Evaluation of the UNICEF L3 Response to COVID-19

Betts, J., Harrop, E., Khogali, H., Ayensa, N., Hernandez Salazar, D.
Publication language
Date published
01 Nov 2022
Thematic evaluation
Accountability to affected populations (AAP), COVID-19, Flexibility

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted children in unprecedented ways, especially through its socioeconomic effects, driven by stay-at-home policies, the disruption of education and basic services, and the general acceleration of serious child protection risks that all this entailed. As countries and UNICEF offices were adjusting to an emergency of unseen scale and complexity, the UNICEF Evaluation function rolled out a series of evaluative exercises to help address the evidence generation needs that the COVID-19 pandemic was triggering as it unfolded.

Almost two years into the pandemic, the UNICEF Evaluation Office commissioned the evaluation of the UNICEF response to COVID-19. An organizational requirement, as outlined in the UNICEF Evaluation Policy, the evaluation also represented a unique opportunity to evaluate the first Level 3 (L3) emergency that featured a global (as opposed to the more typical country-level) scale. The evaluation was intentionally designed as a relatively light exercise in terms of primary data collection, with a view to avoid over-burdening staff already significantly challenged by the response to the pandemic, while harnessing and synthesizing the wealth of evidence that had been generated over the first 18 months of the emergency.

The evaluation suggests that the UNICEF response to COVID-19 is overall a positive story. Despite facing an unparalleled ‘stress test’, UNICEF was generally well positioned to face the challenges that the circumstances presented. UNICEF’s mature, decentralized structure, the prior investments made in remote working systems, as well as the ability to learn from past experience, are some of the key enablers of the response. Further, UNICEF’s adaptive capacity allowed it to deliver at-scale programmatic results in some sectors, as well as in the provision of PPE and cold chain infrastructure, while allowing UNICEF to be a key player in the global response to COVID-19. The evaluation also identifies factors that have been obstacles to UNICEF’s response, and these include, among others: variable preparedness at country level; uncertainty regarding UNICEF’s role within a global health emergency in the early months of the pandemic; uneven attention accorded to gender, equity and AAP, and some strained international partnerships.