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New series of research methods briefs to strengthen evidence on adolescence

10 Apr 2017
Adolescent Research Briefs

(10 April 2017) The world is home to 1.2 billion adolescents: the largest cohort of this age-group in history. Adolescence is a critical period of cognitive, emotional, physical and sexual development with consequences that stretch far into adulthood. The period also provides a second “window of opportunity” to build on early investments, promote positive behaviours, and offer a second chance to those who fared less well in early childhood.

90 per cent of adolescents live in low- and middle-income countries. Despite an increasing focus on their well-being, comprehensive data collection systems and research for effective interventions are lacking. This is particularly true for younger and disadvantaged adolescents.

Working with Columbia University and experts from the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Well-being UNICEF Innocenti has released a series of briefs providing a much needed review of contemporary research methodologies for adolescent well-being in low- and middle-income countries, covering: indicators and data sources, ethics, research with disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, participatory research, measurement of the social and structural determinants of adolescent health, and adolescent economic strengthening interventions. 

  1. Improving the methodological quality of research in adolescent well-being - This brief introduces the methodological series, outlining key research themes, intervention types, and their associated methodological implications. It makes the case that new understandings from neuroscience have important implications for programming.
  2. Data and indicators to measure adolescent health, social development and well-being - This brief covers the principles of good indicator definition; common use of indicators; examples of indicators for adolescent health and social development; existing global data to describe - and populate indicators of - adolescent health and social development; and how to improve data collection efforts.
  3. Inclusion with protection: Obtaining informed consent when conducting research with adolescents - The brief emphasizes the value of research with adolescents and discusses at length the importance of balancing inclusion and protection, concluding with a set of ethical ground rules and recommendations for research with adolescents and examples on how to apply them.
  4. Research with disadvantaged, vulnerable and/or marginalized adolescents - This brief summarizes the health and well-being inequities experienced by DVMAs and the need for research with this group. It reviews the challenges and barriers to their inclusion in research; shares practical implications and best practices for their inclusion in research; and addresses ethical challenges and approaches to research.
  5. Adolescent participation in research: Innovation, rationale and next steps - This research - led by adolescents themselves - promotes social change and improves community conditions for healthy development. This brief reviews the theoretical and empirical rationales for youth-led participatory action research, its key principles, phases, practical implications and ethical issues.
  6. How to measure enabling and supportive systems for adolescent health - Enabling and protective systems for adolescents are the family, peers and the education and legal systems. This brief reviews the key concepts of social and structural determinants of health and the methodological issues related to their measurement in adolescence.
  7. Methodologies to capture the multidimensional effects of economic strengthening interventions - Aid agencies and non-governmental organizations have begun to include economic strengthening interventions as part of their core programming. This brief presents strategies for examining the multidimensional effects of economic strengthening interventions with a specific focus on the health and well-being of adolescent beneficiaries, highlighting research gaps and opportunities.

The aim of these briefs is to improve efforts to collect rigorous evidence for programmes and policies on adolescent health and well-being. They will assist a wide range of professionals and stakeholders who conduct, commission or interpret research findings to make decisions about programming, policy and advocacy.

This initiative was funded by the UK Department for International Development. The Editors of the series were John Santelli, MD, MPH, Columbia University and Nikola Balvin, PsyD, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.