Oxford University research is being used in a variety of ways to improve programmes and policies for children and young people in developing countries.
September 2015 sees the endpoint of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, agreed by governments across the world to tackle poverty and improve children’s life-chances. A pioneering research programme, Young Lives, led by a team in the Oxford Department of International Development, has been following the lives of 12,000 children in 4 developing countries since 2002, to track progress of the MDGs.
By now, the researchers know quite a lot about the individual children and their families. They know where and how they live, how they are doing at school, some of the problems they face, and whether they think they have a good life or a bad life. It is also clear that both the children and their parents have high hopes for the future.
But the research also shows that if a child comes from a poor family, especially if they live in a community with few resources, they are likely to face other disadvantages on top of being poor. The research team wants to show how this can be changed, and the cycle of poverty broken.
A major aim of Young Lives is to ensure evidence is used to inform policy debates and policy formulation to improve children’s lives. One of the ways to do that is to work with international organisations such as UNICEF and government stakeholders in the study countries. Another route is to work with NGOs and civil society alliances to ensure they have rigorous, credible evidence to support their policy and advocacy work. Given the breadth of NGO advocacy work, there are many ways to do this.
For example, the Young Lives team in Peru has worked to build up a network of researchers and journalists who are interested in children’s issues. By taking time to develop these relationships, they now find themselves to be one of the most trusted sources of information about children in Peru. And in the run-up to municipal elections in 2010 and the 2011 elections for Congress, the team offered data and evidence to strengthen the work of an alliance of NGOs (the Colectivo Vota por la Niñez) campaigning for funding to improve programmes for children and young people. In this way the researchers ensured that their recent findings on increasing inequalities among children were able to inform public opinion and contribute to the election debates.
But advocacy work is not only about campaigns – the Young Lives team in Ethiopia has been working with researchers and policy advocates from across Africa to gather together evidence about the impact of children’s work on their learning and family circumstances, and case studies of different ways to tackle the issue of child work/child labour. The findings from this work have been published by Young Lives together with the African Child Policy Forum and Save the Children in Ethiopia.
Researchers also have an important role to play in supporting the professional development of NGO staff. The Young Lives team has also worked with programme staff in the international NGO World Vision to provide training on the ethics of research with children and young people. This was part of a World Vision initiative to build its own research capacity to develop a new policy on child protection. The resulting report on the social drivers of FGM and early marriage in Ethiopia drew both on World Vision’s programme experience and Young Lives evidence to support the design of more effective programme interventions.
Closer to home, Oxfam GB is using the real-life statistics and stories from Young Lives to develop teaching resources for children in the UK to explore how inequality affects the lives of children in different parts of the world. The first pack of maths resources for children age 8 to 12 (Everyone Counts) was published in late 2014, with a second pack of cross-curriculum activities for Maths, English and Geography aimed at 11 to 14-year-olds (More or Less Equal?) published in January 2016. In this way Young Lives is supporting Oxfam’s work to encourage critical thinking about issues and values and to engage the UK public in debates about poverty and inequality. This is just one of many activities Young Lives is carrying out with Oxfam (others include providing data for Oxfam’s own research reports and contributing to staff seminars and workshops).