Knowledge, policy, and adaptive development in Indonesia. A discussion at UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti

I was recently in Florence to meet the team at the UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti and present & discuss some of the experiences of the Knowledge Sector Initiative in Indonesia. I was part of the implementing team during phase 1 from 2013-2017 leading the research and learning work of the programme. The Knowledge Sector Initiative is now in its second phase which will run until mid 2022. I remain engaged managing the Overseas Development Institute’s inputs to the programme.

My research background is in education policy in international development and I have followed for some years the research work of the Innocenti Centre. However, this was the first time for me at the Innocenti Center. The sense of history struck me when entering the building.

The Innocenti Centre is hosted in a section of the nearly 600-year-old Ospedale degli Innocenti which was established in 1419 to house and care for the city’s orphans and abandoned children. The building was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.


The Ospedale degli Innocenti is arguably the oldest operating children’s care institution in the world. During both World Wars it offered shelter for orphaned children as well as refugee families. Innocenti continues to provide temporary shelter for local women and children at risk. It is a reminder of the good that has been done by Italian institutions amidst the current refugees’ crisis and the battle between political parties around it.

The UNICEF International Child Development Centre was opened in 1988 with a broad mandate and with research quickly becoming the central component of its mission. Within UNICEF, the Innocenti Centre generates evidence and knowledge on a wide range of cutting-edge children’s issues to inform debate, development programming, and policymaking at country level. The current research themes are: child poverty, equity and well-being; child protection; children and the internet; adolescent well-being; children on the move and education policy.


The Centre is de facto UNICEF’s think tank and over the last five years it has invested in strengthening its profile and visibility within UNICEF and with the international community of researchers and development practitioners.

UNICEF country programmes and the Innocenti Centre collaborate to design and develop systems and processes that support an evidence-informed approach to programming and policymaking. Therefore, the team in Florence was interested to hear about the design and implementation of the Knowledge Sector Initiative.

I really enjoyed the discussion we had with the team as well as the preparation for the presentation. It gave me an opportunity to run through the journey of the programme from the initial idea, back in 2009, to the activities of the design phase which lasted until 2012, the first phase of the programme until 2017, the adaptation to a changing context and circumstances. It was great to revisit the knowledge-to-policy system approach of the programme which suggests that to address problems of limited use of evidence in policymaking, may require to experiment simultaneously with knowledge producers, government actors who demand and use evidence, knowledge intermediaries, and the rule and regulations that support the interaction between knowledge producers and policy makers.


It is this knowledge system hypothesis that lend itself to building a close collaboration with government and non-government partners and to an adaptive approach to design and implement pilot activities and experiments which generate learning about what works and what does not work and why.

A knowledge system approach, and the contribution that evidence and knowledge can make to inform policy decisions, could provide interesting opportunities for the Innocenti Centre in its collaboration with UNICEF’s country programmes and national level policy initiatives.

I really enjoyed meeting the UNICEF team at Innocenti and learning about their work streams and policy research work and look forward to continuing the conversation.


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