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Evaluation report

2014 Zimbabwe: UNICEF's Upstream Work in Basic Education and Gender Equality 2003-2012: ZIMBABWE Country Case Study

Executive summary

With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. Please ensure that you check the quality of this evaluation report, whether it is “Outstanding, Best practice”, “Highly Satisfactory”, “Mostly Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” before using it. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labelled as ‘Part 2’ of the report.


The focus of the evaluation was UNICEF’s contribution to “upstream” work in education in the ten-year period, from 2003 to 2012. The objective was to assess the extent to which UNICEF engages strategically in education sector policy articulation and advocacy at the global and regional levels. This case study on Zimbabwe was conducted as part of the Evaluation of UNICEF’s upstream engagement in education, commissioned by UNICEF Evaluation Office and undertaken by Mokoro Limited. The other case studies were conducted in Afghanistan, Brazil and Cambodia.

Each case study combined a review of documentation with interviews and field work, and in order to enable follow-through analysis from programme intentions to the results observed, each employed a number of mini-case studies of specific incidences of upstream work in UNICEF’s education portfolio. For the Zimbabwe study, three mini-case studies were undertaken, namely, UNICEF’s support for EMIS and the evidence base for education planning and policy making; the introduction of a Child Friendly Schools framework from 2004 – 2012; and, UNICEF’s role in and engagement with the Education Transition Fund between 2009 and 2013.


The purpose of the evaluation was to examine UNICEF’s upstream work in education and assess the extent to which UNICEF has engaged strategically in education sector policy articulation and advocacy. It also assessed how far upstream engagement efforts have supported better policy and practice in the education sector and helped to strengthen systems across the sector, and translated into desired transformations in education sector policy and practice and national systemic strengthening at country level.


The overall evaluation occurred in three phases as follows: (i) a desk-based a review of UNICEF upstream engagement was undertaken in 14 countries across the seven UNICEF administrative regions, as well as at UNICEF headquarters to understand education upstream work from a global perspective; (ii) field-based data collection was undertaken jn case study countries, in UNICEF ROSA, and UNICEF, New York; (iii) a survey of UNICEF Country Office staff, key global partners and professionals responsible for education programmes.

Data collection in case study countries at the field level was built around the selection of two to three mini-case studies per country, utilizing document reviews, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and harvesting of quantitative data from secondary sources. The application of these instruments was country-specific. Zimbabwe was selected as a country case study from a larger pool of 14 desk review countries, based on the nature of its portfolio as a country transitioning out of a collapse of the education system, and its engagement with traditional education sectors partners, including the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Findings and Conclusions:

UNICEF’s upstream work has been clearly focused on improving access to and quality of education which feed strongly into the mandate to expand children’s rights and the rights of the girl-child in particular and to expand the opportunities of children to reach their potential. Access and quality of education was a strong priority of the Zimbabwean government in the first two decades of democracy, and remains such for the population, although government policies in general have also impacted negatively on education.18 There is therefore a strong common interest and agreement between UNICEF in terms of the main thrust of education work.

Rather than pointing to the need to prioritize upstream work ahead of downstream work, the Zimbabwean experience, shows that there is a complex interaction between downstream and upstream work. While upstream work (data and evidence, system design, policy, planning) is necessary for programming and programme implementation, involvement in downstream work and links with implementers will often provide the knowledge, experience, trust and credibility to enable effective participation in the upstream processes. While the normal view is that policy should precede practice, practice is sometimes indispensable for good policy making. Quite often, even in the depths of a humanitarian crisis, upstream work will be necessary to ensure that appropriate downstream activities can be programmed in a next period.

When judged against the DAC evaluation criteria of relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability, the BEGE programme in Zimbabwe scores well in the first four criteria, and not as well on sustainability. While the shift to upstream work in Zimbabwe after 2008 has been successful, sustainability of results and of upstream work itself is not assured. It is a large amount of funding from donors, rather than government, that is maintaining and developing the education system, and furthermore, funds via the ETF are managed by UNICEF and not government. Whilst there are context-specific reasons for this, in the longer term there is a need for a shift to a more sustainable model.

Lessons Learned:

Based on the interviews carried out for this case study, the literature review and the three mini-case studies, the evaluation was able to identify some specific features of upstream work in Zimbabwe that are important for enhancing this kind of work in other contexts and countries.
1. Upstream work needs strong foundations: UNICEF staff, government officials and partners came back to examples of the work that UNICEF had done historically in Zimbabwe. UNICEF is considered a trusted and neutral partner in Zimbabwe and this reputation has been earned through a long history of downstream implementation and presence in the country and in the sector. It is this that gives the CO the credibility and access to engage in upstream work in what is a complex and fragile context.
2. Using upstream work to move from emergency to transition: The Zimbabwe case study provides a good example of how UNICEF can use an upstream focus to help transition out of emergency mode in a humanitarian emergency context. Donors cited the Zimbabwe example, under  UNICEF leadership, as a success and are keen to learn from it. This has created a new role for UNICEF in a context in which it has taken the lead because of the absence of other traditional multilateral partners.
3. Upstream work as a means to develop new funding modalities: A key element of the upstream work in Zimbabwe has been the design and implementation of the ETF/EDF. The UNICEF country office in Zimbabwe has been a key player in the design of this modality and has managed the funds for the consortium of donors. This is not a typical role for UNICEF but one that in the context of Zimbabwe it has managed well. This success is seen in the enthusiasm with which donor partners have worked together on what is now EDF II,  enabling funds to reach the education sector at a critical period. It has also been successfully used as a model for funding modalities in other sectors, e.g. health, WASH and protection.
4. The importance of evidence for upstream work: one of the key gaps identified by the incoming Country Representative in 2008 was a lack of data to prove the state of the education sector. Therefore in the midst of a humanitarian emergency UNICEF started gathering data and putting together evidence. This approach has enabled UNICEF to move into an increasingly upstream role.
5. More work needs to be done on how best to monitor and evaluate upstream work: There are no deliberate learning and knowledge management process for upstream work in UNICEF Zimbabwe. Whilst upstream work is included in the annual reports it is not mentioned  in the objectives and targets of the CPD. As a result it is difficult to trace progress in upstream work and the extent to which UNICEF is achieving what it sets out to do.
6. Managing the balance between upstream and downstream: in the Zimbabwean context UNICEF has maintained its relevance and effectiveness by continuing with downstream implementation work in conjunction with its upstream work. The CO's ability to combine the two without losing focus on either has been reliant upon experienced and visionary leadership and the setting out of a clear strategy. However, the CO recognizes that further thinking needs to be done linking upstream and downstream work and setting out a clearer of theory of change at country level. Whilst upstream work is occurring and being successful there is a need for a more systematic approach which is perhaps less reliant upon individual champions and builds in a cycle of learning and knowledge management.
The Zimbabwe case study provides good practice of UNICEF in a fragile and complex country making a new niche for itself through its upstream focus. Not only does this illustrate that it is possible to work towards an upstream focus even in a humanitarian emergency but it shows how when the right pieces of the puzzle are put in place in the vacuum that often follows an emergency UNICEF can fulfil a key and exciting role.

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