Participant engagement in longitudinal studies: A knowledge exchange workshop

by Caroline Knowles, Communications Manager, Young Lives

Caroline cropped_low-res

I spent a fascinating day last Friday, accompanied by my colleague Gina Crivello, at a meeting organised by the CLOSER network of longitudinal studies – talking about the importance of ‘participant engagement’, which is essential for cohort maintenance (and minimising attrition). Within Young Lives, we call this ‘research reciprocity’, and for us it’s an integral part of our approach to being an ethical study. It is essential for maintaining the trust of the children and young people we work with and for enabling respectful implementation of our survey.

Over 30 UK and European cohort studies were represented at the meeting, and many of them are striving, like us, to achieve a careful balance, and working out how to ‘compensate’ and say thank you in a meaningful way – and how to communicate findings in a way that is easy to understand.


Scaling Up Access to Quality Early Learning in Ethiopia: what’s happening right now

by Jack Rossiter, Education Research Officer, Young Lives Ethiopia.

Jack Rossiter 1

By 2030 we will – collectively – have ‘ensure[d] that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’. We will, in 2030, turn to two indicators (as proposed) and see that all children are receiving early childhood development services and that indices of early childhood development are meeting our expectations across four domains: literacy/numeracy, physical, socio-emotional and cognitive development.

The path to achieving this goal by 2030 will feature as a topic of discussion during this week’s Education World Forum in London. Of course this is not a simple task. It’s not really one task either, with multiple levels of ‘care’ in two dimensions: access with quality.

While the word ‘quality’ is often somewhat meaningless, it also happens to be the word of most importance in the above proposition. For, without quality in early learning, the tool that might become a powerful, cost-effective investment to help reduce inequalities could have the reverse effect.


Endeavours to improve adolescent lives: a stocktaking of South Asian evaluations

by Sindhu Nambiath, Gender and Adolescence Policy Specialist, Young Lives India

Sindhu Nambiath Dec2015

Did you know that 2015 was apparently International Year of Evaluation?! With all the bright lights and big names around the adoption of SDGs and Global Goals as well as the closing of the MDGs, this got lost in the floodlights.

But for development practitioners and researchers involved in strengthening national evaluation capacities, a number of significant events and initiatives took place away from the bright lights. At the end of the year I attended The Community of Evaluators – South Asia (CoE-SA) Conclave in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The primary theme of the gathering was ‘Building bridges: Use of Evaluation for decision making and policy influence’ focusing on four key areas: use, participation, equity, and gender.

As part of the gathering, International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), and UNICEF, organised a day long workshop on “Improving Adolescent Lives in South Asia: A Learning Lab Perspective”.


We’ve reached the end of the Millennium Development Goals period – so, are children better off?

by Jo Boyden,  Director of Young Lives

(This post originally appeared in The Conversation on 31 December 2015)


The 15-year period set out to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has come to an end. Before we head straight into a new set of 17 targets – the Global Goals for 2030 – we still have to consider how well we met the old promises made back in 2000.

At the University of Oxford’s Young Lives project we’ve been working on a report analysing the results of our ongoing study of 12,000 children born before and after the new millennium in four countries: Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. It’s a 15-year study to overlap with the time-frame of the MDGs, providing evidence and policy advice on the most effective ways to tackle childhood poverty. So what did the MDGS do for our group of children?


From #MDGs to #SDGs – better policies for children

1st January 2016 is ‘switchover day’ from the MDGs to the Global Goals (there’s even a hashtag #MDGstoSDGs !).

It will take a few months to complete the detail (ODI’s Claire Melamed has a neat update blog). Soon, with luck, the discussion will move beyond the SDG framework and towards what’s needed to achieve the Goals. So as we end the year, where are Young Lives’ round up messages relevant to how governments address the new agenda?

First, recognition of the global extent of child poverty is growing. The World Bank has published an age breakdown of how many extremely poor people were children showing that 47% were 18 years or younger. In poorer countries, populations tend to be young, but even so children have a higher poverty rate than older groups. Unless there is a last minute change Global Goal 1 (‘No Poverty’) will disaggregate poverty figures by age.
As Young Lives evidence shows again and again, child poverty undermines social policy success. Social protection has emerged as a key tool to tackle child poverty and is a target in Goal 1. But consider the comparison between Western Europe and African average spending on children. Western Europe spends 2.2% of GDP on 16% of its population, while African countries spend an average of 0.2% of GDP on 42% of the population. Extending child sensitive social protection has great potential to make other social policies more effective. I hope age disaggregation in Goal 1 will increase this impetus. The new Global Coalition to End Child Poverty has now been launched calling for better policy to address child poverty and Young Lives is proud to be part of this effort.


Getting learning assessments right when money depends on it!

