 11.3% in 2017, compared with 5.9% for the population as a whole. By considering multidimensional child poverty as well as monetary poverty, this report aims to understand the distributional impact of taxes and public spending on children in Belarus. This evidence will inform targeted interventions to more equitably and efficiently secure the welfare of the country’s most vulnerable children.

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Could Chad prevent an oil crisis from fuelling child poverty?

Chad’s oil-export-dependent economy has suffered greatly since the oil price crisis in 2014–2016. This has had huge repercussions for the well-being of children, particularly with regards child poverty. This report identifies and explores effective measures to compensate for an increase in child poverty and provides vital information to mitigate the effects of future crises.

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Does an integrated nutrition and social cash transfer programme improve outcomes for children in Ethiopia?

Malnutrition has long been a serious issue in Ethiopia, contributing to 28% of child deaths. This evaluation assesses the “Improved Nutrition through Integrated Basic Social Services with Social Cash Transfer” (IN-SCT) pilot project’s performance to inform immediate decisions about how to improve its efficacy as well as longer-term strategies to address poverty, food security, and nutrition across the country.

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Are national workplace policies supporting new mothers in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Despite the importance of lactation for maternal and child health, breastfeeding rates in Latin America and the Caribbean remain very low. Additionally, many of the region’s workplace policies on parental leave and breastfeeding do not meet minimum international standards. This research is a comparative analysis of these policies in 24 countries across the region.

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How will Thailand counteract intergenerational poverty with its child support grant?

Thailand’s Child Support Grant was launched in 2015 with the aim of improving the nutrition of young children. The evidence generated through this evaluation allowed UNICEF to engage with policymakers, ultimately leading to the Government of Thailand’s decision to extend the grant to an additional 1.1 million children.


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Cross-cutting themes

Much of UNICEF's work covers multiple themes. Three reports in the Best of UNICEF Research and Evalauation publication explore children online, working effectively in humanitarian settings, and unaccompanied children.



How can understanding children’s online behaviour inform protection strategies in East Asia?

Social media platforms are central to children’s daily lives, but while online platforms can provide a gateway to opportunity, they can also expose children to potential abuse and exploitation. By taking a child-centered, participatory approach, this study researched how children interact with social media, their perceptions of risk, and the steps they take to mitigate online risks.

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How can UNICEF provide more effective and equitable coverage in complex humanitarian emergencies?

UNICEF is a key provider of humanitarian assistance globally, with impressive coverage in some of the world’s most challenging locations. This evaluation assesses the organization’s performance in achieving coverage and quality, identifies internal and external enabling factors, and lists good practices and innovations that could be applied more widely. It is currently being used to inform updates to UNICEF's Strategic Plan, as well as its humanitarian programming and partnerships.

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How do unaccompanied and separated children reach adulthood in Italy?

From 2014 to 2018, more than 70,000 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Italy by sea. To better understand how to ensure their protection and social inclusion, this research presents an overview of trends and possible pathways to adult life for this group of children in Italy. Children’s voices are amplified by the participatory and youth-led approach, allowing them to express their views on decisions that affect them personally.

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