Evaluation at FAO

Emerging lessons and good practices from the real-time evaluation of FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme


FAO launched the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme (RRP) in July of 2020 to enhance its coordination in response to the crisis and its related resource mobilization. Conceived as an umbrella programme, it includes a range of initiatives, projects and activities related to FAO’s response in seven priority areas ranging from humanitarian response to long-term recovery and agri-food systems transformation.

In this section, we outline the emerging lessons and good practices identified by the Office of Evaluation (OED)’s real-time evaluation (RTE) of the RRP in its interim report released in October 2021. These refer to two specific areas of work: FAO’s humanitarian response and COVID-19 knowledge products and data services, which formed the bulk of FAO’s early response (March 2020-March 2021). Nevertheless, they could be of relevance for similar humanitarian, normative and knowledge-based work conducted by multilateral and bilateral agencies engaged in COVID-19 relief.

Humanitarian response component

To identify the good practices and lessons learned and contextualize the findings, we selected four countries based on the following criteria: food crisis country, large budget, regional representation with complex disaster risk management. These included: Afghanistan (Asia), South Sudan (East Africa), Syria (Middle East) and Burkina Faso (West Africa). The RTE shared an evaluation questionnaire with each country to collect an overview of COVID-19 PA1 work, identify partners, donors and relevant reports. This was followed by a desk review of documents related to the COVID-19 humanitarian response, and key informant interviews with partners, donors, and FAO staff at country, subregional, regional and headquarters.

Some good practices and lessons learned that emerged from this component included:

Good practices

  • Leveraging existing data sources, including adapting information systems, as well as partnerships was an effective approach to provide context relevant evidence and guidance to mobilize resources and address user’s needs.
  • The assessment phase for addressing vulnerabilities and designing mode of interventions are a standard procedure. With time and travel restrictions, using existing assessments of the geographic areas and regions in the countries; and the existing assessments of the vulnerabilities of the local people together with rapid assessments and gender analysis provided a solid starting point to extrapolate initial assessments and response.
  • Involving local communities in analysis and decision-making processes as well as introducing monitoring mechanisms to address accountability to the beneficiaries strengthened the agency of those communities and improved outcome delivery.
  • The agency of local communities was strengthened through: i) involving them in and discussing results of vulnerability assessments; ii) planning for interventions; iii) setting criteria and selections of beneficiaries; iv) monitoring and assessing processing and results; this not only enhanced the rigour of assessments and intervention efficiency but also joint ownership and improved outcome delivery

Lessons learned

  • A systematic and nuanced understanding of the circumstances and needs of vulnerable groups is essential for adjusting interventions and increasing their effectiveness.
  • Where possible, rely on national and local first responders. Localization leverages the specific understanding of the circumstances, proximity to the beneficiaries including hard to reach areas due to conflict; and is cost-effective.
  • The implementation of its business continuity plan and derived practices mitigated the impact of the pandemic on FAO personnel and operations.

A decisive factor for the business continuity [of the humanitarian response] was the technical support mechanisms at headquarters, regional and country offices, which were coordinated by the Office of Emergencies and Resilience to ensure smooth operation and resolution of technical issue

Knowledge products and data services

A major role played by FAO at an early stage of the pandemic was to provide policy advice and data on the effects of COVID-19 in the agri-food sector; to this end, it developed over 500 COVID-19-related publications in 2020 alone. The Organization also launched several websites and adapted and/or used pre-existing data services to inform the response to the COVID-19 crisis and thus avoid the health crisis from becoming a food crisis. The evaluation of this component relied on several sources, including secondary data, cybermetric studies, semi-structured interviews, surveys, and followed a mixed-method approach.

Some good practices and lessons learned that emerged from this component included:

Good practices

  • FAO’s COVID-19-related knowledge products and data services were developed in response to a strategic goal and directions set by senior management in order to prevent that the health crisis became a food crisis through a dynamic and participatory process.
  • Personnel’s pro-activeness and the increased internal collaboration through frequent consultations and engagement with key external partners, led to the development of relevant products in a timely and comprehensive manner, permitting FAO to address emerging information needs. The RTE learned that coordination of the knowledge products and data services (KPDS) by senior management as well as involvement in their dissemination contributed to prioritize and highlight critical messages
  • Dissemination was facilitated by the use of various media, making available pre-packaged promotional content and presentations and by adapting content to target audiences.
  • Some policy briefs were promoted through partners’ platforms; also the use of presentations was found effective to facilitate the dissemination of COVID-19 knowledge products and data

Lesson learned

  • The lack of familiarity with dissemination plans or guidelines for ensuring coordinated dissemination planning and implementation by technical personnel contributing to the diffusion of knowledge products and data services limited the extent of the outreach efforts.
  • The absence of monitoring data on the use and contributions of KPDS limited FAO personnel’s ability at headquarters and in decentralized offices to inform future follow-up actions, including more targeted advocacy, increased dissemination and provision of technical assistance.
  • Beyond the perception that the key messages “have been heard”, FAO personnel could not share much evidence about the specific contribution of the COVID-19-related KPDS to the response beyond those mentioned.

Roger Miranda, Giulia Pollastri, Sima El-Najjar, and Carlos Tarazona