New data-driven tool shows promise to strengthen multisectoral nutrition investments for better nutrition

July 28, 2023 - Last update: July 28, 2023

Q&A with the SUN Donor Network on how they are using the Nutrition Policy Marker to track nutrition investments

Contributors: Pamela Gordon, Rebekah Pinto, Elaine Gray, Paddy Wilmott, Columba O’Dowd, Helena Guarin-Corredor, Mary D’Alimonte, Lorna Harp, Caroline Andridge

Malnutrition continues to negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people worldwide. The lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflict, and accelerating climate change continue to hinder progress toward eliminating malnutrition in all its forms. Recent trends in financing for nutrition-specific interventions—including early prevention, detection, and treatment of child wasting in particular—are positive, but it is still not enough to meet the growing need.

In response, the nutrition community is working to mainstream nutrition within investments across sectors to improve nutrition outcomes and save lives. The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Donor Network (SDN) is at the forefront of these efforts and is collaborating to improve nutrition mainstreaming —including adopting the nutrition policy marker (NPM), a tool to transparently and accurately track multisectoral investments. The NPM, initially proposed by France and introduced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2018, is a qualitative tool that improves the identification, reporting, and monitoring of multisectoral nutrition activities in the OECD Creditor Reporting System. It can identify projects across all sectors—beyond just health—that have an objective to improve nutrition.

When used correctly and consistently, the policy marker provides greater insight into investments that support nutrition by allowing users to disaggregate data (by sector, recipient, channel, and other levels) to analyze and identify trends, progress, and gaps in donor spending across sectors.

See the SUN Member Advocacy Brief for a detailed look at NPM scoring and application.  

Tracking multisectoral nutrition investments with the policy marker contributes to nutrition mainstreaming and improved outcomes in two ways.

First, the NPM enables donor institutions to identify opportunities for improved nutrition mainstreaming, encouraging inclusion of nutrition objectives or indicators within projects that may not have otherwise included them.

Second, the NPM allows data users to track progress against financial and policy commitments to improve transparency and accountability. This is possible because the NPM provides greater insight into multisectoral aid for nutrition than was previously available.

Recognizing this potential, the SDN has prioritized efforts to explore and pursue correct and consistent application of the policy marker at the institution level. Seven SDN members—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the European Union (EU), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Irish Aid (IA), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—formed a technical working group (TWG) to focus on nutrition resource tracking and the most responsible, accurate, and policy-relevant way to use the nutrition policy marker to support it. The group has convened regularly since 2019 to take an in-depth look at the policy marker, consider its advantages, and begin the complicated process of adopting this new, voluntary reporting mechanism within their existing program design, management, and reporting systems.

The benefits of NPM reporting are clear, but accurate and consistent application of the marker takes time. Experiences from early adopters can provide insight into the process for other institutions interested in adding the NPM to their data reporting systems. We spoke to a few SDN members who currently use the NPM about their experience and process so far:  

Tell us how you got started with the NPM. Why did your institution decide to include the marker? What has the adoption period been like?

Global Affairs Canada (GAC): Canada was an early adopter of the nutrition policy marker and began tracking projects with it in 2019. In 2021, Canada made a commitment at the Nutrition for Growth Summit to report on all nutrition programming using the NPM. This policy marker is an important accountability tool to track nutrition across the range of interventions supported by Global Affairs Canada, and has the potential to strengthen the integration of nutrition into Canada’s work within health, humanitarian, food systems, gender, climate, and education programming.

Global Affairs Canada continues to build the capacity of our staff to use the NPM and we encourage all development stakeholders to also consider adopting the NPM. The more widely it is used, the more accountable our collective efforts to improve nutrition outcomes will be.

How has your institution benefitted from adding the NPM to your data reporting process? What’s changed since it’s been adopted?

Irish Aid (IA): The introduction of the NPM helped to guide our program and policy teams to more consistently and coherently review projects with a nutrition-sensitive lens. Reviewing the NPM has helped us to identify trends and compare approaches across projects and sectors, with a view to encouraging increased and improved nutrition outcomes across a range of multi-sector projects.

UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (UK FCDO): The NPM has been a very useful tool to help the FCDO progress against our Nutrition for Growth (N4G) pledge to integrate nutrition objectives across our official development assistance (ODA) portfolio where relevant. While FCDO continues to use the SDN methodology to quantify the scale of our nutrition spend, our adoption of the NPM provides an additional layer of analysis on the integration of nutrition-relevant interventions across our ODA portfolio. We have also found the NPM to be an excellent tool with which to encourage colleagues to consider how their investment could help improve nutrition. Colleagues are now required to consider nutrition at the earliest stages of program design, meaning we are seeing greater interest and demand for nutrition-sensitive guidance and advice.

What are some key takeaways you would share with institutions interested in adopting it?

European Commission (EC): In the European Commission, application of the nutrition policy marker is decentralized to those designing the actions, mainly to the project managers in the EU Delegations. This enables a discussion about how to strengthen nutrition in programs/projects and it decentralizes responsibility to those closest to the work on the ground. Applying OECD DAC markers is not new at the field level, but capacity had to be developed in terms of training and systems for properly applying the nutrition marker according to the criteria. The nutrition policy marker is only applied to actions with an explicit nutrition objective, meaning a stated intention to have an impact on nutrition. A quality control process was introduced to make sure the DAC and internal guidelines for the nutrition policy marker were being properly applied.

How can the NPM strengthen or improve information on nutrition financing in the future?

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): The NPM provides funding agencies, like USAID, with an important opportunity to enhance accuracy and transparency in our reporting procedures. Due to the volume and diversity of nutrition-relevant activities and variation in reporting systems across agencies, the process of calculating and tracking nutrition investments can be highly complicated and labor-intensive. The NPM also provides us with a deeper understanding of how our investments with nutrition objectives are being mainstreamed into a broad scope of activities over the short- and longer-term. We are hopeful that the NPM will provide a pathway to making this critical process of tracking our investments more streamlined, proactive, consistent, and efficient. 

IA: We are still at an early stage in the use of the NPM, but in the coming years we expect it will support better analysis and lead to improved monitoring, evaluation, and learning. However, we think it will be important not to over-complicate the process. We need to have realistic expectations of the time and capacity needed to report against the NPM, but we also hope that the marker will make other nutrition reporting systems unnecessary. It is our hope that the NPM incentivizes higher ambition on nutrition and that we will see increasing numbers of multilateral agencies reporting their spending on basic nutrition and applying the NPM to more of their activities. We hope that more providers will, like IFAD, set themselves a target for the percentage of their investments that are nutrition-sensitive by design.

You collaborated regularly with other early adopters in the TWG. Tell us how learning from other donors’ experience with the NPM supported efforts within your own institution.

USAID: We greatly value coordination and collaboration with other global funding agencies in all of our collective nutrition investments, including this multi-year analysis of the NPM, and the openness with which our TWG colleagues have shared their strategies, lessons learned, adaptations, tools, and outstanding issues with us. We share some similar hurdles and complexities in our procedures and performance monitoring systems in order to capture this critical data while limiting administrative burden. Through this forum we have both been encouraged by the progress of our colleagues and learned much from their approaches to problem-solving.

UK FCDO: FCDO found it very helpful to learn from early adopters of the NPM. It was particularly useful to hear about the resource challenges associated with quality assuring the internal application of the policy marker. Colleagues’ shared reflections helped FCDO in our own preparations for an effective NPM quality assurance mechanism. It has also been useful for the FCDO to hear colleagues’ views on how they use NPM-generated data to track and monitor investments. Alongside this, the production of guidance and ready-made presentations have been useful templates to help FCDO with our own NPM-sensitization campaign. Overall, the TWG allowed for open and productive discussions on the role and application of the NPM which supported FCDO in our adoption of the NPM in late 2022.

Responses lightly edited for length and clarity.

Available resources to report and/or explore the nutrition policy marker:

Editor’s note: The work described in this blog is made possible through USAID Advancing Nutrition, the Agency's flagship multi-sectoral nutrition project, which supports the SUN Donor Network to galvanize more and higher quality financing for nutrition. USAID Advancing Nutrition provides technical assistance, along with annual data reviews and recommendations on the analysis and interpretation of the NPM.



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