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Child poverty, evidence and policyMainstreaming children in international development$

Nicola A. Jones

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781847424464

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847424464.001.0001

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(p.194) (p.195) Seven Conclusions
Child poverty, evidence and policy

Nicola Jones

Andy Sumner

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter concludes that childhood poverty and well-being are distinct from adult experiences of poverty and well-being, and that it is therefore critical that policy design, implementation, and evaluation processes are informed accordingly. It suggests that a ‘three-dimensional’ human well-being (3D WB) lens is useful to capture this distinctiveness in a holistic way as the approach builds on, but goes beyond minimum or ‘basic’ needs and their legal codification in rights conventions such as the UNCRC. The chapter suggests that in order to capture children's 3D WB, evidence or knowledge-generation processes need to draw on a mixed-methods or 3D approach, combining quantitative and qualitative approaches. It further concludes that case studies from developing-country contexts suggest that there is no single recipe for child-sensitive knowledge interaction and policy-influencing processes, but there are three clusters of factors which support such policy change: policy ideas and narratives, policy actors and networks, and policy contexts.

Keywords:   childhood well-being, adult experiences, 3D WB, knowledge-generation process, mixed-methods approach

7.1 Introduction

Our book has focused on the relationships between child poverty/well-being, evidence/knowledge and policy change. We have employed a multilayered model as outlined in the Introduction (see Figure 7.1). These layers seek to understand child poverty and well-being in its material, relational and subjective domains; and the role of ideas, actors and political contexts in shaping related knowledge–policy interactions. Our approach is informed by a multidimensional understanding of power as material, discursive and institutional, and the ways in which power relations shape opportunities for children’s own voice (in decision-making), visibility (in knowledge-generation and policy processes) and vision (of well-being).

By focusing on questions about knowledge, policy and power through the lens of children’s well-being, the book has unpacked the relationship between different types of knowledge and policy change in a range of contexts and policy sectors in the developing world. It has sought


Figure 7.1: Our approach

(p.196) to draw attention to the importance of combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including those that capture children’s voices, so as to develop compelling narratives for multiple audiences; framing evidence in accessible and culturally resonant ways to maximise impact in diverse political contexts; as well as the critical role that strategic policy actor alliances can play in knowledge uptake. Here we draw together the main conclusions emerging from the book.

7.2 3D child well-being, methods and policy change

As we discussed in Chapter 1, childhood poverty and well-being are distinct from adult experiences of poverty and well-being, and it is therefore critical that policy design, implementation and evaluation processes are informed accordingly. A ‘three-dimensional’ human well-being (3D WB) lens is useful to capture this distinctiveness in a holistic way as the approach builds on but goes beyond minimum or ‘basic’ needs and their legal codification in rights conventions such as the UNCRC. Importantly it focuses on the enabling conditions for a ‘flourishing childhood’, including material, relational and subjective well-being dimensions.

As we discussed in Chapter 2, in order to capture children’s 3D WB, evidence or knowledge-generation processes need to draw on a mixed-methods or 3D approach, combining quantitative and qualitative (both Participatory Rural Appraisal [PRA] and ethnographic) approaches. While there has been growing recognition of the importance of including children’s voices in knowledge-generation initiatives, we have argued that such knowledge also has to be complemented by other sources in order to speak to the complexities of international development policy dialogues. In particular, methodological improvements are needed to adequately reflect linkages between child well-being and intra-household dynamics, community–child relations and macro–micro policy linkages.

