Integrity Insights: Listening To Learn From The Youth
At the UK Evaluation Society Annual Conference 2022, Integrity Senior Manager, Helen Stevenson, leads a discussion on how we can overcome inherent power struggles and design relevant programmes. She draws on lessons learned from our experience of using community-led research while developing a systems map to improve youths’ employment opportunities in Tunisia.
Power imbalances between development practitioners and the communities within which they conduct research are common. Despite increasing efforts, MEL (Monitoring and Evaluation Learning) activities can struggle to engage directly with affected communities and fail to systematically integrate their views in the design of interventions.
The Issue: Understanding youth unemployment in Tunisia
Tunisian youth face significant challenges to find employment. According to World Bank data from 2014, 41% of youth are not in education, employment, or training (NEET), with significant gender and regional disparities. This category includes all officially unemployed youth aged 15–29 as well as those ‘voluntary unemployed’ – discouraged young Tunisians who are no longer searching for jobs.
The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE), funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aims to create a prosperous future for 200,000 young women and men in the Middle East, North Africa, Sahel and West Africa and the Horn of Africa. It supports youth employment initiatives in these regions by offering youth, particularly young women, opportunities for decent work that delivers better prospects for personal development, is productive, and offers a stable income, social protection, and safe working conditions.
Working closely with the CFYE Tunisia project team, to better understand the context of unemployment in Tunisia, Integrity designed a small systems mapping pilot. The approach sought to integrate affected youths’ voices in a complex systems analysis. Working directly with youth from 18 to 35 years old, we conducted interviews and validated systems mapping findings from other research strands. The approach enabled the client to better understand youth’s lived experiences as they designed a call for proposals.
The findings from the community-led research were rich and often provided contrasting views from the broader research findings. For example, the client initially emphasised a focus on job creation and matching within the agricultural sector. However, interviewed youth stated that opportunities within this sector were often precarious and undesirable. Furthermore, the community research yielded nuanced data on some young people facing challenges in finding secure employment. Rural youth, school drop-outs, women, people living with disabilities, migrants (especially from Sub-Saharan Africa), LGBTQ+, youth from low income inner-city neighbourhoods and single mothers often encountered systemic discrimination.
Integrity conducted participatory community-led research by engaging with three established Tunisian youth associations. These included a group of rural women working primarily in the agriculture or agri-business sectors, the Tunis branch of the Youth Chamber of Commerce, and a neighbourhood association for at-risk youth in Tunis’ Le Kram area. Our local research lead trained and mentored interested individuals from each organisation. The youth association members learnt to conduct qualitative research using ethical methods with peers or members of their communities. We also wanted to contribute to building skills that could support employment opportunities, whilst compensating the youth researchers.
Finally, we designed an interactive story telling map to showcase our finding. This helped our client to engage with the issues raised and explore the constraints faced by the young people. We brought the systems map to life by combining data and producing youth personas. These short profiles of fictional but realistic individuals were useful to describe particular groups. They combined aggregated data and were useful for thinking about the design of interventions and programmes from the youth perspective.
Lessons learned from the project included the importance of providing comprehensive methodological training to the youth researchers and using the interview guides designed for the project. Related to this, ongoing support once data collection is underway was key to sustained engagement and higher quality data. Finally, debriefing sessions held with the researchers following the conclusion of the data collection phase resulted in qualitative insights and findings from the youth themselves and a chance to reflect on the successes and challenges of the process.
To find out more:
Join us at the UK Evaluation Society Annual Conference 2022, where we look forward to sharing the rationale, approach and lessons learned from working with affected youths to gather evidence to feed into complex systems analysis in Tunisia using tools such as Kumu.