By Ian Attfield, DFID Education Adviser Tanzania and Abhijeet Singh, Young Lives Research Officer, University of Oxford

This blog originally appeared on the HEART website on 11 December 2015

The past two decades have seen an unprecedented global increase in enrolment rates: although the MDG goal of universal primary education may not have been met universally, the rate of progress has been remarkable But in the last decade, we’ve also become very aware that learning levels of students in school are often very low – in Lant Pritchett’s coinage Schooling ain’t Learning. Two things have happened with this realisation. One, the quality of education has risen much higher up the policy agenda. And second, among funding organisations, there is now much less appetite for ‘budget support’ – granting of direct funding to education ministries for business-as-usual spending, typically on inputs – and a shift to either very programme-specific funding or, even more recently, payments-by-results (PBR) where funding depends on the level of learning improvement as a result of the programme. This blog is a brief exploration of practical aspects of this shift: if we’re putting high-stakes on learning gains, how well can we measure them?


Researchers ask questions and policymakers want answers: How can both do better?

by Colin Bangay, Senior Education Adviser, DFID-India; and Angela Little, Professor Emerita, UCL Institute of Education (and Young Lives board member)

((This blog first appeared on the HEART Resources website )

In a recent meeting between DFID advisers and Young Lives researchers, we asked the question: ‘Who is this research for?’ Although there was collective agreement on the value of evidence that can drive change and make a difference to children’s lives, it was also clear there were tensions between the drivers and approaches of the two groups.

The area where this is most evidence is in publications. Good research papers are precise, methodical, use technical language – and, given concerns for external validity findings, are often caveated and conditional. Good policy briefs on the other hand recognise that policymakers are: (i) seldom experts, (ii) very busy, and (iii) screen the options for change in terms of financial, political and administrative feasibility (since they have to convince the ministry of finance to fund them). Hence they need briefs that are characterised by plain language, brevity, clear definitive costed options, and a timeframe in which results can be expected to accrue.

While we didn’t resolve the creative tension between research and policy publications, we did agree that to maximise the impact of both, more collaborative working would be beneficial. Both groups can learn from each other, and both have value to add – be that in framing research questions, thinking about how and who to engage with, building ownership for research, brokering and finally communicating research. Could each do more to ensure the other’s perspectives are usefully taken on board?


Convening a ‘write shop’ – an innovative way of getting evidence into policy

By Rachel Hinton, Senior Policy Adviser, DFID

How do we inspire busy policy advisers to take time to absorb the latest research? And how do we ensure that, when they are using evidence, we can record the process and impact that this is having?

(This blog first appeared on the HEART Resources website )

At a meeting held at Oxford University in September 2015, DFID policy advisers had a unique opportunity to spend time with Young Lives researchers to discuss more collaborative ways of getting evidence into policy. The UK Forum for International Education and Training conference in Oxford meant that a stellar line-up of education researchers would be in town, including Santiago Cueto, Zoe James, Ginny Morrow, Caine Rolleston, Abhijeet Singh, Renu Singh and Martin Woodhead. In parallel a team of DFID advisers were presenting papers at the event.

So we asked ourselves, could we make the most of this opportunity to bring everyone together to document the use of evidence in action?


Paper was invented in 206 BC….It’s time for a change: Introducing CAPI

Anne SolonAnne Solon, Data Manager for Young Lives

(This blog first appeared on the UK Data Service’s Data Impact Blog on 24 November 2105)

I recently attended a Global Health and Development Seminar at London School of Tropical Medicine about the experience of using technology (specifically ACASI) to research violence against adolescent girls in humanitarian situations. During the session, IRC and the Population Council hosted a discussion on the use of technology within an adolescent-girl protection research programme and innovative ways of collecting data in Ethiopia’s refugee camps by COMPASS, a research centre, like Young Lives, based in the University of Oxford.

The seminar prompted me to reflect on our own processes and considerations for migrating from administering our questionnaires using paper and pen to using tablets for data collection.

Can  CAPI (computer-assisted personal interviewing) solve all your problems?

The simple answer is yes, computer-assisted personal interviewing can solve all your current problems but it will give you some new ones to think about as well! In 2013, Round 4 of our longitudinal survey, we started using tablets to collect our data in the field. Gone were the paper and pens of yore and in were the stylus pens and screens and with this, a myriad of considerations and trade-offs. So here are some reflections on introducing CAPI to teams across four varying countries:


Corporal punishment of children linked to lower school grades




This blog by Kirrily Pells, first appeared in The Conversation on 20 November 2015.


Debates on whether the use of physical force to discipline children is ever acceptable have once again been reignited with legislation passed in Ireland in early November to remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” for corporal punishment.

In new research conducted by the Young Lives study at the University of Oxford using longitudinal data from Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam, we found that children who experienced corporal punishment performed worse in maths, four years later. The research was part of UNICEF’s Multi Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children.

The use of physical punishment, such as smacking, slapping or hitting with a hand or implement, is contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by all states except the US. Yet only 47 countries have, like Ireland, introduced legislation to protect children from corporal punishment in all settings, including the home and school.

Corporal punishment excites strong points of view. Proponents argue that “mild” or “moderate” forms of corporal punishment are an effective and non-detrimental means of instilling discipline and obedience into children. When talking about our research on corporal punishment I often encounter the response: “I was hit and it never did me any harm”. Opponents stress the hypocrisy of laws that do not extend the same protection to children as is afforded to adults.