Making research more ‘impactful’ for policy and programming

by Paul Dornan, Senior Policy Officer, Young Lives

by animator @jorgemartin

by animator @jorgemartin

How social science research contributes to solving real world problems has always been a concern for researchers. Few people study social ills like poverty without wishing to contribute to policies and programmes which help those affected. So it’s great that the impact of research is receiving more attention than ever before. I’m just back from a conference, organised by IDS and the Impact Initiative and set up to learn lessons from 10 years of research on poverty on funded by DFID-ESRC. There was lots presented and discussed at the conference – the story is online  and is pretty quick to absorb being set out in the medium of twitter…

There is lots that matters here. It is to the credit of DFID and others that they have been strong supporters of building a better evidence base for public policy. These arguments are well rehearsed– look for example at the LSEs brilliant impact of the social sciences blog. Public policy without good evidence is an expensive shot in the dark but experience shows good research does not automatically lead to change. To think research would automatically result in policy change ignores all sorts of issues of politics and pragmatism (e.g. ideology, policy interest cycles, competing agendas, timing, financing, feasibility, capacity and luck). And there is a further challenge of research attribution, since research sits alongside all sorts of other inputs to the policy process, and to ignore these is both naïve and under plays the importance of national policy making processes.


International Women’s Day 2016: ‘pledging for parity’ needs to start with childhood

Gina Crivello, Senior Research Officer


The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day campaign is ‘pledging for parity’. The ‘pledging’ part of the slogan draws attention to individual commitment and to action. ‘Parity’, on the other hand, highlights the relationship between two or more things, and is generally defined as the state or condition of being equal or equivalent. In this context, the positive focus of parity suggests gender-balanced power. And, more often than not, parity refers to relations between men and women. After all, girls have their own day – October 11th – marking International Day of the Girl Child.

But does childhood have a place in International Women’s Day? What does childhood have to do with gender parity?

I would argue that childhood has a lot to do with gender parity. The reasons why become clear when we look at the flip side of parity… and turn our attention to the workings of inequality.


An extraordinary story of ordinary lives

by Caroline Knowles, Communications Manager, Young LivesCaroline cropped_low-res

There was a fascinating piece in The Guardian this weekend celebrating the British Cohort Studies – a unique set of studies that have tracked children born in 1946, 1958, 1970, in the early 1990s, and at the turn of the millennium. The article shows the impressive range of evidence these studies have contributed to policymaking and shaped so many things that we now take for granted in the UK – starting with the integration of free maternity services into the nascent National Health Service in 1948, to the reform of the system of selective secondary schools in the 1960s, evidence on the crisis in basic skills which led to a major expansion of adult education in the 1990s, and more recently the rising crisis of obesity and its implications for health and social care.

Although we have only been following the Young Lives cohort children for 12 years to date, the similarities with our findings and other cohort studies in developing countries are remarkable. The UK studies show that inequality has dogged every generation, and in every cohort the poorer children are more likely to struggle at school, to be less healthy, and to find it harder to get good jobs. Young Lives shows the importance of early childhood circumstances for later outcomes, how inequalities open up during children’s school trajectories, and how, in low-resource settings, ill health is a constant drain on family resources and a barrier to children’s life-chances.


Early Childhood Development is essential to delivering the SDGs

by Professor Martin Woodhead, Associate Research Director, Young LivesMartin cropped_low-res

So, Early Child Development (ECD) is finally on the global policy agenda. A small group of prominent ECD advocates worked tirelessly to secure the wording of Target 4.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals which states that by 2030 countries should: ‘ensure 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’.

While recognizing this is a landmark, an earlier blog of mine drew attention to the risks of subsuming ECD within an education target that is skewed towards ensuring school readiness. ECD is about so much more! Strengthening ECD will be key to achieving at least seven of the Sustainable Development Goals, on poverty, hunger, health (including child mortality), education, gender, water and sanitation, and inequality. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reiterated this :

“… early childhood development can help drive the transformation we hope to achieve over the next 15 years. This is a pivotal time. … Too many countries have yet to make early childhood development a priority. We need to invest more, not just in education, but in health and protection. We need to target our investments and interventions to reach children at greatest risk of being left behind. ”


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?