How to co-create research during a global pandemic

By: Tulashi Thapaliya,Gunilla Olsson,Robert Jenkins,Mark Waltham Posted: 01 July 2021
This blog was originally posted on the UNICEF Evidence for Action website on May 12, 2021. The views expressed herein are the authors’ personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of KIX.
How to co-create research during a global pandemic
Credit: © UNICEF/UNI377098/Prasad Ngakhusi Israel Idrisi, 9 years old, at school. Nepalgunj, Banke District, mid-western Nepal.

Even in the most difficult settings, some schools excel in learning, champion gender equality, and have low drop-out rates. These “positive deviant” schools provide valuable lessons on how to improve similar but less performing schools. Through the Data Must Speak (DMS) Positive Deviance research, UNICEF and partners identify effective behaviours and practices in positive deviant schools and investigate how these can be rolled out to other schools. The research is one of three components of the global DMS initiative, which aims to improve learning through better data access, analysis, and use. In this way, education systems are optimised using data and evidence, no matter the context. But to do so requires the involvement of all stakeholders—from the Education Minister through to school teachers and students.

The solution? Co-creation! This process means that key partners share their knowledge and expertise, learn new research skills, ensure the research is aligned with their government’s priorities, and are more invested in implementing recommendations. Co-creation means collaborating at every stage—from research design, to analysis, to maximizing data use. By strengthening local capacities, national partners themselves can replicate the research in the future, ensuring schools are continuously improving.

Nepal’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) believe that evidence on the drivers of quality education in its high-performing schools could help them achieve their education goals.

To achieve the goals and objectives set out in our education sector plan, we need to understand what dominant drivers of quality education are in schools. The DMS positive deviance approach to learning analysis helps us understand what factors make certain schools with similar resources and context outperform other schools. 

– Dr. Tulashi Thapaliya, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology

A hands-on collaboration with national stakeholders in offices and schools was planned. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and priorities shifted towards pandemic response.  Nevertheless, MoEST, local academics, and UNICEF Nepal decided to go ahead with the research, albeit virtually. This presented a new challenge: how to build social bonds and understanding with partners that play a critical role when co-creating research?

A screenshot of one of the virtual ‘Technical Co-Creation’ sessions

A screenshot of one of the virtual ‘Technical Co-Creation’ sessions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly—by using Zoom! A series of eight virtual ‘Technical Co-Creation’ sessions between MoEST staff, local academics, and UNICEF researchers were held. These sessions covered the crucial steps for the quantitative analysis of administrative datasets, including research design, developing school indices, and interpreting findings, among others. By using a learning-by-doing approach and engaging in ample discussions, these sessions created space for mutual learning and policy-relevant data analysis.

The EMIS in Nepal is a comprehensive data set that presents a large opportunity in terms of analysis and informing planning. The collaboration with the DMS research team is valuable as we are not just presented with the outcomes of the analysis but also know what elements can be embedded in the EMIS to strengthen it. 

– Mr. Shankar Bahadur Thapa, Under Secretary in the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development

Comprehensive datasets, like Nepal’s Educational Management Information Systems, present a big opportunity to inform analysis and planning. By collaborating throughout the DMS research journey, partners are not just presented with the outcomes of the analysis but also have enhanced knowledge to strengthen these datasets. In this way, schooling for Nepalese children can be continuously improved, helping to secure their futures.