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A women wearing a facemask is flanked either side by two men. They are sitting in a meeting room

Pandemic Perspectives: Why Different Voices and Views Matter

Volume 53 Number 3 July 2022

Edited by: Peter Taylor and Paul Knipe

Responding effectively to the Covid-19 crisis and in ways that address systemic inequalities in the longer term raises many challenges – and opportunities – for researchers and commissioners of research.

Launched in October 2020, the Covid Collective brought together the expertise of eight initial partner organisations coordinated by the Institute of Development Studies, and it currently involves 28 partners and supports 56 projects in 34 countries. The Covid Collective seeks to inform decision-making on some of the most pressing Covid-19-related development challenges, and to address emerging social science questions and needs arising in relation to the pandemic.

This issue of the IDS Bulletin draws on experiences from the social science research projects around the world supported by the Covid Collective and provides concrete examples of how researchers have demonstrated innovation and adaptation in a range of contexts. Important lessons have been learned about research processes and evolving technical approaches and methods in the areas around access and engagement; consent, ethics, and incentives; and power and perspectives.

This IDS Bulletin subsequently offers insights for research and provides potential directions for policy and decision-making around research prioritisation, funding, and support. It concludes that research supported by the Covid Collective is providing useful insights for ‘doing development research differently’, which in turn provides real hope for research to help transform knowledge and transform lives. Lessons will continue to be learned and, ultimately may also be an important contribution in ongoing efforts to the significant, critical agenda around decolonising development knowledge.

Humanitarianism and Covid-19: Structural Dilemmas, Fault Lines, and New Perspectives

Volume 53 Number 2 April 2022

Edited by: Jeremy Allouche and Dolf J.H te Lintelo

The unprecedented threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic has presented a crisis for the international humanitarian system. At a time when the number of people in need of assistance has drastically expanded, humanitarian funding has been cut as countries focus on their domestic economies. International travel bans and lockdowns have impeded humanitarian access, constraining conventional humanitarian response mechanisms and processes.

Every crisis presents an opportunity to rethink policy, practice, and research, and this issue of the IDS Bulletin investigates how the pandemic has exposed failings but also generated new opportunities and challenges in the humanitarian system, especially within the localisation agenda. Across four major themes, the articles in this Bulletin discuss the multifaceted nature of the pandemic and its impacts. As much a socioeconomic crisis as a public health crisis, it has deepened structural inequalities and highlighted population-specific vulnerabilities.

The IDS Bulletin emphasises how responses to the pandemic have converged with a weakening of protection regimes for displaced people including asylum seekers and refugees. Furthermore, it shows that the pandemic has presented an extraordinary crisis for the international humanitarian system, highlighting the failures of states and international humanitarian actors to provide needed assistance. Conversely, and most importantly, it argues that with the partial absence of state or international humanitarian responses, the pandemic has given unanticipated impetus to everyday forms of humanitarianism practised by and within local communities.

This issue of the IDS Bulletin also offers a salutary message about the future for humanitarianism in further crises – have responses to the pandemic offered a foreboding about increased forms of detachment, a low level of concern, and a weakening of international solidarities?

This is the cover of the IDS Bulletin titled: Theory-based evaluation of inclusive business programmes. The covers features an image of a motorbike carrying milk churns.

Theory-Based Evaluation of Inclusive Business Programmes

Volume 53 Number 1 February 2022

Edited by: Giel Ton and Sietze Vellema

Increasingly, development funding is directed to programmes aiming to make market systems more favourable for smallholders and low-income consumers of food. The development outcomes of these programmes are not self-evident. Programmes operate in dynamic markets full of uncertainties and surprises and depend on many other factors not under their control.

Assessing whether a programme indeed contributed to development outcomes is challenging. Building on real-world experiences with theory-based evaluation in inclusive business programmes, this IDS Bulletin discusses approaches and methods for meaningful impact evaluation. It examines how these evaluations provided information that made programmes accountable to the donors while also helping the implementing agencies to learn and adapt their programmes.

In this IDS Bulletin, the authors discuss the experiences of practitioners and academics in finding doable and creative ways to conduct impact evaluations of inclusive business programmes in the domain of food and agriculture. Inclusive business programmes that work in the area of food and agriculture aim to change current business practices of small and medium enterprises in a way that these include smallholders as producers or target poor consumers as consumers.

The examples show a convergence in methodological approaches, with ‘What works for whom under what conditions’ as the key learning question. All use a combination of methods that complement and build upon each other. However, smart data collection and sharp analysis and synthesis alone are not enough. The evaluation process and outputs also need to be informative for the stakeholders involved. More interaction and sense-making between implementers and evaluators are needed.

All experiences presented in this IDS Bulletin acknowledge that it is not easy to find ways to make learning useful for evaluation commissioners and implementing agencies. Under the right conditions, the presented approaches and tools might work and accelerate the learning loops for adaptive management. Crucially, three conditions appear as necessary for a good theory-based evaluation:

  1. having interested ‘listeners’ as the audience of the evaluation;
  2. applying rigour in anticipating and addressing validity threats to the conclusions;
  3. sufficient resources for an appropriate mix of methods.