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University of Edinburgh uses new framework to measure impact of research on national policies

Peru VAC Children walk home from a primary school in the district of Huallanca. The two teachers hike an hour through the mountains each day to reach the school, which approximately 25 children attend.

(21 September 2017) Dr. Sarah Morton, of the University of Edinburgh, and fellow researchers, recently completed an impact assessment of a UNICEF Innocenti research programme, the Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children, which generates evidence on best pathways to prevent violence against children in Italy, Peru, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe. The project aims to help governments address violence against children by promoting better understanding of why it occurs – the drivers of violence. The assessment report narrowed its focus on the outcomes of the violence study in Peru, making that country a case study for important lessons learned for other countries involved in the research project and beyond.

The assessment addressed the following objectives:

  • understand and evaluate the impact of the Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children in Peru;
  • assist UNICEF in demonstrating the value of research-based projects on children and violence through objective verification; and
  • develop and refine an approach to assessing the impact of research through field testing in a middle income country setting.

“The Drivers of Violence project has human-centred design approaches at its core. Findings are intended to feed back into both national programming and the emerging global evidence base on violence prevention on a real-time basis,” said Kerry Albright, Chief of Research Facilitation and Knowledge Management at Innocenti. “Unusually, early indications of outcomes and impact were emerging even before research outputs had been written.  We were keen to better understand and document the value of approaching research in such a way through independent corroboration, as well as to capture tacit knowledge and effects not usually captured by more traditional impact assessment models.”

The impact assessment found that the multi-partner, relationships-driven approach of the Multi-Country Study helped to maximise impact in Peru. The assessment also found that national ownership of the research process was important in ensuring that the findings were specific to Peru, a key finding considering the country’s geographic diversity and multi-culturalism, and also helped ensure national ownership and data sovereignty.

Dr Morton’s assessment also set out to test the Research Contribution Framework (Morton, 2015), developed to examine how research uptake and use ‘contributes’ to policy and practice change, in a low- and middle-income country. The Research Contribution Framework requires key partners to agree the main mechanisms through which the research might impact on policy or practice, which are then tested, along with key risks and assumptions.

[Read an 8 page illustrated data graphics report Cross-Country Snapshot of Findings from the Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children]

In describing the Research Contribution Framework, Albright explained the framework has been adapted from contribution analysis, using the idea of ‘contribution’ to help explain the ways research is taken up and used to influence policy and practice as well as to articulate wider benefits. The Framework provides an empirical basis to focus on research users and to better assess the value of the research process as well as the final outcomes, enabling the team to capture more intangible impacts such as empowerment, ownership, trust and the added value of strategic partnerships which had occurred along the way.

A husband and wife receive counseling and information on domestic violence from a district social worker in Vinchos, Peru

By using this approach, the Study contributed to a number of policy and programme changes in Peru, including the passage of a law banning corporal punishment in all settings. Through this impact assessment, the Research Contribution Framework was also found to be adaptable and effective in low- and middle-income countries, and could be used to assess research impact in other contexts. Similar to other impact studies (Oliver et al 2014) there are several key factors that helped to unlock impact in this case:

Starting out with an intention to make a difference

  • Building a partnership approach to research, acknowledging different roles needed for change (but also creating time lags and other challenges)
  • Assigning knowledge-brokering roles to key staff
  • In-country research and analysis capacity building a core component of the approach

New to this study, the value of it being a multi-country study was also identified as a factor which maximised impact. The fact that the study allowed participants to understand how the drivers of violence affecting children in Peru compare to other countries was important, with one saying they ‘don’t feel alone’. 

[Read Mary Catherine Maternowska's blog: Bringing data out of the shadows in Peru - A 25 year journey]

Key findings from the UNICEF Innocenti study on the drivers of violence affecting children in Peru:

  • The study used a practically-focused, multi-partner approach to generating evidence that was important for subsequent impact.
  • The specific combination of research outputs, awareness-raising, capacity-building and knowledge-brokering activities, built on this partnership approach, and maximised impact.
  • UNICEF took a knowledge brokerage role to connect people with the research and to ensure key actors were aware of and included in the study, its findings and possible actions. Richer connections between research and policy were developed and sustained.
  • Being engaged closely with the study helped local actors to be clearer about the issues of violence in their country, and was seen as a useful way of forwarding the agenda to tackle violence. Partnership kept levels of awareness high during a change of government.
  • The study filled an evidence gap, helping to shift discourse on violence and give it higher political priority. There is now more capacity in Peru for academics, government analysts and policy makers to work together to address this issue and to get the evidence they need to develop policy.
  • The research improved access to high quality information on violence, which in turn contributed to legislative changes, will help to leverage funding and has informed programmes at the ministerial level. It has also improved coordination efforts at the national level regarding violence prevention and has influenced how other countries in the region approach violence issues. Study partners will continue to work on violence issues.
  • Levels of violence against children may have begun to decrease in Peru since the start of the study, but the final impact of the study is not yet known.

Read a case study report on the violence affecting children study in Peru (Spanish) and Dr. Morton’s full impact assessment report. This article was adapted from a story in the AESIS September newsletter.