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May 2, 2013


With the recent launch of our own team blog at IDS – Povertics, I have decided to take a break from my own blog for now. Although fun and interesting, it has proven to be challenging to keep a personal blog updated alongside with other outlets for news and opinion pieces at the same time.  I will keep you updated on interesting developments and work through the Povertics blog and IDS website. Personal information about my projects and publications can be found on my personal page.

See you back here soon!



Mixed Methods Research in Poverty and Vulnerability – Call for Papers

February 11, 2013

Mixed Methods Research in Poverty and Vulnerability: sharing ideas and learning lessons

The use of mixed methods in researching poverty and vulnerability has expanded rapidly in the last few years, providing valuable lessons learned and best practices. In addition, the wealth of experiences with existing methods have also laid the foundation for more innovative approaches in integrating quantitative and qualitative research.

The University of East Anglia and IDS are organising a workshop to share ideas and experiences, learn lessons from past and on-going work and discuss work-in-progress on the use of mixed methods research in the field of poverty and vulnerability. We aim to do so in more detail and with more depth than possible in other conferences or workshops on poverty and vulnerability.

The workshop will focus on three different themes and mixed-methods research within those themes: 1) poverty measurement, 2) poverty dynamics, and 3) impact evaluation.

Within each of these themes, we seek to address a number of sub-questions pertaining to challenges not usually tackled in papers/ events, such as:

–       How do you integrate qualitative and quantitative data in analysis, especially when using more innovative qualitative and quantitative methods?

–       How do you ‘quality control’?

–       How do you present it in a way that both does justice to the particularities of the methods involved and is palatable to policy and practice audiences?

–       What are more innovative interpretations of mixed methods, for example, use of photographs or video?

A Call for Papers has been published to invite researchers to submit an abstract for presentation in the workshop.  We invite proposals for paper presentations on each of the three topics above. Proposals from both senior and junior researchers will be considered, including PhD students. We will give priority to proposals on work-in-progress rather than planned or completed projects. The deadline for submissions is 31 March 2013.

Proposals (300-500 words) can be submitted to:

Keetie Roelen and/or Laura Camfield

More information can be found here:

January readings

February 1, 2013

The first month of 2013 has seen a number of interesting publications that provide a good reference or make us think about the year ahead.

The first publication is one by UNICEF’s regional office in Asia and the Pacific, together with the Economist Intelligence Unit called ‘Mapping of Social Protection Measures for children affected by HIV and AIDS in Asia and the Pacific’. It provides a systematic overview of legislation and programmes in place in nine different countries in the region that are coined as being child-sensitive and addressing HIV-specific vulnerabilities. It also provides an interesting conceptual framework that seeks to clarify the interface between child- and HIV-sensitive social protection.

The second publication is ILO’s new report Global Employment Trends 2013. Recovering from a second jobs dip. One of the graphs that caught my attention is on employment by economic class, considering the number of workers being extremely poor, moderately poor, near poor, middle class and above middle class. The middle class is on the rise – and the report points towards the hope this gives in terms of reducing inequality. But a more in-depth look at the figures, as done in the forthcoming paper by Kapsos and Bourmpoula and already discussed by Nick Mead on the Guardian’s DataBlog, suggests that the picture might not be all that rosy. Although the overall numbers of workers in the near poor class are falling, this trend comes to halt and reverses when removing China from the pool of countries under consideration. In many countries, work fails to provide people with a secure and stable income, leaving them in vulnerable and precarious situations.

Finally, a newly published CROP Policy Brief by Gabriele Koehler and others provides a frank assessment of the extent to which MDGs have been helpful in reducing poverty. In line with assessments made by others, the achievements of the MDGs relate to the awareness they have created about development issues and the way in which they have created traction around poverty reduction. The MDGs’ shortcomings relate mostly to the issues they didn’t address, including inequality, human rights and climate change, and the highly technical natures of the goals. As such, lessons for the post-MDG era include a more holistic approach that more explicitly considers the structural causes of poverty and poverty traps, and moving away from a largely technocratic approach to a more policy-oriented angle.

