Young Lives

Young Lives is an international study of childhood poverty following the lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam over 15 years. 

Its aim is to shed light on the drivers and impacts of child poverty, and generate evidence to help policy makers design programmes that make a real difference to poor children and their families.

Project lead: Prof Jo Boyden, Department of International Development
Project website: Young Lives website

Open approach

The project donors require that outputs are open and in the most accessible format so they are available to non-academic users, as well as policy makers and users in non-English speaking countries. The project needs to engage directly with policy makers to guarantee research uptake and impact and to ensure that the data are available to and understood and used by external users as well as Young Lives staff, thereby maximising the study’s reach.

Young Lives is governed by a logframe, in which outreach to non-academic audiences, for example governments, civil society organisations, policy makers, practitioners and child advocates, is a central objective and one of the three key study outputs.

Young Lives has developed a theory of change to drive the study’s efforts to increase outreach and impact beyond the academic community. Rigorous policy relevant research disseminated widely through open access and other means is a second output and high-quality data archived publicly for open access is the third. Young Lives’ performance on these outputs is monitored annually by the study’s donors using a set of agreed indicators and, if appropriate, the resulting reviews include recommendations for improvement on open access and other criteria. Indicators include the numbers of publications by study country partners, the number of external researchers using the data and other targets explicitly related to open access, policy engagement and outreach.

Case study details


The research comprises a longitudinal data survey and longitudinal qualitative research. The donors require data are made freely available for the public good, however no qualitative data is in the public domain because it is sensitive as individuals, their households and communities could be identified. The project follows the principle of ‘open as far as possible, as closed as necessary’. The research team is able to match Young Lives data with other data sets, thus enhancing the power of the findings, but because data matching requires use of personal data such as names, addresses and GPS locations that would reveal respondents’ identities, external researchers are not able to use this procedure. In recognition of the contribution made by project staff and partners in the UK and study countries to survey design, data gathering and data management, Young Lives delays public archiving of data for a period to allow them exclusive access for analysis. Data that can be made openly available are deposited with the UKDS and are open access so anyone can access these sets by clicking the link and completing the form.

Protocols for research policy are freely available including details of the research methods employed such as research questions, technical notes, ethics and survey design. Such documents contribute to the community of practice.

ESRC is funding a 2-year methodological learning project to allow Young Lives to share its experience of conducting 15 years of comparative mixed-methods longitudinal research in low- and middle-income countries with people interested in setting up similar research programmes. The project is aligned with the ESRC’s aim of building a community of practice around longitudinal research and will use interactive methods such as blogs, webinars and podcasts to facilitate engagement with researchers and policy makers globally.

Publication approach

The audience for Young Lives publications is broad. As well as other researchers, it includes policy makers and the general public, both in the UK and in other countries. The publication list extends to over 800 publications.

The project donors require that outputs are open and in the most accessible format. All results are published. Reports, working papers and summative outputs as well as data visualisations, infographics and other types of work are all made freely available via the Young Lives website, and many works including AAMs are deposited and made available via the University’s institutional repository (ORA). Self-published materials are peer-reviewed.

Licences are not currently habitually assigned to publications and data. This matter may be a subject for future consideration.

The project published a book, Tracing the Consequences of Child Poverty, with Policy Press that is available in print for a charge, and also freely available open access under CC-BY-NC licence via OAPEN. The charge for open access publication was £7,500.

The Young Lives working paper series uses light touch peer review. The working papers enable the group to disseminate their research findings quickly, whilst ensuring they publicly register and certify their findings. Medical journals prohibit prior open access publication, whether as working papers or in other formats.


There is a significant budget within the project grant for project communications – probably more than most projects, across all countries.

Young Lives website 
• additional websites in study countries – sometimes in local languages – populated by local communications officers 
Young Lives blog 
• Twitter: @yloxford
Young Lives Facebook page 
Young Lives YouTube channel 
Young Lives on Flickr 
Young Lives on LinkedIn 
Young Lives newsletter 

With the aim of building capacity and increasing open access, a data visualisation tool has been implemented on the website to enable anyone to manipulate the data. This tool also helps people to see the possible uses of the data and shows how to use them. It therefore has a role as a training tool.

The raw data, visualisation and archive data have tools and documents to support people using the data, for example, to explain why a particular question has been asked as part of the research.

Search and discovery

The group would welcome post publication commenting tools, but does not have the budget to support such a specific service on their own websites. Instead, the team relies on social media services to enable discourse and engage with others.

Young Lives grant proposals are not generally made open access.

Assessment, metrics and impact

Being able to report the impact of the research is important to Young Lives because the main objective of the study is to provide high-quality evidence to inform policy and practice – the study’s performance on this objective being monitored by donors. However, it is challenging to monitor the impact of Young Lives research and outputs because policy influencing is a complex and non-linear process and takes time to yield results. This challenge also applies to monitoring the use of publicly archived data by external users, many of which are being used but not attributed to Young Lives.

When possible, Young Lives documents examples of its impact on policy and practice.

The social science journals the group most often publishes in do not tend to have high impact factors in the same way some medical journals do.

A team from Young Lives was runner-up in the 2018 OxTALENT awards for its data visualisations on childhood poverty. The awards recognise members of the University who have made innovative use of digital technology.


The project has benefited from 15 years of support from a wide range of funding agencies. From 2001 and 2018, its core funding was provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) for the benefit of developing countries. The project is currently trying to raise funds to continue its work with additional survey rounds. DFID has commissioned an independent evaluation of the study, which focuses on policy and programme uptake and impact and value for money of its research.

Although the main donor required publication in open access journals, no budget was provided to pay APCs (Article Processing Charges). This requirement was therefore waived and outputs have been made freely available via other channels – for example AAMs are lodged with the University (ORA) and much of the research is published as working papers on the website.

Benefits of open approach

  • research outputs are freely available to a wide global audience
  • meeting donor requirements supports case for further funding

Drawbacks of open approach

Lack of attribution for data sets and difficulty of proving impact of policy-influencing activities (see below).

Possible changes to make the research more or less open

  • find a means of gaining attribution for data sets
  • opportunities to learn from other studies in terms of how they demonstrate research
  • uptake and impact in policy and practice
  • explore the use of licences for outputs
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