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Safe Blog

Using data and evidence on violence against children: Why pedagogy matters

1st July 2024


  • Amiya Bhatia
    Amiya Bhatia

    Associate Professor, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford

  • Jodie
    Jodie Pearlman

    Research Fellow & PhD Candidate, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

  • Constanza Ginestra headshot
    Constanza Ginestra

    Research and Policy Specialist,
    Together for Girls

  • charles
    Dr. Charles Opondo

    Associate Professor of Medical Statistics and Co-Director of the Clinical Trials Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

  • Manuela Balliet Ahogo
    Manuela Balliet Ahogo

    Africa Regional Research Advisor,
    Together for Girls

  • Mathew Amollo Africhild
    Matthew Amollo

    Research Manager, AfriChild Centre

  • Begoña Fernandez
    Begoña Fernandez

    Director of Data and Evidence,
    Together for Girls

  • karen
    Prof Karen Devries

    Epidemiologist, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

As a global community of violence researchers, we must create spaces to support current and future researchers to share tools and resources to use and interpret data on violence. Inclusive pedagogy is essential to challenge and shift the power hierarchies that have traditionally determined who gets to ask research questions and who only gets to answer them.

To support researchers and practitioners to use data on violence for program and policy action, a team from the Child Protection Research Group at LSHTM, the University of Oxford and Together for Girls designed a pilot course called Data to Action. Through 12 sessions over seven months, the course accompanied early and mid-career researchers and practitioners to generate new evidence on the epidemiology of violence against children using the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) from their countries and contexts.

In this blog, we reflect on why a free course on how to analyse data on violence is important and how a commitment to inclusive pedagogy is essential in creating a future where evidence is better used to inform violence prevention and response.

Data on violence for action and accountability

As a community of violence researchers, advocates, activists and practitioners, we need data on violence against children for action – to guide violence prevention and response in the places children live, play, learn and breathe. We also need data on violence for accountability – to understand if the prevalence of violence is decreasing over time so that we can monitor progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals on violence, and hold governments, local and global institutions to account for their commitments to ending violence against children.

The Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) are changing the global landscape of data and evidence on violence. The expansion of theVACS has made it possible to quantify the magnitude of violence against children in over 20 countries and to use data on violence for both action and accountability. The VACS include the experiences and voices of more than 90,000 children and young people. In some cases, VACS data have made it possible to generate the first-ever country-level prevalence of violence against children.

Girl in yellow dress

However, accessing and using VACS datasets remains challenging for many researchers and practitioners. Currently, although VACS are conducted in LMICs, most of the academic papers and policy briefs using VACS are from institutions in high-income countries. How can data on violence be used for action and accountability if it is not accessible or decipherable to researchers and practitioners, especially colleagues working in the countries where the VACS were conducted? To challenge this status quo, we developed and piloted a course on how to analyse the VACS to explore ways to make evidence on violence accessible to more researchers and practitioners in the countries where the VACS were conducted.

Why a free course on data for action to inform violence prevention

The use of data and evidence to prevent violence cannot improve without pedagogy, without creating communities of practice for researchers to analyse and interpret the lived experiences of children and young people that live in quantitative data. We wanted to create a learning environment where researchers based in the countries where the VACS were conducted could design and complete their own project in a community of other researchers alongside course instructors who could bring their expertise in epidemiology, child rights, statistics, policy, and science communication. We hoped to create a space where participants, teachers, guest speakers, mentors could learn from each other and a space where we could support the research and policy interests of course participants.

We developed a seven-month, 12-session virtual course with three pillars:

  • Data analysis specific to the VACS
  • Data interpretation and visualisation
  • Science communication and policy translation.

The course reflected efforts to develop pedagogy that centers multiple forms of expertise to understand and critically engage with quantitative data on violence.

Experts from AfriChild (Clare Ahabwe Bangirana), the CDC (Rose Apondi, Francis Annor, Andres Villaveces) and the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (Gustavo Adolfo Romero Poveda) shared their experiences of leading data collection for the VACS and using VACS data for policy and programme action, including developing a National Action Plan To End Violence Against Children in Colombia. Mentors (Mathew Amollo, AfriChild, and Manuela Balliet, Together for Girls), with rich experience using the VACS, provided tailored individual support to participants along the way. The Together for Girls communications team provided training on science communication.

After receiving over 100 expressions of interest, we piloted the course with six participants who brought a wide range of expertise into the virtual classroom. Participants included early and mid-career researchers and practitioners affiliated with Universities, NGOs or INGOs in four VACS countries: Colombia, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Namibia.

In the first month of the course, participants downloaded the VACS datasets, and seven months later had completed projects exploring the determinants and consequences of violence against children and young people. Participants drew attention to how geography and poverty shape experiences of violence and explored links between violence and mental health outcomes. The course culminated in a global webinar where participants shared their work with a global community of researchers with over 100 people in attendance.

“The course was a wonderful way to raise awareness on these important issues and to connect researchers and advocates working in the area. It improves the chances of this valuable data being used and being made more visible.”

