UNICEF Annual Report 2020: Turning research into action for children and young people

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The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the landscape for UNICEF Innocenti’s work in 2020, bringing both opportunities and disruptions. The pandemic has underscored the power of utilizing research and evidence in addressing crisis and uncertainty, and in finding solutions to tough global challenges. Opportunities emerged in the shape of a Rapid Research Response to assess the pandemic’s impact on children, utilizing evidence syntheses, rapid assessment tools and agile communication modalities such as blogs, op-eds and social media products.

The pandemic, and the mobility restrictions imposed to contain its spread, brought a wave of disruption to UNICEF Innocenti’s research and operations. This included delays to or cancellations of primary/field data collection, in-person convening and training, mission/programme travel, and face-to-face interaction with partners and colleagues. There were also disruptions to recruitment, onboarding of new staff, and work–life balance.

In response to the pandemic and the ensuing public health measures, UNICEF Innocenti first prioritized staff well-being. The office sought business continuity, ensuring that its research continued unabated. In many ways, the office went from strength to strength during the crisis, proving its ability to respond quickly with relevant and timely research generation, facilitation and convening.

Each of UNICEF Innocenti’s major research workstreams responded forcefully to the challenge posed by the pandemic, managing both to sustain most planned work and to undertake a broad array of unplanned analysis and synthesis in support of an evidence-based COVID-19 response. In order to create space to undertake research-related and online convening activities on COVID-19, UNICEF Innocenti adapted and replaced some long-form planned initiatives – such as research reports and in-person seminars – with shorter formats such as think pieces, strategy papers, research briefs and online convening.

This approach yielded strong results: a Rapid Research Response, which generated numerous research products not only for UNICEF but as a United Nations resource; the Children and COVID-19 Research Library, which curates the best social science research on COVID-19 and children; the Leading Minds Online webcasts, which convened more than 50 experts to engage in dialogue on and seek solutions to the challenges posed to children and young people by COVID-19; and four new microsites dealing with various aspects of the pandemic. In turn, thousands of users were empowered to gain access to UNICEF Innocenti’s research, knowledge management, ethical advice and convening power.