Author: Evaluation Office, UNICEF NYHQ
Context and background
The evaluation of the Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) was conducted between October 2004 and January 2005 at the request of the International Advisory Committee (IAC). The Director of the Evaluation Office at UNICEF Headquarters appointed an evaluation team composed of one senior external consultant and one senior evaluation officer from UNICEF. An independent Evaluation Panel provided the oversight of the evaluation process. The evaluation occurred at mid-point of the current IRC Programme (2003-2005). Its findings and recommendations are meant to feed into the next Programme (2006-2008).
The IRC (also known as the International Child Development Centre - ICDC) was created in 1986 and confirmed by Italian Law no. 312 in 1988. The Centre is hosted by the Istituto degli Innocenti, an institution, which dates back to the 15th Century as a facility for the protection and basic education of abandoned children.
Throughout its existence, IRC‘s work has focused on two key areas: socio-economic analysis of the well being of children and children’s rights. Its research is selected on the basis of three criteria, endorsed by the Executive Board of UNICEF and by the IAC: a) focus on areas that are relatively new to UNICEF and that may be of increasing importance in the future; b) focus on statistics and areas that may be sensitive or even controversial; c) fill knowledge gaps in areas of UNICEF’s work that are already mainstreamed.
The IRC occupies a unique position as UNICEF’s only dedicated research centre and it is one of the few research institutions in the world that address children’s issues. The Centre is part of UNICEF, but it is granted relative independence to undertake innovative research and tackle sensitive issues. There is a consensus among partners and stakeholders that the IRC should principally articulate its research and advocacy in tune with UNICEF priorities while maintaining its independence to remain innovative and critical. As the Centre is relatively small, it can only address some of the priorities of UNICEF.
The geographical focus of key components of IRC’s work is a major factor determining the contribution of IRC to different UNICEF objectives. The Centre has a significant program on Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS as well as on the industrial countries. The IRC is the only part of UNICEF providing analysis on the situation of children in the industrialised countries and this is particularly appreciated by some of the European countries and the UNICEF National Committees. This work demonstrates that UNICEF is concerned about all children globally and that every country needs to address national problems.
The Centre’s activities dealing with developing countries are also numerous, but more diverse and less cohesive. Partnerships with developing countries are on the whole less systematic than with European countries.
The Monee project (established in 1992) is one of the ‘flagship’ activities of IRC, and it is widely considered as one of its most successful projects. It monitors child welfare, social conditions and public policy in the transition countries of the CEE/CIS region with the objective of stimulating national and international policy debates on economic and social policies affecting children. Other activities cover a wide range of subjects, e.g. birth registration, international criminal justice and children, child poverty, child trafficking and children in armed conflict.
Over the past 15 years, the IRC has produced more than 300 publications, including books, papers, and brochures. Many of IRC’s outputs appear to have contributed to the achievement of higher-level results, at the outcome level. IRC has had a demonstrable effect in changing policies and practices at both the international and national levels. They have contributed to the development of new legislation at the national level and to changes in international conventions. They have provided UNICEF country offices with stronger evidence to advocate for national changes and helped create a more positive environment for the protection of children.
The evaluation observes that the number of research activities is still relatively high and diverse given the number of staff. IRC has been effective in generating new knowledge through its own research and tapping external knowledge and expertise in preparing its publications. IRC has a comparative advantage in being at the interface between academia and UNICEF’s field experience. It has a limited but growing role as a knowledge broker, whereby it would draw on external knowledge, create a shared agenda between different researchers and research organizations and coordinate complimentary or collaborative research.
IRC is developing a more sophisticated communication approach to address some weaknesses in distribution of its outputs and the dissemination of its research findings although IRC’s Internet site is not fully developed. It has become more successful in identifying opportunities to publicize its work and work more closely with some UNICEF offices. IRC support for capacity development within UNICEF is limited and takes place as a component of other activities.
IRC has established good working relations with some parts of UNICEF, particularly with the ROs in Europe, the National Committees and the COs in CEE/CIS. The collaboration is not as strong with other parts of UNICEF, e.g. Headquarters Divisions in New York and field offices in developing countries. The existing communication and consultation mechanisms within UNICEF (e.g. the Programme Group of which IRC is a member) has not allowed for sufficient consultation on research agendas and integration of IRC’s findings and insights into UNICEF’s overall programmes and advocacy.
Research networks on issues relating to children are not as strong as they are in other fields of research (e.g. agriculture, health). IRC has established effective networking relationships with policy and advocacy groups dealing with children’s issues but less so with research organizations or research oriented NGOs. IRC networks tend to be based on personal contacts although this is improving. A second concern is that these networks, both the more formally established advocacy networks and informal researcher contacts, tend to be Eurocentric and hence smaller than the potential from a more global network. UNICEF RO/CO offices have good links in some cases with academic institutions in their regions and they could become useful partners in developing broader research networks if there is a shared research agenda
IRC has the status of a division of UNICEF HQ reporting to the Deputy Executive Director who heads the Programme Group. IRC’s status is different from that of a country or regional office in that it holds a global mandate, but it is also different from other HQ based units in that it has a more detached status and modus operandi. Its budgets and workplans are scrutinized through the standard Programme Budget Review process. The Director of the IRC is supported by the International Advisory Committee (IAC). By and large, oversight mechanisms are effective.
