Case study

Embedded learning:
Learning component of the IDRC Covid-19 Response for Equity programme

Developed in collaboration with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), this learning initiative met the need for ongoing, real-time reflexive learning about programming to maximise effectiveness in rapidly changing contexts of crises.

July 2021 to February 2022
Approximate cost
An accompanied learning process designed in collaboration with IDRC, including primary research, analysis, a research report and knowledge-sharing event.


To support IDRC’s learning by capturing insights on how the strategic decisions taken by IDRC in the design and delivery phases of the Covid-19 Response for Equity (CORE) programme supported Southern-led research and engagement.


Many funders and development agencies are keen to learn lessons from their experience of funding rapid and responsive research mechanisms.

Understanding how best to adapt their existing systems and protocols to deliver a fast and flexible response is vital to help better prepare for future crises.

This learning activity, embedded within the IDRC-funded Covid-19 Response for Equity (CORE) programme took place during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Procurement systems, research methods and the engagement of evidence with policy and practice needed to evolve quickly to cope with pandemic restrictions, volatile policy spaces and the urgent need for evidence on the impact of Covid on the most vulnerable.


The learning activity was delivered by IDS staff who were already engaged in the wider CORE programme. They were well positioned to build upon existing relationships with IDRC and CORE project partners and knowledge of CORE and its objectives.

They applied the IDS ‘learning journey’ methodology. Learning journeys build on IDS’ experience of similar activities with other donors and the institute’s many years at the forefront of participatory learning approaches.

Learning journeys are collaborative across disciplines, usually involve other government departments and/or development partners, and provide spaces for discussion and reflection linked to real case working scenarios and application. They are facilitated by thematic experts and supported by evidence syntheses and learning products to increase uptake.

Learning journeys are designed to explore and respond to a specific complex issue or challenge. They place strong emphasis on building ownership with key stakeholders to support the relevance and utility of the learning process.

This particular learning journey involved: online meetings with IDRC staff, semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with CORE partners and IDRC staff, research analysis, the production of a final report, and a knowledge sharing event with IDRC staff.


The learning activity was delivered by members of the IDS Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Team:

  • Louise Clark, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager
  • Jo Carpenter, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist
  • Joe Taylor, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Support Officer

The activity also involved a specially formed Reference Group comprising members of IDRC’s Policy and Evaluation Division and IDRC grant-holders.

Participant information

  • Principle Investigator (researcher)
  • Programme Officer
  • Think Tank Director
  • Director of Policy and Evaluation

Participant numbers

  • 31


The learning activity documented lessons learnt and actionable recommendations for future rapid response mechanisms and for more immediate application in the second phase of the CORE programme.

It created a space for IDRC to directly hear partners feedback and priorities and reflect on CORE’s value in strengthening Southern research organisations and supporting regional communities of practice to enable coordination and policy engagement.

For future initiatives, the lessons highlighted the value of multi-disciplinary research and the importance of bringing together research partners to co-design the programme and to integrate functions to promote cross-programme knowledge exchange from the outset.

The value of the learning to IDRC was reflected in their decision to extend it into the second phase of the CORE programme.

The Learning Journey was helpful for CORE to take stock at a mid point and also to revisit some of the big choices we made in launching the initiative, while memories were still relatively fresh, but with the hindsight of how projects have progressed in the year and a half or so since starting.
- Adrian di Giovanni, Senior Program Specialist, Law and Development, IDRC
The first round of learning journey findings helped to shape design of the follow-on Knowledge Translation (KT) efforts for CORE, in particular, the need for even greater efforts to support Southern leadership on KT within the initiative.
- Adrian di Giovanni, Senior Program Specialist, Law and Development, IDRC
The idea of a learning journey has fed in real-time KT (Knowledge Translation) approaches within IDRC on the need for ongoing, real-time reflexive learning about programming (with our own KT unit embarking on a larger learning journey for IDRC KT efforts).
- Adrian di Giovanni, Senior Program Specialist, Law and Development, IDRC

A short overview from the Learning Convenor

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