VACS course participant

Why pedagogy matters: Reflections on inclusive pedagogy for data on violence

As a global community of violence researchers, it is our responsibility to create spaces of learning to support each other and future researchers to use and interpret data on violence. Inclusive pedagogy is essential to share tools and resources for data analysis with a larger community of researchers and to challenge, and shift, the power hierarchies which determine who is asking and answering research questions. Pedagogy that is free, inclusive and accessible is an important step towards making the VACS accessible to more researchers and towards reducing the barriers researchers face in using the VACS. Based on our experiences with pedagogy and with convening the pilot course, we offer seven suggestions to inform future efforts to develop pedagogy for the analysis of data on violence. These apply to our experiences teaching VACS analyses but may also be relevant for analyses of quantitative data on violence more generally.

1. Offer free and publicly accessible opportunities to learn how to analyse and interpret data on violence.

Making data on violence publicly available is a crucial first step to ensuring their use. However, more researchers and practitioners should be able to access opportunities to learn how to use and analyse these data. Efforts to expand the accessibility of violence data should be paired with efforts to support the use, analysis and interpretation of these data. Such efforts could include publicly available courses, video tutorials, statistical code, online discussion forums.

2. All data are people: teach the context that creates the statistics.

Analysing quantitative data and generating violence statistics is a responsibility. How statistics are generated and what they say have implications on the lives of young people in many countries. Four points are salient here. First, teach students that the rows in a VACS dataset are young people who have shared their lived experiences with a researcher and violence statistics come from real people.

Secondly, training on how to code and analyse data on violence, and generate violence statistics should be inseparable from training on how to develop a conceptual and theoretical approach to the analysis of data on violence with a focus on how violence is structurally produced, the interplay between individual and societal factors*, and the role of power and gender. The framing of the analysis shapes recommendations and policy implications: no analysis is neutral or apolitical.

Thirdly, contextualising the VACS as a survey program is also important to ensure students understand how data are collected, the sampling strategy, the safety protocols, and the ethical approaches used to keep participants safe. Encourage students to ask questions about where the data came from, who collected it, and what was done to prevent harm.

Finally, analyses of a dataset should be accompanied by a commitment to understanding the historical and social context of the statistics generated: encourage students to study the policy context of violence prevention and response and of youth health and wellbeing more broadly. This will require engaging with the social, political and economic context in which a violence survey was conducted and situating quantitative findings within this broader context.

Combining empathy for research participants, theory and context, allows students to engage more deeply with the statistics they are generating and engage with the implications of their analyses in a contextually relevant way.

* For more information on socio-ecological approaches to violence research see A socioecological approach to children’s experiences of violence: Evidence from Young Lives

3. Teach in partnerships that are able to examine and challenge power hierarchies

Develop training on the analysis of violence data using models of co-teaching and co-learning. Collaborations with global north and south institutions and with researchers and practitioners will offer richer pedagogy. Work to decolonise the curriculum. Have conversations within the teaching team about the power hierarchies embedded in the course and which ones can be challenged. Ensure reading lists, guest speakers and mentors do not come from a single discipline, and represent a range of expertise and experiences. Create spaces of learning which do not privilege a single way of speaking English and collaborate to offer multilingual educational resources where possible.

4. Create an ethic of care in the classroom

For students, data on violence, which provides information on experiences of trauma, are not always easy to confront or analyse. The high prevalence of violence globally means that both instructors and students are often living with their own histories of violence. Support the teaching team and students to look after themselves and each other, discuss how to do this at the start of the course and re-visit regularly. Work to avoid platitudes about self-care but centre a focus on collective care.

5. Train early career researchers to engage with multiple audiences for violence research

Encourage students to think about the audiences for their data analysis and research – NGOs, government, INGOs, academic organisations, activists. Spend time exploring with students how these audiences might relate to their research findings, what the facilitators and barriers are to research uptake and how students can communicate with these audiences. Practice science communication, data visualisation, and data interpretation throughout the course. When students report data on violence in academic publications or policy briefs, encourage them to reflect on the key elements of ethical reporting.

6. Spend time building bridges between data and action and data and accountability

Show students how quantitative data analyses can inform programming and policy from the beginning of the course. This will help students design and develop their own analyses. Often this content is included at the end of a course, or all together excluded from statistics and epidemiology training on violence.

7. Go beyond the classroom

A multi-session course is often not enough. When possible, offer students support to organize webinars, attend conferences, develop peer-reviewed publications, or generate other outputs to share findings and learnings. Create opportunities in the course where students can learn from and help each other. Connect students to researchers and invite them into the global community of violence researchers. Signpost existing communities of practice for students (e.g., SVRI or ISPCAN) or encourage them to set up their own in their contexts and institutions. For early career researchers this is particularly important and could shape career trajectories.

Free online courses, short courses, or courses led by researchers and practitioners for their students and teams would all help to create a world where data on violence are accessible and where current and future generations of violence researchers can gain the skills and information needed to use, analyse and interpret data on violence for research, program and policy.

We are currently working on a series of free tutorials on the VACS to continue supporting researchers. If you are ready to begin your journey the VACS are publicly available.