Advocate for early childhood development in vulnerable urban contexts
Improving conditions for early childhood development in vulnerable urban contexts doesn’t begin and end with a project or intervention. Advocacy is key in raising the thematic profile of early childhood development in these contexts among professionals and decision-makers.
Why this matters
Advocacy is key for influencing professionals and decision makers in adopting policies and practices to promote and support early childhood interventions in vulnerable urban contexts. Leveraging the evidence and monitoring of data to case build for future efforts, and sharing lessons learned across a multisectoral community of practice, are all key in generating the greatest possible impact for beneficiaries.
“One of the things that’s absolutely critical in taking forward successful child-friendly planning and design initiatives is to have an effective municipal champion”
- Tim Gill, Design Council Built Environment Expert and Owner of Rethinking Childhood
Explore a library of guiding principles, tools, and inspirational case studies from around the globe, to help you influencing professionals and decision makers to advocate for the need and benefits of early childhood interventions in vulnerable urban contexts.
Who to influence and how
Discover who to influence and how, to advocate for the need for and benefits of child- and family friendly interventions in vulnerable urban contexts.
Guiding Principles & Case Studies
Based on the understanding that a good start in life for the youngest is one of the best investments a city can make, get the support you need for influencing and enabling decision makers and practitioners to demand for and adopt early childhood development policies and practices, and improve their capacity to deliver long term positive change.
Build early childhood development awareness
Every stage of your project should be treated as an opportunity to raise awareness around the fundamentals of early childhood development. Cultivating a robust knowledge base among community members and key stakeholders about the lifetime physical, cognitive and economic benefits of early childhood development can shift relationships towards nurturing best practice, start neighbourhood conversations and ensure that your built environment solutions are used to their fullest potential. Raising this awareness can stimulate collective action, secure commitments for resource mobilisation, and unblock policy bottlenecks to action.
Make your intervention visible, by ensuring clear signs to indicate both its location and function (kerb cuts, ramps, play areas, shade structures, rest and breastfeeding areas) with signage, colour, and interactivity, all considering different needs (hearing, visual, mobility).
CONSIDER SOCIAL DYNAMICS
Support a collaborative and coordinated ecosystem between different actors (i.e. government agencies, local organisations, neighbours), involving them in the intervention process and in a broader early childhood development agenda.
Use case building evidence from small-scale pilots and temporary interventions to generate data and evidence to empower early childhood development policy advocates and practitioners.
Develop local skills and support caregivers
Early childhood development projects should consider valorising and maximising existing skills, resources and opportunities in the target community, using these to deliver long term positive change.
Find ways to support and empower caregivers wherever possible, to ensure their wellness and the provision of future resources needed to support the development of the child. Consider how your project can maximise time, energy and resources available for caregivers to spend with young children, and directly develop local skills through training requirements, labour and materials.
In the planning phases, carefully examine how labour, materials and training requirements can be included and implemented to value and develop local skills and capabilities and build knowledge on the benefits of playful and nurturing interactions with children.
Also consider employability of local contractors or members of the community and how to develop their skills, as part of your overall concept. Contracting local partners or contractors and members of the community to provide facilitation and labour, helps create livelihood opportunity within the community and foster a sense of trust and ownership over the final outputs.
Engaging, supporting and training individuals to carry the work forward after construction, to ensure its operation and maintenance is key to lasting success.
Ensure that the delivery of your intervention is complemented with training opportunities for caregivers, educators and community members, to build their knowledge on early childhood development, and their capability to play and interact with children.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
Build capacity, transfer knowledge and train local actors engaged (i.e. parents, caregivers, teachers and local institutions, local authorities) to sustain the use and maintenance of the new space. Leverage the regular presence of adult caregivers in a site as an opportunity for trained staff to educate local community members about early childhood development best practice.
Generate a collaboration ecosystem between different actors (i.e. government agencies, local organisations, neighbours) involving them in the construction of the intervention process, and include opportunities for knowledge transfer and learning in each stage of the project lifecycle.
Empower champions and local leaders
Help your project gain traction by identifying, supporting and working closely with a 'champion' - a community leader or government official who understands the importance of early childhood development and can advocate for your intervention.
