Evaluating innovation at UNICEF

Why is innovation important?

The world is changing faster than ever, as are the challenges facing its most vulnerable. Conflict and displacement, disasters and climate change, and urbanization and disease outbreaks are growing complex and interrelated. Exploring new ways of delivering programmes, with new partners and new technologies, is increasingly getting recognized as being crucial to face global challenges and meet the promise of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Innovation for development is the key and UNICEF has made it an organizational priority

UNICEF believes in accountability and progress

In 2018, the Evaluation Office commissioned the Evaluation of Innovation in UNICEF Work with the purpose of generating important information for organizational learning. The main questions addressed were to understand more about values, structures, and systems related to innovation. To what extent does UNICEF’s organizational culture stimulate or incentivize innovative thinking? To what extent is space created for new ideas for ‘intrapreneurs’? How effectively does UNICEF leverage resources for innovation across offices, divisions and levels? How effectively are activities, results and good practices of innovative work documented and shared?

Man and woman measuring child with the height/length measurement device (HLMD)
© UNICEF/Nigeria/SorensenA child being measured with the height/length measurement device (HLMD) in Nigeria. The HLMD Product Innovation Project aims to drive improvements to current measuring devices and development of novel products. New and/or improved products are intended to improve data quality, for use in household surveys and health facilities in programme countries. The UNICEF Supply Division employed a model of co-creation with industry through competitive procurement processes.

The objective was to assess UNICEF’s ‘fitness for purpose’ to employ innovation as a key strategy to achieve the outcomes and goals defined in the strategic plan periods 2014-2017 and 2018-2021. It also sought to provide insights on how innovation contributes to UNICEF’s goals as well as how it might contribute to increasingly effective organizational responses in the coming years.

How did we evaluate innovation at UNICEF?

We conducted the evaluation through separate yet interrelated projects:

  • 13 innovation case studies (including 9 field visits) to provide evidence of specific innovations having progressed from ideation to scale;
  • an organizational assessment to provide evidence of UNICEF’s ‘fitness for purpose’ to innovate as a key strategy to achieve its larger outcomes and goals; and
  • a synthesis to integrate learning and generate conclusions and recommendations.

 

A child picks up a numbered card from a stack of cards on a chair in a green field.
© Ethiopia/Ariel KangasniemiChildren practice counting as part of the highly specific pedagogical model of the Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) Programme in Ethiopia.

Deloitte, a multinational professional services network, and Moore Stephens, a global accountancy and advisory network of independent firms, worked with us using mixed sources and methods.

Who is this evaluation for?

The intended primary users of the evaluation are UNICEF decision makers across levels. Our ambition is to also reach out to a range of internal and external stakeholders including governments, other United Nations agencies and initiatives, development partners and implementers. Our intent is to inform decisions in an impartial manner, backed by credible evidence, and to maximize UNICEF resources for innovation.

What are our recommendations?

Firstly, UNICEF should be commended for clearly signaling its intent to use innovation as a means of delivering results for children. To achieve even greater impact, we suggest:

  • developing a shared strategic vision and approach that directly addresses constraints and drives decision making;
  • acting on needed structural changes by leveraging UNICEF’s unique strengths in its decentralized structure and collective capacities at centralized levels; and
  • embracing a portfolio management approach to upscale all innovations of the organization.

 

Because we are great performers with vision and the ambition to pursue excellence together with existing and new partners. Are you with us?

The Evaluation of Innovation of UNICEF’s Work can be accessed here.

 

Laura Gagliardone is Evaluation Specialist at the UNICEF Evaluation Office and the author of this blog post

Beth Ann Plowman is Senior Evaluation Specialist at the UNICEF Evaluation Office and manager of this evaluation

 

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Comments:

  1. I did cryopreservation of human semen usING indigenously desigend (a thermacol box) and cost friendly equipment and published paper in Indian journal as it was relevant to india in 1990. since then many started using this in the private practice.
    The point I wish to make here is most of the innovations in private domain remain in private and that in public domain remain public.
    Cross learning is weak .