EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Young people often report that they are not given the opportunity to participate in processes that affect their lives. Excluding youth can result in a range of consequences – from ineffective policies to alienation, which in turn can lead to more serious societal consequences. Even when they are given opportunities to be engaged, young people often feel their participation is not meaningful enough.
This case study looks at the methodology and key findings behind ‘A Study of Adolescent and Youth Perspectives on Education Quality in the Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States Region’, commissioned by the UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS).
This innovative research study focused on promoting the direct participation of adolescents and youth in research, advocacy and programming. Youth were engaged at many levels, including: planning and research, media and communications efforts to strengthen youth influence on decision makers and policies, and follow-up activities to the study. The youth programme focused specifically on Chechnya (Russian Federation), Georgia, Kosovo and Tajikistan.
The study was supported by the Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition (EEPCT) programme at UNICEF, which is in the final year of a five-year partnership with the Government of the Netherlands, with additional support from the European Commission.
The purpose of the study (henceforth referred to as the ‘Adolescent and Youth Perspectives Research’) was:
To investigate the impact of fragility on education quality in Chechnya (Russian Federation), Georgia, Kosovo and Tajikistan, and its impact on adolescents and youth;
To analyse adolescent and youth views from a regional perspective in order to identify cross-cutting regional trends concerning the impact of fragility on education quality; and
To identify the areas of education quality in most urgent need of attention in each geographic context.
Youth researchers were trained to interview their peers and conduct focus group discussions to document the perspectives of stakeholders in the ‘Adolescent and Youth Perspectives Research.’ The case study looked at promising and innovative practices, weaknesses and lessons learned through implementing the research programme. It found that young people have the capacity to use complex research methodologies and processes, as long as care is taken to train them well and address their ideas, needs and expectations.
The young participants demonstrated that research offers an opportunity to build capacity, engage the marginalized, inspire action and highlight youth capabilities. The involvement of youth throughout the study, even at operational levels, was a highlight of how the study was designed and implemented. Youth identified the main issues to be explored, developed the questions, and tested and revised the research tools. They developed advocacy statements and provided suggestions for how to address education challenges.
The research teams comprised both international and local experts, contextualizing the design and process of the study while maintaining consistency throughout all four countries. Youth researchers were selected from throughout their countries, representing various locations, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, gender and age groups. This diversity ensured more capacity and fostered greater trust with peers.
The youth researchers strongly believed that the young people being interviewed were more likely to discuss their problems with people of the same age and background. This “safe space” allowed young people to speak freely and explore issues important to them.
Conversely, many youth, especially younger adolescents and girls, were afraid to speak openly in front of adults and authority figures. A further strength was the application of the girl-to-girl and boy-to-boy methodology. The peer-to-peer methodology not only contributed to the effectiveness of the study as a whole but it also empowered the youth researchers.
This case study helps to strengthen the future use of youth participatory designs in UNICEF programming. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘Adolescent and Youth Perspectives Research’ methodology and process, particularly as part of broader EEPCT efforts, UNICEF is better positioned to more effectively implement current and future efforts that meaningfully involve youth.
The ‘Adolescent and Youth Perspectives Research’ and the case study are strong steps towards keeping the promise to young people that their future dreams and educational needs will be realized. They are also strong reminders that youth participation is more than an effective and strategic approach; it is a wise investment in young people.