While the criteria for selection of research priorities are relevant and appropriate, the process by which research priorities are selected is not well documented and external consultation for identifying priorities is limited. A Research Review Committee (RRC) was created in 2000 as an internal committee, but a number of stakeholders expressed concerns that this process was still inadequate. Performance measurement is difficult due to the lack of well documented plans showing planned outputs and expected outcomes.
IRC has significantly increased the recruitment of staff with academic expertise from elsewhere in UNICEF and now employs fewer researchers with a purely academic background. This increases IRC’s ability to function more as a knowledge broker with other parts of UNICEF. The number of staff in the management team is higher than is found in independent research or policy analysis institutes of this size, but the IRC has to follow more demanding procedures as a part of UNICEF than these independent organisations. The IRC is well staffed to perform financial and administrative functions taking into account administrative requirements of UNICEF. IRC’s facilities in the Istituto degli Innocenti are adequate for the present staff but additional staff would have to be located in another building.
IRC has depended on external funding (Other Resources) since its creation. The relative contribution of the Government of Italy has declined from 87% of IRC’s total resources in 1997-1999 to a projected share of 58% in the current programme cycle through 2005. Over the same period, the share of other governments increased from 8% to 27% and funding from the Natcoms rose from less than 1% to 13%. Overall, IRC has been able to increase its income over each of the last three programme cycles. However it is becoming increasingly dependent on project funding. IRC is financially viable at a modest level if current unrestricted core contributions from Other Resources are maintained.
The Decision of the Executive Board of UNICEF to provide Regular Resources for the funding of the post of Director of the IRC constitutes an important acknowledgement by UNICEF of the Centre’s importance. The IRC and the Regional Office for CEE / CIS have employed innovative approaches to generate funding for staff positions from within UNICEF programme funding.
While IRC has diversified its donor base over the last three programming cycles, it has not had a resource generation strategy to secure funding on a medium to long-term perspective. Programme activities have not been described in the most appropriate format for marketing to donors. As part of IRC’s medium term fund raising strategy, the Centre could strengthen its marketing and look at more user-friendly programme and project descriptions. In particular, it should assess the potential to define broader projects that could attract multi-donor thematic support.
Opportunities and challenges
If UNICEF wishes to further develop its intellectual leadership in key areas for children, it will have to decide how much research it needs to support, how and where this research should be done and how UNICEF can most effectively utilize research findings..UNICEF should decide who will take the lead in coordinating its research efforts. This may be a role the IRC can play. The IRC is the only fully dedicated research institute in UNICEF but it is certainly not the only part of UNICEF that does research. The Country and Regional Offices of UNICEF support a number of location specific studies and other divisions of the Programme Group at New York Headquarters, as well as regional offices, also have some responsibilities in this area
UNICEF and the IAC should review the geographical focus and scope of work in IRC. In particular, UNICEF should decide, in consultation with its partners, whether the IRC should expand its work on research areas that are most relevant for developing countries, including through networking and partnerships with research institutions in developing countries. IRC should establish a mechanism with other parts of UNICEF and especially the other Divisions of the Programme Group in New York Headquarters to periodically review IRC planned research and progress, and the integration of research findings into the mainstream of UNICEF activities.
IRC should exploit its comparative advantage from its position at the interface between academic research and UNICEF field experience to leverage more intellectual expertise to address key UNICEF objectives. It should devote more of its resources to this knowledge brokering role and pursue more complementary or collaborative research with other institutions.
IRC should promote research networks related to children’s issues and expand them beyond Europe. It should also pursue collaborative research with other organizations including some of the more research-oriented NGOs. The Centre should seek more opportunities to host staff seconded from other organizations for a period of time or visiting academics on sabbatical.
The three-year Office Management Plan (OMP) should be used for more strategic planning and selection of research, networking development, fund raising and advocacy planning. The use of a logical framework approach and clear results statements in annual workplanning would allow for more programme coherence and transparency and improve performance monitoring and reporting.
The IRC should further reduce the number of specific research activities and create larger research teams around selected topics that cut across the present divisions between child rights and socio-economic research clusters. Its advocacy work should to a larger extent make use of other parts of UNICEF (including Natcoms) and other strategic partner institutions within and outside of the UN system.
The Communication Section within the IRC can play a useful role in advocacy in conjunction with UNICEF’s overall advocacy activities, particularly through the development of its website, but this should not be at the expense of the dissemination of research findings where there is still room for improvement.
As far as resource mobilization is concerned, UNICEF should consider providing more core (regular) resources to IRC in view of the contribution the IRC can make to a strengthening of research in UNICEF. The GOI should maintain and, to the extent possible, expand the overall level of unrestricted funding support it has been making in recent years as well as its additional voluntary contributions. More effort should be made to assess possibilities to increase the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) component of the funding by the Government of Italy that is provided by the Ministry of the Interior.
The IRC should urgently complete its resource mobilization strategy, in continuing cooperation with the Programme Funding Office and the Geneva UNICEF Regional Office It should assess the potential to develop broader research themes that could attract multi-donor thematic support. It should explore with the Natcoms and other partners potential new sources such as research funding foundations. This strategy should look at how to better package and market the Centre’s activities.
In conclusion, IRC has several precious comparable advantages. In the first place, it has some convening power in being a part of a respected UN agency with the global mandate concerned with children. Secondly, IRC is located in an appealing and inspiring location. It can be an important interface between the field experience of UNICEF, the policy linkages of UNICEF and the academic community. IRC can build on these advantages to further enhance its role as a centre of excellence for reflection and collaboration among different constituencies.
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