THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: How are humanitarian and development co-operation actors doing so far? How could we do better?


Cover Photos left to right: South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa chairing a virtual meeting (Photo by GovernmentZA, May 2020); Staff preparing for the virtual 53rd Annual Meeting of the ADB Board of Governors, 16 September 2020 (Photo: ADB, 2020); Mozambique April 2020, working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: World Bank / Henitsoa Rafalia)


Synthesis of early lessons and emerging evidence on the initial COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery efforts


The early evidence synthesis provides an overview of the initial lessons from bilateral and multilateral COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. The synthesis aims to support actors involved to learn and take actions to improve the ongoing effort, and future crisis responses. The evidence and insights summarised here can enable corrective action within individual institutions as well as facilitate collective learning and action. The intended audience is policy and decision makers in humanitarian and development organisations/Ministries, and partner countries, particularly COVID-19 task forces and similar.



The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts across the world, including more than 3 million deaths. Even in countries where the direct health impacts are so far limited, the secondary socio-economic effects on well-being are immense. The pandemic has had profound implications for development co-operation and humanitarian assistance, including south-south and other forms of international co-operation. For more than one year, people, governments, United Nations organisations, multilateral institutions, civil society organisations, and other partners have been working together to tackle the unique challenges of the protracted health crisis and its multiple knock-on effects on people and economies. Contributing to this effort, the COVID-19 Global Evaluation Coalition has conducted an early evidence synthesis to support critical reflection and to identify opportunities to improve both the ongoing efforts and future emergency preparedness.



In April – May 2021, the Coalition reviewed over 200 evaluations and reviews conducted during the first year and has identified nine key lessons, based on this early evidence. The lessons primarily focused on success factors and challenges related to organisational arrangements and procedures followed in response to the pandemic, including their crisis management and reprogramming strategies, communication methods (internal and external), human resources, mainstreaming of gender equality and women’s empowerment, and innovation and risk management practices. The report draws on evidence available from the first year of the pandemic March 2020 - February 2021 and includes evaluations, as well as other lesson-learning exercises such as results monitoring, action reviews, and internal reflection exercises deemed by the partner to be credible and relevant. Future syntheses will look more at results and effectiveness, as more evidence becomes available.



Nine key lessons were identified across five functional areas- Partnerships and Operations, Management, Communications, Human Resources, and Opportunities for Innovation.

Based on the emerging evidence and lessons discussed, the following key messages represent areas where the available evidence converged. These are categorised as areas that seem to be going well (green); areas where there are warning signs, concerns or mixed reports (yellow); and areas that seem to be off track and may require corrective action. These initial conclusions are provided in the spirit of real-time learning to encourage reflection; further evidence and analysis are needed on all of these topics.

Areas that are going well:

  • The speed of initial responses, both for new support specific to COVID-19 and for adjusting programming and allowing flexibility in ways of working and partner requirements
  • Embrace of innovations and a higher relative risk appetite to leverage ideas in support of response efforts
  • Building on trusted partnerships and leveraging existing co-ordination mechanisms to quickly deploy resources at scale

Areas of emerging concern (potentially problematic):

  • Operational and implementation challenges, including displacement effects of COVID-19 that affect other priorities, and reduced abilities of implementing agencies, government counterparts and beneficiaries to fully participate and engage in activities
  • Gaps in collection, consistency and reliability of financial and results data and, reduced participation in monitoring, reporting, and evaluation
  • Challenges in consistent, effective communication (internal and external)

Areas that may require corrective action:

  • Unsustainable pressures on staff
  • Insufficient focus on systems strengthening, including health systems strengthening, and preparations for a large-scale vaccine rollout
  • Organisations insufficiently reactive and slow to revisit decisions or update strategies as the crisis continued, new information became available, and the scale and duration of the pandemic came into focus



Synthesis Report: Full report of the synthesis of early lessons and emerging evidence on the initial COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Also available in French and Spanish.

Summary Note: A two-page note summarizing the findings of the early synthesis report, Also available in French and Spanish.



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