Strengthening UNHCR’s capacity at country level to use socioeconomic data and evidence

Background and Context

The amount of high-quality socioeconomic microdata that is being produced on forcibly displaced populations and their hosts has increased dramatically over the past few years. Better socioeconomic data and research are essential input for engaging with governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives – both of which are key objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees.

However, data production is not an end in itself. The new “wealth” of data will only be meaningful and actually result in improvements in the lives of forcibly displaced populations if it is adequately analyzed, and thereby transformed into knowledge, evidence and insights.

Historically, UNHCR has not engaged to a noteworthy degree in deeper, multivariate research and analytics. This constitutes a gap in UNHCR’s ability to put the emerging data landscape on forcibly displaced populations to full use, and in its ability to digest and translate into positive impact the new “wealth” of socioeconomic microdata.

Acknowledging this gap, in 2018 a Research and Analytics unit was created in UNHCR HQ, consisting of two to three economists tasked explicitly with filling policy, programming and operational data gaps through analyzing comparable socioeconomic data for forcibly displaced and hosts. This unit has been able to produce a wide range of highly meaningful and impactful analytical work. However, it remains small in comparison with the unprecedented availability of new socioeconomic data. Equally in response to the above-mentioned gap, various regional bureaus have recently committed to hiring economists to carry out deeper research and analytics. So far, these have been assigned in West Africa, the Americas, East Africa and forthcoming in Southern Africa. This activity complements these economists at HQ and regional level, by placing additional economists at the country level, and by carrying out activities that will bind these economists at all levels together into a community of practice that “cross-pollinates” and enables one another—thereby ”squaring the circle” of fully institutionalizing a research and analytics/economist function within UNHCR while doing so in a decentralized way that fits with the organization’s wider setup and culture.

Activity Description

For 2020 and 2021, the countries prioritized for research and analytics include: Brazil, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, RoC, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Colombia and regional bureau Panama. It is believed that existing Regional Bureau Economist positions can cover Cameroon, Mauritania, RoC, Sudan, and Ethiopia. As such, JDC funding will cover the remaining seven countries, which are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda and the Americas via the regional bureau position in Panama for 2020 through 2021. For 2022 and 2023, country selection may be adjusted in line with emerging data availability. The assessment of country coverage will be continuously monitored and revisited as needed. At a high level, the main set of activities for each economist include:

  1. Undertake a data availability and gap mapping, as well as a research needs analysis, in consultation with UNHCR and strategic partners. The aim of this tool is to provide a clear set of priorities for new research and analytics.
  2. Generate in-depth knowledge products from socioeconomic data for forcibly displaced populations and their hosts, relevant for programming and policy for both humanitarian and development actors.
  3. Produce timely communications materials to accompany knowledge products to facilitate accessibility and understanding of evidence; and
  4. Interact with relevant partners within and outside UNHCR (e.g. DIMAs, World Bank, National Statistical Offices, etc.) that are carrying out data collection exercises, to ensure these exercises deliver to the data needs mapped out above for research and analytics. In exceptional cases, take a lead on data collection exercises if the data required for research and analytics cannot be sourced from elsewhere.
  5. Refer microdata identified in the above mapping to the UNHCR Microdata Library, as appropriate.
  6. Leverage and enable the academic research community in the country of placement.
  7. Contribute to UNHCR-internal processes aimed at building a community of practice among the economists, and at enhancing their visibility. Moreover, act as peer reviewer on quantitative research carried out by others inside and outside UNHCR.

Finally, the work of each individual economist will be complemented by a set of activities led out of the Research and Analytics unit in the UNHCR Division or Resilience and Solutions, aimed at building a community of practice among the economists, and at enhancing the visibility of this new function and their analytical outputs. This will be facilitated by a communications consultant.

Overall objectives

UNHCR invests in its institutional capacity to analyze the unprecedented “wealth” of socioeconomic data that has emerged over the past few years and continues to emerge. The desired goal of this activity is to enhance understanding of the living conditions of those forcibly displaced. Comparable socioeconomic analysis is needed to inform strategies to deliver assistance effectively, as well as planning, policy, programming and advocacy.


For further details on this activity, please contact:

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