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Evidence Gap Map of research on Adolescent Well-being in low and middle income countries

Online tool helps visualize where evidence exists and where it is scarce

(18 December 2017) UNICEF Innocenti has just launched a new evidence gap map on adolescent well-being.  The research project maps evidence from evaluated interventions in in low- and middle-income countries against outcomes in three domains of adolescent well-being: protection, participation, and financial and material well-being. 


The gap map helps to describe where evidence for programming and policy exists, where it is scarce, and where evidence is missing. Identifying the gaps helps UNICEF determine where more primary research or further synthesis is needed to improve programmes and policies for adolescents. The results of the mapping study include an in-depth report on the evidence gaps and an interactive online tool which visualizes the results of the mapping study, both informed by the study protocol.

A group of high school girls in Lilongwe, Malawi puts up a performance during at a meeting to promote HIV and AIDS awareness.


“Research syntheses are important for helping us make decisions based on a body of evidence rather than just on single studies,” said Nikola Balvin, the knowledge management specialist focusing on adolescent research at UNICEF Innocenti who developed and managed the Evidence Gap Map project.

[Online tool: The Evidence Gap Map on Adolescent Well-being]

“It is a mapping tool which synthesizes existing evidence on interventions targeting adolescents in these three domains (protection, participation, and financial and material well-being). We did it because there was nothing else focusing on these domains. This gap map brings together interventions focusing on adolescents in low- and middle- income countries and it maps what exists so we know where the gaps are,” she added.

Methodology and Findings

The evidence gap map identified 74 studies, including 71 impact evaluations and 3 systematic reviews, that met the inclusion criteria. The study found that evidence is most abundant at the individual and inter-personal level, and the most frequent intervention is financial support to individuals and households, with the majority of interventions including cash transfers.

 “A lot of really interesting trends emerged. The most interesting is probably where the gaps are. The first thing you see when you look at the gap map is that there is hardly anything – hardly any evaluated interventions at the institutional and policy level – so that is a big gap,” Balvin said,


highlighting how the results point clearly gaps in evidence base. “In terms of outcome areas, another big gap is seen in information and communication technology – which is especially significant considering how much adolescents are plugged into the online world. So we know very little about the level of impact interventions using these online platforms are having on adolescents, which is a big gap” she added.


PODCAST: Developing the Evidence Gap Map for Adolescent Well-Being


VIDEO TUTORIAL: How to use the Evidence Gap Map Online Tool



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Research Projects

Adolescent wellbeing
Research Project Research Project

Adolescent wellbeing

Despite great strides in improving overall child well-being, progress has been slower in key areas of adolescent vulnerability, including exposure to violence, early marriage and school completion, especially among adolescent girls. The Lancet Commission ‘Our Future’ (2016) has examined the rapidly changing social and structural determinants of adolescent well-being and their implications on health promotion and prevention work.  It stresses the importance of adolescence as a critical period of formative growth that affects well-being across the life course. Although evidence is building in some domains of adolescent’s lives, greater understanding of the transition to adulthood and how different underlying factors interact is needed in order to inform the basis for effective programming and policy. The need to incorporate consideration of different structural factors into programme design is gaining support, yet there is still little guidance on systematic evidence-based approaches to employ in practice. The Adolescent Research Programme is advancing global understandings of adolescent well-being in selected countries and themes by defining the drivers of well-being outcomes (‘causes and consequences’) and examining effective policy and programme interventions (‘what works’). Research Priorities 2014 – 2018• Rigorous evidence generation on structural and social determinants of adolescent wellbeing across sectors and throughout the life course.• Understanding formal institutions, systems and policy processes as well as social and cultural norms affecting behaviours and policy implementation.• Analytical focus on age and gender gaps to shed light on the main drivers of adolescent vulnerability.Global Research PartnershipTogether with UK Department of International Development, Italy, SIDA, UNICEF as well as US Department of Labour, the Oak Foundation, and others, the global research partnership is working with multiple national governments and institutions to improve understandings of various dimensions of adolescents’ lives.The programme is linked to the Gender and Adolescence Global Evidence initiative. It leverages UNICEF’s programme technical capacity as well as networks of regional and country offices and implementing partners in low and middle income countries.Drawing on multi –disciplinary research expertise, the UNICEF programme has produced cutting edge research that explores what works to improve outcomes for adolescents.Quality evidence is having impact - informing effective policy and interventions in focus countries and beyond.


Developing the Evidence Gap Map for Adolescent Well-Being