The first, by David Pelletier (Cornell University) and colleagues, is a synthesis report from the Mainstreaming Nutrition Initiative and published in the journal Health Policy and Planning. The core question they pose: what can be done to make sure that the magnitude of the undernutrition crisis gets commensurate policy attention? They review experiences from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru and Vietnam and conclude that attention to nutrition can be achieved in a number of ways, but political and system commitments require sustained attention from policy entrepreneurs and champions. For mainstreaming, commitment is not enough, it requires capacity to translate political opportunities into operational plans and even when this is possible, effective implementation is stymied by capacity constraints and the national and grassroots levels, both human and organisational. Interestingly they conclude that the "extensive investments in intervention efficacy research are unlikely to produce sustainable reductions in undernutrition unless or until these constraints int he policy process are better understood and addressed". I agree with this--while the evidence base in terms of what works can always usefully be strengthened, the understandings of how to mobilise and scale these potentially effective interventions remains under-researched.
The second paper, by my IDS colleague Edoardo Masset (and published in the journal Food Policy) focuses on whether we need to measure commitments to hunger reduction and if so what should be the elements of such an index. The paper concludes that we should try to develop commitment indices based on (a) political will (inspired by indicators of national commitment to the reduction of TH), (b) policy development and implementation, and (c) programme implementation and resource allocation. In many ways the issues are similar to the Pelletier paper, but the paper makes the case for why and how these dimensions can be measured.
The third, forthcoming in Food Policy, is by Ugo Gentili and Steven Were Omamo of the World Food Programme. The paper is a review of what we know about social protection. It is short, but with few wasted words, and is one of the best reviews I have seen. It describes the evolution of social protection and outlines some of the challenges ahead, including what to watch out for in the move from "limited" programmes (aid based, more safety net, low mainstreaming, high redistribution) to more "consolidated" programmes (domestically financed, insurance based, more integrated into legislation, lower redistribution). The paper would have been even stronger if it had focused a bit more on the factors leading to the emergence of social protection (political opportunity? strong capacity to seize opportunity? strong capacity to implement?) to give us some clues as to where it might be going, but one can't have everything.
The thing I like about these studies is that they are rigorous analyses of the conditions necessary for effective interventions to take root in other contexts.
In other words they lead us into the "post-impact" agenda to think about the real life conditions that will maximise the impacts of what (we think) works.