In vulnerable urban contexts, personal relationships with leadership can make or break an initiative.
Cultivating 'champions' at the local level to forge links with the community and at the official level to move your agenda forward is key, as is building local economic opportunity through materials and labour sourcing.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
Creating an intervention that relates to multiple actors' agendas or interests will increase the likelihood of numerous actors and groups supporting the intervention. In turn, this will allow local champions to be more effective advocates.
Prove the long-term benefits and viability of supporting early childhood development. Making an economic case, by showing both social and economic benefits for the whole community, is one of the most effective ways to gain attention and resources from both government officials and community leadership.
Open lines of communication
Quality of communication – between community members and leaders, communities and authorities, different social groups, and service providers and users – can vary widely in vulnerable urban contexts. Use your project as an opportunity to build bridges within the community you are working in, and between that community and other local groups, services and authorities.
The right message needs to be communicated in the most effective way to the right audience when promoting the perspective, needs and demands of caregivers and children aged 0-5 through decisionmakers. In practice, this means opening communication channels through the entire project; and using these channels to raise awareness around early childhood development fundamentals and to forge relationships between community leaders and local authorities. Be mindful that the utility of a child-centred approach in some communities only goes so far; ensure that the benefits of this approach to all groups and individuals is communicated frequently.
Early engagement at all levels of the community in the intended project site can help generate buy-in, contribute to participation in research and co-creation, and build a sense of ownership.
Design spaces that encourage use by and dialogue between multiple social, ethnic, gender, religious and class groups, and leverage these spaces to facilitate understanding and integration among urban populations.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
Engagement should be a sustained relationship along the whole design process to guarantee that the local needs are met and to ensure buy in and ownership from the local community.
Take the opportunity to generate a collaboration ecosystem between different actors (i.e. government agencies, local organisations, neighbours) involving them in assessment, design, construction and operation of the intervention.
Follow up and follow through
Communities in vulnerable urban contexts, particularly in longstanding settlements used to the presence of humanitarian and development organisations, may present a high bar of trust to clear before real engagement is possible. Unscrupulous actors often deliver the least possible amount and disappear forever once construction is complete.
Engagement is not a point in time, but a sustained relationship along the whole design process to guarantee that the local needs are met, awareness and capabilities are built, and to ensure buy in and ownership from the local community. A truly effective early childhood development project will stay engaged through the monitoring and maintenance phase to learn from use patterns, identify unforeseen gaps and build an evidence case for upscaling or future interventions.
Lack of formal tenure can mean that local authorities will not allow construction of permanent infrastructure. Ensure that your material and design choices minimise friction between community and authority, by working with local contractors and in accordance with city regulation.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
Plan an exit strategy. Establishing a time frame for each stage of the project, and defining milestones and indicators of success, is key to managing expectations and allowing replication. Be adaptable and prepared for shifting timelines or stalled progress.
Obtaining commitments from local government and community leadership are key for the success and sustainability of interventions. Gain clarity around service provision, maintenance and monitoring to ensure durability and case building.
How to achieve greater influence
Greater influence can be achieved through three key actions:
Building an evidence case for early childhood development in vulnerable urban contexts requires two linked activities:
Practitioners must thoroughly understand the context, so as to most effectively identify the challenges that can be addressed and avoid exacerbating power imbalances.
Practitioners must make the impacts of their projects measurable from start to finish, in order to accurately demonstrate the benefits of the intervention.
Sometimes, gathering evidence is not enough. When we aim to influence decision-makers, the language we use is just as important as our message.
Our Assessment Toolkit can help you build an evidence base by grounding measurement in the holistic structure of the Proximity of Care Approach.
Forming a community of practice is key to support knowledge sharing and advocacy efforts, and to deliver interventions. An expanding community of practice has been established during the development of the Proximity of Care Design Guide, with representatives from development and humanitarian organisations, early childhood development experts, urban practitioners, and government authorities.
Consensus building among professionals and decision-makers is critical to supporting the early childhood development agenda in vulnerable urban contexts. To this end, it is essential to identify “champions” at the government and organisational level. Champions are individuals, groups or entire organisations whose public standing and reputation enable them to consistently talk about early childhood development, and to be heard.
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