2017: Volume 48
Who are the youth and what is the problem? Are entrepreneurship and self-employment the solution? And what about youth aspirations? Such questions are addressed in this issue of the IDS Bulletin, drawing from the literature on how development research affects policy and noting that it says little about how young researchers move into policy engagement. Articles consider the evidence on youth employment policy and interventions, the politics of youth policy, the changing nature of young people’s work, and the promotion of entrepreneurship. They are authored by the ten members of the first cohort of the Matasa Fellows Network (a joint initiative by the MasterCard Foundation and IDS), which has a particular focus on the youth employment challenge in Africa.
Youth and employment concepts are not new to development discourse in sub-Saharan Africa but over the last decade interest has increased dramatically, becoming an increasingly important focus for policy, intervention and research throughout the continent (and globally). Fundamental to the Matasa initiative is the proposition that no matter how innovative or rigorous the research, policy influence will seldom be achieved by adding policy recommendations to a research paper. Rather, influence requires reflection, strategy, planning and tactics, and above all a nuanced understanding of the context and the politics that shape any given policy process.
This IDS Bulletin reflects these challenges in Africa and demonstrates how political context shapes youth-related policy. It illustrates the need to critically reflect on the multiple and divergent meanings of work and employment and to re-think interventions that promote entrepreneurship and self-employment. The scope for quality research and effective policy engagement is tremendous.
Exploring sex and sexual relationships is an important part of adolescence, and therefore sex education should have a central role in adolescent emotional development as well as dealing with crucial public-health issues. Good sex education reduces maternal and child mortality by helping to prevent unwanted, early and risky pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, yet in many parts of the world unmarried teenagers are excluded from receiving information and sexual health services because – according to unrealistic and conservative religious and socio-cultural norms – they are not supposed to be sexually active.
Much of the research on sexuality in the digital era is moralistic and slanted, so for those working on sexual/reproductive health and youth/digital development issues, learning more about the subject is a major challenge. There has never been a collection of scholarly work on this topic for a mixed audience of researchers, policymakers and practitioners until this issue of the IDS Bulletin. A collaboration between Love Matters and IDS, articles discuss experiences with digital sex education in many countries and in a range of settings. The issues confronted are diverse, yet the common themes encountered are often as striking as the differences.
Young people need help in critically examining the sexual messages they receive, as well as access to new types of digital sex education environments that are realistic, emotionally attuned, non-judgmental and open to the messages they themselves create. Contributions in this IDS Bulletin suggest an urgency for academics and practitioners to understand and develop digital literacy skills in order to help build such environments.
2016: Volume 47
Who defines good quality research? How, why and with whom should we co-construct knowledge? How do we build enduring partnerships? The articles in this IDS Bulletin aim to answer these questions based on IDS’ approach of ‘engaged excellence’. This is where the high quality of work (excellence) is dependent upon it linking to and involving those who are at the heart of the change we wish to see (engaged). Acknowledging the worldwide struggle of researchers, policymakers and practitioners to create knowledge that is both rigorous in its own right while being relevant and useful to those whose lives and futures are potentially affected by new evidence, insights and concepts, engaged excellence combines conceptually and empirically innovative research with extensive engagement with particular countries and people through IDS’ practices, partners and students.
Four pillars of engaged excellence are identified as delivering high quality research; co-constructing knowledge; mobilising impact-orientated evidence, and building enduring partnerships. Uniquely, the articles in this IDS Bulletin bring these together to show that they are interrelated and mutually dependent, with contributors raising challenges around reflecting more deeply on what engaged excellence means in different contexts. The complexity and interrelationships become most real when the four pillars are applied in practice. The value of this IDS Bulletin is that it illustrates the challenges, trade-offs and difficulties of using such an approach while contributing to a more cognitively just world in which our research engages with those at the centre of change.
Ten years on from the landmark 2006 edition of the IDS Bulletin that brought us the ‘powercube’ – a practical approach to power analysis that offered a way of confronting its complexity – we return to the question of how to analyse and act on power in development. This issue focuses on the ways in which invisible power can perpetuate injustice and widen inequalities. Articles call for ways to denaturalise norms and structures of social, political and economic inequality – tackling injustice, misrecognition, poverty, disenfranchisement – so that the universal aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals may have a chance of success. Contributors discuss the ways in which economic and political modes of inequality interact with social inequalities such as gender, race or sexuality to create yet more inequality, confronting policymakers with a challenge. Such complex social inequalities become ‘normal’ – but the contributions in this new IDS Bulletin offer ways of untangling complexity using approaches to analysis which take account of multiple dynamics in unequal relations.
Articles suggests means by which tacit understandings of what is bearable, useful and fair can be brought into question. The SDG call to ‘leave no one behind’ – which will only be achieved through breaking the vicious circle of inequality – is more than about policy, increased action, or creating alternative economies. It is also about changing norms of what is possible, and making visible those invisible norms that have hindered our ability to imagine and create a just world.