As we discussed in Chapter 3, a 3D WB lens implies different ways of thinking about policy, policy engagement and advocacy, and in particular an understanding of the power relations that underpin efforts to shape policy change. Importantly, it implies that we need to think about power as multidimensional, including not only control over resources (i.e. material political-economy), but also control over the shaping of prevailing values and identities (i.e. discourse and what counts as knowledge), and control over norms, and conventions and behaviour (i.e. institutions). We have argued that if knowledge is to play a constructive role in policy processes about child well-being then it (p.197) is important to adopt an iterative ‘knowledge interaction’ approach to policy change whereby there is an explicit recognition of the power dynamics that shape which types of knowledge are privileged or overlooked by different policy actors. We emphasise that such awareness is especially important in the case of efforts to shape policies related to child well-being given the particular voicelessness of children in many contexts and their exclusion from conventional policy spaces. As such, we also need to think more broadly about types of policy change objectives, to include not just substantive policy and legislative change, but also discursive, procedural and behavioural shifts.

Given the complexities of power relations in the production of knowledge and its use (or otherwise) within the policy process, our case studies from developing-country contexts suggest that there is no single recipe for child-sensitive knowledge interaction and policy-influencing processes, but there are certain prerequisite ‘ingredients’ upon which we can agree. The three clusters of factors that support such policy change are as follows.

Policy ideas and narratives

Questions about the role of knowledge in policy circles, and the power that shapes the acceptability of some forms of knowledge but silences others, are becoming increasingly salient. In this regard, as important as the development of rigorous evidence to measure progress in enhancing children’s well-being and rights is, the ways in which new and existing knowledge is synthesised and presented to diverse policy, practitioner and lay audiences requires particular attention if investments in child-focused research are to have maximum value. Given limited awareness of children’s rights issues by civil society and government actors alike, borrowing from framing techniques in other areas of development (or ‘frame extension’) may be effective in promoting quick buy-in in that the language and its policy implications are already relatively familiar (for instance, drawing on ‘mainstreaming’ or ‘pro-poor budget-monitoring’ discourses). However, there is also the risk that such an approach may be perceived as ‘yet another special interest lobby’, so a careful assessment of existing relations between civil society and the state in a specific context would need to guide such choices.

Investing in innovative strategies to dismantle dominant paradigms that assume that children will automatically benefit from broader and household-level poverty-reduction interventions is also critical. Without an appreciation of the specific and multidimensional nature of childhood poverty, vulnerability and resilience, the fulfilment of (p.198) children’s rights will remain only partial. As such, there is a pressing need to better understand the power dynamics operating to privilege particular narratives about human well-being and the ways in which they serve to subtly obscure new knowledge. In the same vein, it is also important to promote the triangulation of knowledge about children from a wide range of sources, ranging from children’s testimonies and participatory photo projects to survey data and budget-monitoring efforts, from guidelines for journalists and key informant discussions to content analysis of African Union policy statements and international rights conventions.

Policy actors and networks

The relative marginalisation of child well-being issues on the development policy stage means that forging alliances among a broad array of governmental and non-governmental actors is critical to ensure that new ideas have a chance of gaining adequate policy purchase. This involves attention to the following issues.

Given the importance of macro–micro policy linkages in shaping children’s experiences of poverty and vulnerability, establishing relationships with actors in government agencies charged with mainstream poverty-reduction and economic development issues can be critical to promote child-sensitive policy change. Investing in awareness-raising efforts about childhood poverty and rights among an array of government and mainstream civil society actors as well as the media may also be necessary before new knowledge about child well-being can be effectively integrated into the conceptual frameworks that inform different policy actors’ daily practice. Similarly, in view of the relative weakness of actors mandated to work with children (e.g. ministries of social welfare, women and children), an effective policy engagement strategy may necessarily entail attention to capacity-strengthening work with key governmental and/or civil society actors so that these agencies can participate more effectively in policy agenda-setting and budget-allocation decision-making processes.

Different audiences are likely to subscribe explicitly or implicitly to different knowledge hierarchies. Accordingly, drawing on multiple sources of knowledge can be an effective strategy to reach a particular policy audience. As we have argued, evidence that is expert-led (i.e. based on the work of technically trained persons) and evidence derived from citizens’ experiences can both be child-sensitive under certain conditions. The choice of advocacy or knowledge interaction approach in part depends on the policy/sector/issue and available entry points (p.199) for policy influence – some sectors require a high level of technical expertise (e.g. macroeconomic and trade policies, budget processes) and are less amenable to participatory forms of knowledge. However, while it is important to frame research findings with this in mind, it is equally important to work with actors to begin to break down conventional knowledge hierarchies given the complexity and diversity of childhood poverty and vulnerability.