Responding to vulnerable children – strengthening case management and referral mechanisms

December 11, 2012

Despite broad consensus that children are an especially vulnerable group, an adequate response to their multiple and complex needs is currently lacking in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAR). There is a need for a more comprehensive and systematic response in which referral mechanisms and case management play a crucial role; they are essential in ensuring that vulnerable children are identified, their needs correctly assessed and that they receive cross-sectoral support. In a recently published IDS InFocus Policy Briefing, we recommend a number of ways forward with respect to referral mechanisms and case management in the region.

Although interest and investment in the response to vulnerable children is expanding, there are a number of challenges that impede effective referral mechanisms and case management for vulnerable children. The brief provides recommendations as to how to address those challenges.

Firstly, it is unclear what exactly these concepts mean – both in theory and practice. National definitions are often lacking, leaving different stakeholders to interpret them and act upon them in their own ways. Consensus should be reached on a common understanding of what constitutes effective referral systems and case management, and on what these should achieve for vulnerable children.

Secondly, national mandates and accountability mechanisms are often lacking, making it unclear who is responsible for what and can be held responsible for such responsibilities. The articulation of clear mandates is vital for translating common understandings of referral mechanisms and case management into practical roles and responsibilities.

Thirdly, the response to vulnerable children is currently very ‘siloed’ with little collaboration across sectors. Strong monitoring and evaluation systems and accountability frameworks are crucial for tracking children over time and over different sectors, and can encourage cooperation between sectors as well as between statutory and more informal or community-based services.

Finally, resources – in financial and human terms – are scarce.  Although the squeeze on HIV-funding and development in general makes access to resources more difficult, new opportunities arise given the recent interest and funds supporting social protection interventions and systems-strengthening efforts more broadly. Being able to make a sound investment case and linking the call for case management and referral mechanisms for vulnerable children to other policy debates will help to tap into those resources.

 CBCC in Mchinji district, Malawi

Oportunidades – a critical analysis

December 5, 2012

My colleague Martina Ulrichs and myself have just published a new IDS/CSP Working Paper entitled  ‘Equal opportunities for all? – A critical analysis of Mexico’s Oportunidades’. In this paper, we discuss Mexico’s well-known conditional cash transfer programme in relation to indigenous people in Mexico. By doing so, we challenge the programme’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to implementation and delivery and also the assumptions that are implicit in the programme’s theory of change. We argue that in order for the programme to have a real and sustainable impact on indigenous people, it needs to be more recognisant of the particular challenges this group faces in terms of remoteness and access of high quality services and the structural, rather than individual, causes of poverty.

In a post on the blog of the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team at IDS, we elaborate on the critique that many social protection programmes are predicated on an individual understanding of poverty and thereby overlook the structural and macro-economic factors that lock individuals and households in poverty. We conclude that social protection only be effective in combating poverty in the long-term if it goes hand in hand with more comprehensive social policy agendas that go beyond the individual and address the root causes of inequality and poverty.

The Paradox of Middle Income Countries

November 26, 2012

Last week I attended a workshop entitled Poverty and Politics in Middle Income Countries in Cape Town. It was organised by the Institute of Social Development at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and CROP. Over the course of three days, researchers from across the globe and with various disciplinary backgrounds presented and discussed their work in this area.

Many different issues were discussed as part of this broad area of research. There were various sessions grouping research on poverty measurement, human rights, processes of democratisation and growth and inequality. Reflecting on the wide range of different topics discussed, and opinions voiced, the most pertinent thought on the overall theme can be most aptly described by the paradox of Middle Income Countries (MICs.)

I presented a paper on child well-being in Kazakhstan (co-authored with Franziska Gassmann from the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and following a report that is to be published by UNICEF Kazakhstan shortly) whilst other papers included case studies from Thailand, India, Brazil, Nigeria and China. A recurrent issue was the frustration that whilst these countries are, by and large, doing well in terms of economic growth, this does not seem to trickle down to the majority of the population and does little to improve the situation of the poor and vulnerable and to promote human rights.

Whilst MICs can be argued to have a resource base that is no close or equal to that of rich countries, many of those countries still face problems that are most commonly found in Low Income Countries (LICs), including substantial poverty rates, food insecurity, high unemployment, amongst others. Against the backdrop of such a resource base, the perpetuation of those problems seems to be due to choice rather than the inability to make positive changes.

