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Nikola Balvin

Former Specialist (Former title)

Nikola Balvin has a background in psychology and peace-building. She has held the position of Knowledge Management Specialist at UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti since 2013. In this role she develops methodological tools, research procedures and guidelines to facilitate quality research in UNICEF. Prior to that she was a Research Officer on UNICEF’s flagship publication 'The State of the World's Children' at the New York headquarters. Before joining UNICEF Nikola was an Associate Lecturer at the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (ACPACS) at the University of Queensland and managed the International Conflict Resolution Centre at the University of Melbourne. Nikola completed her Doctor of Psychology at the University of Melbourne in 2007, examining prejudice and stereotyping towards Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

Publications

The Adolescent Brain: A second window of opportunity - A compendium
Publication Publication

The Adolescent Brain: A second window of opportunity - A compendium

In 2016, UNICEF hosted The Adolescent Brain: A second window of opportunity, a symposium that brought together experts in adolescent neuroscience to discuss this emerging science and how we can apply it to support all adolescents – but especially those already facing risks to their well-being, including poverty, deprivation, conflict and crisis. The articles in this compendium elaborate on some of the ideas shared at the symposium. Together, they provide a broad view of the dynamic interactions among physical, sexual and brain development that take place during adolescence. They highlight some of the risks to optimal development – including toxic stress, which can interfere with the formation of brain connections, and other vulnerabilities unique to the onset of puberty and independence. They also point to the opportunities for developing interventions that can build on earlier investments in child development – consolidating gains and even offsetting the effects of deficits and traumas experienced earlier in childhood.
Bridging the Gap to Understand Effective Interventions for Adolescent Well-being: An evidence gap map on protection, participation, and financial and material well-being in low- and middle-income countries
Publication Publication

Bridging the Gap to Understand Effective Interventions for Adolescent Well-being: An evidence gap map on protection, participation, and financial and material well-being in low- and middle-income countries

This evidence gap map (EGM) collates the evidence base for adolescent interventions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with a focus on the outcome domains of protection, participation and financial and material well-being. Outcomes relating to the enabling environment for adolescents are also included to capture the contextual influences that might affect the well-being of adolescents. The EGM contains 74 studies (71 impact evaluations and 3 systematic reviews) of evaluated interventions targeting adolescents in LMICs. Most of the evidence is on financial support to individuals and households, where interventions predominantly include conditional cash transfers, and studies frequently evaluate their impacts on child labour and child marriage outcomes. The second largest evidence cluster relates to the impacts of socio-emotional learning and life skills on adolescent protection, particularly protection-related attitudes, skills and knowledge, while psychosocial support is the third most frequently appearing intervention. At the group and community level, the largest bodies of evidence are on financial literacy and savings schemes, and norm change interventions. The largest evidence gaps are at the policy and institutional level, the enabling environment for adolescent well-being, and the use of and access to information and communication technology (ICT) by adolescents. While coverage of gender is prominent in the literature, only one intervention specifically targets boys and men to promote attitudes towards gender equity. Recommendations for future primary research and synthesis are made. The interactive EGM is available online at www.unicef-irc.org/evidence-gap-map.
Gender Socialization during Adolescence in Low- and Middle-income Countries: Conceptualization, influences and outcomes
Publication Publication

Gender Socialization during Adolescence in Low- and Middle-income Countries: Conceptualization, influences and outcomes

This brief summarizes the key insights and conclusions from a discussion paper on gender socialization during adolescence, with a focus on low- and middle-income settings. By reviewing theories from psychology, sociology and biology, significant societal changes and effective programme interventions, the paper sets out to provide a more holistic picture of the influences and outcomes of gender socialization for adolescent programming and policy.
Gender Socialization during Adolescence in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Conceptualization, influences and outcomes
Publication Publication

Gender Socialization during Adolescence in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Conceptualization, influences and outcomes

This paper sets out to provide a conceptual understanding of the gender socialization process during adolescence, its influences and outcomes, and practical suggestions on how to use this knowledge in the design of policies and programmes to improve gender equality.

Blogs

Positive and negative spirals and the plasticity of the adolescent brain
Blog Blog

Positive and negative spirals and the plasticity of the adolescent brain

Contrary to what my parents remember about it, my own recollections of adolescence are quite positive. ...
What is gender socialization and why does it matter?
Blog Blog

What is gender socialization and why does it matter?

Even if you are not familiar with the concept of “gender socialization”, it is most likely that you have been influenced by it and in turn passed on your own beliefs about what constitutes gender-appropriate attitudes and behaviour to others. 
Youth engagement as a pathway to peace
Blog Blog

Youth engagement as a pathway to peace

Despite broad agreement that youth engagement is important to forging sustainable peace and development, young people are often not given the opportunity to participate in public discourse and decision-making. Absence of a youth voice makes it difficult to design policies and programmes that adequately respond to their needs, particularly in conflict-affected contexts.
Doing impact evaluation in a remote region of Ghana
Blog Blog

Doing impact evaluation in a remote region of Ghana

What do snakes, flat batteries, limited privacy, and identifying a suitable cut-off point have in common? As I recently observed, they are some of the many challenges that can occur when conducting an impact evaluation in a remote village.On a recent trip to Ghana, we observed baseline data collection for an evaluation of the Ghana Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) 1000 cash transfer programme. The programme is administered by the Government of Ghana with technical support from UNICEF and targets households with women who are pregnant or have children under the age of 12 months. The impact evaluation is taking place in five programme districts and has a target sample size of 2,500 households: half from the treatment group and half from the comparison group. Because it wasn’t possible to randomly assign participants to a control group and carry out a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT), the evaluation uses another rigorous approach called Regression Discontinuity Design (RDD; see page 7 of Brief 8 for a description). The results will inform the Ghanaian government of changes in families’ lives caused by cash transfers and inform future delivery of similar programmes.

Podcasts

Developing the Evidence Gap Map for Adolescent Well-Being