Children’s participation in poverty policy processes is still in a fledgling state and the evidence to date suggests that its contribution to tangible policy changes has been limited. However, perhaps just as importantly, our analysis has highlighted ways in which children’s participation can contribute to other change objectives. This includes introducing new ideas on to the policy agenda, bringing about procedural shifts (so that children are gradually more routinely involved in citizen consultation processes for example), and gradually transforming the attitudes of those in power towards recognising the potential contribution that children and young people can make to policy debates.

Policy contexts

In light of our growing knowledge base about the impact pathways between macro-level political and economic development shifts, meso-level policy and community responses, and micro-level impacts on children and their caregivers, there is a need for proponents of child-sensitive policy change to embed their policy engagement efforts within a strong understanding of broader policy process dynamics. This can include trade liberalisation processes to shifting aid modalities and PRSP development and monitoring, budget processes and public finance management to post-conflict reconciliation processes. Approaches to knowledge interaction may need to be tailored accordingly. For instance, as our case studies highlighted, in transitional or post-conflict political contexts where trust in political institutions has been eroded or is fragile, employing a multimedia rather than a conventional research communication approach may be important in order to communicate to policymakers and citizens alike.

Our analysis has also highlighted that it is critical to invest more in understanding multiple policy levels – international, regional, national and sub-national levels. Indeed the latter appears to be especially important not only because of the challenges involved in overcoming extant data constraints, but also because this is increasingly where implementation of social policies – which help to mediate the effects (p.200) of macro-development policy changes on children and their families – take place.

Lastly, our case studies underscored that, as important as context-mapping is, policy engagement strategies need to have inbuilt flexibility given that windows of opportunity within a specific context can open and close rapidly with little prior warning. Issues that are seemingly distant from children’s lives such as national elections may have a profound impact on the contours of the policy process landscape.

7.3 What next?

All of the above suggests a research and action agenda around (i) conceptual development to understand the specificities of child poverty and well-being in a particular context, to reflexively inform both (ii) empirical knowledge-generation processes about and with children on child poverty and well-being, and (iii) knowledge–policy interactions and how they play out in different developing-country settings.

In terms of future practical steps for both researchers and those involved in policy processes (from inside or outside political institutions) there are four key things that can be done differently – although these constitute more of a change of emphasis and direction than a seismic shift.

First, there is a pressing need to promote greater investment in terms of time, resources and intellectual energy in more collaborative mixed-methods knowledge-generation efforts around child well-being. This type of work is still in a fledgling stage, especially with regard to aspects of well-being that fall outside the Millennium Development Goal agenda (including protection from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, and the role that socio-cultural norms and practices play in perpetuating and reinforcing these), but is critical to tap the 3D nature of children’s experiences of poverty and well-being.

Second, given the importance of context in shaping the ways in which knowledge about child well-being informs (or not) policy processes, promoting the institutionalisation of systematic context-mapping at the national and sub-national levels within organisations championing children’s rights is an essential step if research investments are to both resonate with and remould policy discourses and priorities.

Third, given the limited density of organisations and networks working on the knowledge–policy interface around child well-being in Africa in particular, but also in Asia, it will be important to support intermediary organisations that can help foster communities of practice (p.201) which can develop feasible and regionally strategic approaches to evidence-informed policy influencing.

Finally, urgent action is required to address the dearth of monitoring, evaluation and learning initiatives relating to knowledge–policy interactions on child well-being. This will require vision and leadership among knowledge and policy actors alike, as well as strategic support from donors and international agencies.

We hope this book stimulates both researchers and those in policy processes to take forward such ideas and discussions and that this raises children’s visibility, voice and vision in both knowledge-generation and policy processes.