Using implementation research to strengthen nutrition interventions

Using implementation research to strengthen nutrition interventions


Despite best efforts, significant gaps persist between global nutrition targets and actual achievements. These gaps reflect the well-recognised implementation challenge in nutrition – the gap between knowledge of what works and the implementation of proven interventions to achieve coverage and impact at scale. Implementation science and research can help identify and address challenges to implementation. This session will focus on the role of implementation research for strengthening the planning, delivery, or scale up of nutrition interventions.


    • Neeta Goel, Senior Program Officer, Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation, BMGF;
    • Purnima Menon, Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI;
    • Suneetha Kadiyala, Professor of Global Nutrition, LSHTM; and
    • Carolyn Huang, Senior Evaluation Specialist, 3ie;

Chair: David de Ferranti, Director and Head of Washington Office, 3ie

3ie #EvidenceDialogues webinar summary

Evidence Dialogues: Implementation research is key to understanding why nutrition interventions work – or don’t

Paul Thissen
Food may be one of the most basic human needs, but designing effective development interventions to provide the world’s undernourished enough to eat is anything but straightforward.

“In the face of the pandemic, malnutrition has been called a threat multiplier due to its disproportionate effect on the poor and vulnerable,” said 3ie senior evaluation specialist Carolyn Huang. “Delivery of effective nutrition programming is needed now more than ever, but it requires operating in complex and resource-poor contexts.”

In Thursday’s 3ie Evidence Dialogues webinar, nutrition experts shared the reasons implementation research is so important in the field, as well as some examples of key takeaways from already-completed studies.

“Implementation research is critical in many different ways because building knowledge around programs and scaling solutions is so important,” said Purnima Menon, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

In one example of that type of knowledge-building, implementation research shed light on the strategies which were effective at prompting recall about nutrition topics among participants in women’s self-help groups, said Neeta Goel, Senior Program Officer for Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“What are the mechanisms that help us get there? How do we improve understanding? How do we improve recall when women are being bombarded with 100 different topics?” Goel said.

Implementation research found that women appreciated receiving messages through multiple types of media – like pamphlets, presentations, and videos. Also, pregnant women and their mothers-in-law were actively engaging with the program, but men were not, Goel said. These nuanced findings help to tweak future program designs.

“We’re moving away from just doing impact evaluations,” Goel said. “Implementation studies and process evaluations have been very useful across the board.”

Panelists agreed that implementation research is an excellent complement to impact evaluations, especially to help understand why effects might be bigger in some contexts or among some population subgroups. In some cases, the results show that programming has been less effective among the neediest people.

“Our interventions have taken root much better in terms of uptake where household conditions are already better off,” said Suneetha Kadiyala, a professor of global nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We really need to take the context head-on instead of seeing it as some pesky little detail.”

Implementation research should be built into programming wherever possible, panelists said.

“There are always implementation bottlenecks,” Menon said. “There are always things that prevent full-scale uptake of programs.”

To watch the full discussion, the recorded video is available here.