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Former Director (Former title)
Sarah Cook is the Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti in Florence, Italy. An economist and China specialist, her research has focused primarily on China's social and economic transformations, including work on labour and migration, poverty, inequality, social policy and gender. From 2009-2015 she was the Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in Geneva, where she led the Institute in developing its 2016-2020 strategy on ‘Transformations to Equity and Sustainability’. Her engagement in China has spanned the period from the mid-1980s, including 5 years as the Ford Foundation’s Programme Officer in Beijing (2000-2005) where she led the Foundation’s initiatives on economics, governance and gender. From 1996-2009 she was a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex. Sarah received her PhD from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and her BA from Oxford University.
Child-centred Approach to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in High-income Countries: Conceptual issues and monitoring approaches
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was agreed upon globally through a long political process. By ratifying its Declaration, high-income countries became accountable participants in the development process while retaining their obligations as donors. Although few of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are explicitly child-focused, children are mentioned in many of the 167 targets. Drawing on a well recognized socio-ecological model (SEM) of child development and a life course perspective, this paper proposes an analytical framework to help navigate through the SDG targets based on their relevance to child well-being. The application of this framework in thinking through policy options illustrates the interdependence of SDGs and their targets within a sector (vertically) and across the 17 Goals (horizontally). A five-step process for choosing measurable SDG indicators links the proposed analytical framework with the challenges of SDG monitoring. The paper contributes to debates on the implications of the SDGs for children by facilitating their adaptation to the national context through a ‘child lens’. The proposed analytical approach helps to articulate a context-specific theory of change with a focus on human development outcomes, so that public investments inspired by the SDGs bring tangible results for children.
Care Work and Children: An Expert Roundtable
A first roundtable to explore the issues regarding care work and children was hosted in Florence by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti from 6 to 7 December 2016. Unpaid care and domestic work have often been neglected in both research and policymaking, being viewed as lying within the domestic sphere of decisions and responsibilities, rather than as a public issue. However, over recent decades, researchers across a range of disciplines have strived to fill the evidence, data and research gaps by exploring the unpaid care and domestic work provided particularly by women within the household, and uncovering the entrenched social and gender norms and inequalities.
Social Protection and Childhood Violence: Expert Roundtable
This Brief summarizes the proceedings of the Know Violence Roundtable examining the evidence on the role of social protection in reducing childhood violence hosted by UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, 12-13 May, 2016.
The social realities of making evidence matter in development
Knowledge and evidence for policy and practice matters in any context. But critical scrutiny of the evidence to policy process is particularly important in development contexts, where knowledge is often produced or brokered by external actors. Launched today, the edited volume Social Realities of Knowledge for Development illustrates the varied and complex pathways through which research, knowledge or evidence may (or may not) be taken up by policymakers and practitioners. The collection provides diverse examples of the research to policy/practice relationship -- from context-specific action research, to researchers engaging with embedded, national policy institutions or global processes. The central message that emerges across different contexts is that social relations rather than the 'technical' aspects of evidence are the critical factor in influence or uptake. his is not to argue against the value of good evidence: rather that good evidence alone is generally not enough. Acknowledging the social context and content of evidence Such an argument should not surprise many in the large community of knowledge producers, brokers and users operating at the research-policy interface. Shifts in ideas about what type of research or evidence is useful for development have seen externally imposed models and theory-based policy prescriptions challenged by stronger attention to participation and the value of local knowledge, and to co-production processes which engage key stakeholders in knowledge generation. social relations rather than the 'technical' aspects of evidence are the critical factor in influence or uptakeParadoxically, however, greater acknowledgement of the social process involved in bridging gaps between knowledge producers and users is now often accompanied by a loss of social content in the forms of knowledge that are most highly valued as evidence. What constitutes good evidence has increasingly been defined by a particular set of claims to scientific rigour; methodological advances have moved the field towards clinical-style trials and quantitative experimental methods (although not without pushback), often accompanied by claims to value-free objectivity but at the expense of attention to messy, contested, complex social realities. This tension plays out within many development organisations as demonstrated in this collection which brings valuable insights from a number of ESRC-DFID funded research projects, and from a wide range of organisations including MSF, Oxfam, Practical Action, the Overseas Development Institute, the African Population and Health Research Centre and Makerere University. A welcome commitment to rigorous evidence and data as a basis for policy and programming is increasingly demonstrated by such development organisations and operational agencies. As the chapter on 'How collaboration, early engagement and collective ownership increase research impact' by Mike Wessells and colleagues demonstrates with reference to a UNICEF programme, this can have impressive results when the right actors are aligned. Avoiding a narrow view of evidence as 'what works' The risk, however, is that a relatively narrow or instrumental view of evidence of 'what works' for programming and for delivering results within a defined time frame is prioritised over other forms of knowledge. Undervalued evidence may include qualitative research findings, or research with less immediate or practical application but which may nonetheless be relevant for framing and guiding policy choices, or to support scaling up, transferability and institutionalisation of interventions. All are of course necessary and complementary, but may compete for resources and space in the discourse. While acknowledging a growing body of mixed methods and transdisciplinary work that aims to rise above such critiques, the current evidence-based, data-driven, results focus tends towards the narrow 'what works' view of evidence. Research institutions at the intersection with policy or practice, located for example within a large development agency as in the case of UNICEF's Innocenti Research Centre, are spaces which potentially play an important role in countering the tendency towards this instrumental view of evidence. Such organisations illustrate the challenge of the 'embedded' institution, attempting to balance a degree of autonomy and independence of research with the needs and demands of their organisation -- as illustrated also in the case from India by Gita Sen and partners in their article: 'Translating health research to policy: Breaking through the impermeability'. The 'embedded autonomy' of such centres can be key to keeping alive the critical challenge function of research; bringing in fresh ideas and innovation, exposing blind spots and biases, or moderating pendulum swings in ideas and ideologies that may be driven by internal or external changes. Among development agencies, such centres are few and under threat - whether from tighter budgets or through the erosion of their autonomy - but their position within a trusted agency with country-level presence means that they can play a critical role in the eco-system of trusted development knowledge actors. Fostering the knowledge to policy interface Within such large operational agencies, as in government bureaucracies, the skills and capacities needed to use research and knowledge effectively, to move from data-driven and evidence-based decision-making to using evidence to inform choices, are often limited. Investment in such research and policy analysis capacities - particularly within national institutions in the global South - is a critical element for creating an effective knowledge-policy interface but has been largely neglected by donors. Such a funding shift would recognise that evidence is only one among many inputs to decision-making; that policymakers need to make informed choices and act even when evidence is imperfect or data lacking; and that co-production is not always possible with the actors who can take change forward. Brokers will rarely be neutral, but will bring a particular stance and allegiance, while policymakers will also invite research and evidence around particular positions. Above all, as illustrated throughout the collection, relationships of trust create the conditions within which evidence can inform and influence. This publication is a timely contribution to the growing critique of the more technocratic evidence- and results-based discourse of recent years, reminding us of how and by whom knowledge is constructed as evidence and used to frame and influence particular positions. In this respect, while challenging the dominant narrative of neutral data-driven evidence that drives policy and practice, it illustrates how the construction of knowledge is in itself part of the process of social change. Sarah Cook is Director of the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti. Explore the UNICEF Innocenti research catalogue for new publications. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter and sign up for e-newsletters on any page of the UNICEF Innocenti website. This blog was originally published by the Impact Initiative .
Children’s Roles in Social Reproduction: reexamining the discourse on care through a child lens
Understanding the linkages between social safety nets and childhood violence: a review of the evidence from low- and middle-income countries