Facilitating cross-sectoral learning in implementation research for UNICEF’s global teams

Children playing in the community

CEI designed and co-hosted a comprehensive four-day workshop for UNICEF in January 2022 on Cross-sectoral Learning in Implementation Research: Harnessing the potential to accelerate results for children. The workshop was co-funded by the Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research (CHAIN) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Since 2015, UNICEF has collaborated with global development partners, policy-makers and researchers to conduct implementation research studies in over 25 countries, in fields including health, early childhood development, education, and social policy. The emergence and growth of the field of implementation research holds great promise for increasing the likelihood of evidence-based interventions, programs, and policies being successful and accelerating the achievement of the goals of UNICEF's work.

The workshop featured panel discussions and presentations from global practitioners who have used implementation research to support better outcomes for children, including speakers from leading development NGOs, global networks, university groups and from UNICEF senior leaders and programme staff. Just a few of the many speakers included:

  • Dr Shannon Dorsey from the University of Washington, who highlighted the essential role of implementation research in understanding and supporting implementation in a presentation titled "How can we not?"
  • Asif Saleh, from BRAC Bangladesh, who spoke about how his organisation uses implementation research to support effective programming, systems transformation and the achievement of social impact goals at scale
  • Professor Helen Rees from University of Witwatersrand and Heidi Reynolds from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, who talked powerfully about the importance of implementation research addressing inequity, including assessing reach to the most marginalised groups, tailoring solutions to specific social contexts and working closely with communities
  • Professor Malabiker Sarker (BRAC University), Associate Professor Olakunle Alonge from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and Professor Appolinary Kamuhabwa from the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania, along with John Reeder, Director, TDRDr. Yulia Shenderovich from Cardiff University and Matt Brossard from UNICEF, who all described approaches to building capacity for implementation research and the importance of soft skills for working with implementers, policymakers and other decision-makers
  • UNICEF staff who described how implementation research is embedded in thematic and country programmes, providing case studies of the use of implementation research in sectors that included health, education and child welfare
  • Dr. David Chambers, Deputy Director for Implementation Science in the Office of the Director in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), who highlighted the need for implementation research to drive continuous quality improvement in programs and their implementation and constant adaption to changing system and consumer needs.
  • A closing panel of UNICEF's key partners, including CEI, highlighted how they will work with UNICEF to advance implementation research for the advancement of children's rights

CEI team members, including UK & Europe Director Jane Lewis and Executive Director Dr Robyn Mildon, worked alongside UNICEF global leaders to chair the event and summarised the learning as it developed over the course of the four days.

CEI provided workshop participants with a discussion paper that set out the importance of implementation research in bridging the ‘know-do gap’ – the chasm between what we know works, and what is actually delivered on the ground, to provide background for participants. This multidisciplinary field of inquiry is highly relevant for UNICEF's programming and systems change goals, across the breadth of its global work. The paper described the key features of implementation research particularly in development contexts, explained how it links with other fields of science, and set out some of the issues likely to be encountered in embedding and optimising its use within UNICEF and their partnerships.

UNICEF aims to institutionalise implementation research across its programming activity, so that it becomes mainstream and routine practice, ensuring effective and evidence-informed implementation, scaling, and lesson-learning across UNICEF's global work to achieve results for children and communities. In the workshop, CEI worked with UNICEF’s leaders and staff to identify how to take this forward.

We will continue working with UNICEF, building a compendium of implementation research projects undertaken by UNICEF and others across a wide range of service sectors and countries, to enable synthesis of learning about implementation barriers and strategies.

You can follow the conversation that accompanied the workshop on twitter at #UNICEFimplements.