In relation to human rights, following Thomas Pogge’s ideas, it was discussed that poverty should actually be seen as a violation of human rights, to the extent that governments should be held to account for persistent and deep levels of poverty. Although it was recognised that the practicalities of pursuing this idea would be complex, if not impossible, it did resonate strongly with the majority of participants.

One graph presented by one of the participants, Chifa Tekaya from Tunisia, struck a particular cord with me. It indicated the number of people having died from the consequences of poverty from 1990 to 2004 and related these to some of the worst crimes against humanity, including World War II and Stalin’s repression. Although a crude comparison by any standards, it does work in bringing the message home about the scale and consequences of global poverty. We now know that the majority of this problem is to be found in MICs. Rather than turning our backs given the level of resources and capacity in these countries, it is time to critically engage with the paradox of poverty in MICS.


poverty dynamics and social mobility – reflections from the DSA conference

November 5, 2012

The Development Studies Association (DSA) held its annual conference last Saturday in London. In contrast to other years, this conference was planned for one day only, making it a packed schedule with interesting and thought-provoking plenary speeches and parallel panel sessions.

The Study Group on Multidimensional Poverty and Poverty Dynamics organised a panel that focused on poverty dynamics and social mobility, and particularly aimed to bring in perspectives from the ‘North’ and the ‘South’.

Heather Zhang from the University of Leeds presented results from a longitudinal qualitative study whereby she looked at households in urban China (Tianjin), how they did over time from 2003 to 2008 and the role of the means-tested ‘dibao’ social support scheme. The study’s results suggest that the ‘dibao’ scheme and its role in improving people’s lives should be considered from a multidimensional perspective, both in terms of the impact that it has (which may go beyond simply providing income) and in terms of linkages to other schemes (such as health care or education policies) as they all link together.

Solava Ibrahim from the University of Manchester shared comparative work on values and wellbeing in Egypt and the UK, where she used the same questionnaire to elicit views on what life aspirations and achievements matter most. She found that although people in Egypt and the UK may attach different weight to different fulfilled or unfulfilled aspirations, the same items appeared on their list, suggesting that indeed it may be possible to construct a grounded value-based theory of wellbeing that holds across both the North and South.

Meera Tiwari and Susannah Pickering-Saqqa from the University of East London presented the framework and first steps in a research project that aims to look at good practices at community level in overcoming deprivations in urban settings in London and Mumbai. Although a common framework is used to underpin the investigation in both contexts, an iterative process will be adopted whereby the research participants validate the framework for its particular situation. A key question for this research will be whether concurrent contextual understandings of deprivations and how they have been overcome allows for meaningful comparisons across the ‘North’ and the ‘South’.

Paul Dornan, in his role as discussant, provided further reflections and thoughts. Overall, he was positive about the attempts to draw on experiences from the North and South. Much of these papers were also felt to be very timely given the current crisis, particularly in the UK where it is imperative to maintain the momentum around issues of wellbeing in times of austerity. In terms of social mobility, he argued that we have to keep in mind what may drive such social mobility and whether we are looking at individual versus structural factors. The presentations in the panel focused mostly on the roles of the individual, and the role of schemes such as ‘dibao’ therein, but less on the larger structural factors that may enable or impede social mobility.   

Comments from the audience pertained to the use of terms – poverty, wellbeing, deprivation – and how those hold across different contexts. Presenters indicated that the use of language and particular terms shifted over the course of their work to avoid confusion or specify more clearly what was meant in a particular context.

The points raised by the discussant and audience illustrate the value of trying to bring two worlds together in a discussion that obviously has parallels – trying to escape poverty, fulfil expectations and move up the social ladder, but also the struggle in trying to do that in such a way that it does not undermine context-specificity but also allows for meaningful comparisons.  

Expect more from the DSA Study Group on Multidimensional Poverty and Poverty Dynamics in the future on these topics. If you are interested, do not hesitate to get in touch with me or any of the co-convenors of this study group (Laura Camfield, Solava Ibrahim, Meera Tiwari)