The design of effective interventions begins with understanding
To improve the living conditions and well-being of young children, their caregivers and pregnant women in a given context, it is necessary to understand their needs and constraints, as they move through their environment at three scales of interaction – the Household, Neighbourhood, and City levels.
Why this matters
Having a clear, holistic understanding of the elements that shape early childhood development in vulnerable urban contexts leads to more effective interventions.
“A tokenistic approach to consultation can often be worse than no consultation at all” - Adrian Voce OBE, President of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities
Explore a library of guiding principles, downloadable assessment tools and inspirational case studies, to help you better understand specific needs and constraints of young children, their caregivers and pregnant women in your project area; and how various urban factors relate to a child’s developmental needs. This knowledge will help you inform and guide the design and implementation of more effective and context sensitive interventions.
Guiding Principles & Case Studies
Follow these principles to better understand the needs and constraints of beneficiaries in your project area; and how various urban factors relate to a child’s developmental needs.
Understand before designing
A sound and holistic understanding of the target context and beneficiaries (including constraints and opportunities) and of local knowledge and skills, is critical to design meaningful interventions, and to tailor global best practices and guidelines to local conditions. While accurate data about vulnerable urban contexts and target beneficiaries is often difficult to find, this is no reason to forgo considered, rigorous research.
The Proximity of Care approach examines the multisystem interdependencies that enable a child to thrive in an urban context. To improve early childhood development conditions in a given vulnerable urban context, it is necessary to examine how young children’s developmental needs relate to various urban systems, considering their interdependencies with both hard and soft assets – physical space and infrastructure, human interactions and behaviours, economic, policy and planning elements – which individually and collectively contribute to enable optimal development.
Take the time to understand how people spend their time, relate to one another, and move through spaces, by observing and gathering data. Consider the needs, constraints and aspirations of your target beneficiaries, and of the broader community that they live in. Treat caregivers and young children as a pair: study the child's daily journeys alongside the caregiver, and assess how safe, stimulating or healthy these journeys are. In addition, do not assume that all caregivers are adults: in vulnerable urban contexts children as young as 6 years old may care for their younger siblings.
Look at the local context holistically, considering the impact of the physical, socio-economic and governance systems on the well-being of young children, their caregivers, and pregnant women, and on their experience of the urban space. Make sure that where you build a solution for a child, you include elements that also cater to their caregiver.
Use maps and GPS enabled data-gathering apps (e.g. Kobo or Fulcrum) to trace caregivers' and children's daily routes, map their favourite spaces and identify challenges to mobility, safety and access to services and facilities, as well as opportunities for improvement.
Think creatively about context-appropriate assessment tools and methods and supporting data collection devices (interviews, focus groups, transect walks, workshops, participatory mapping, photography, gamified simple tracking) to gather current socio-economic and spatial data including social behaviours, traffic loads, availability, access to and use of public spaces, services and facilities, and perceived challenges and opportunities.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
Be wary of power dynamics, cultural expectations and other social regulations that may condition certain community members' participation. When working in refugee contexts, be aware that you need to consider 'two localities': the project site, and the cultural memory of the home that refugees have been displaced from. Look for opportunities to remove moments of friction from caregivers' daily life patterns and to ensure their wellness. Consider caregivers’ future access to resources needed to support the development of their child.
Pilots can be used to test ideas and generate an evidence base for upscaling interventions across an area or region. Collecting community feedback and inputs in a constant, iterative way will confirm whether or not these interventions are suited to the local context and are therefore (in)appropriate for upscaling.
Ensure meaningful children and community engagement
The involvement and participation of the beneficiaries is a key input throughout the design process, to assess their contexts, understand their needs and aspirations, and co-design meaningful interventions.
Children are the most left behind within the planning process and are not considered in planning decisions. It is really important to have children and their community on board from the onset, and to take their ideas into account, before designing for them. Children have great imagination, and communities are the experts, not us. They are the ones who live their context every day, the ones who know exactly what challenges exist and what would make their lives completely different.
Listen closely to caregivers, pregnant women, children, community members and leaders about particular challenges, opportunities, what has and hasn't worked in the past, and which methods of communication, co-creation and case building are most successful in the local context. As children age 0-5 have little capacity in this regard, assessment and co-creation activities will necessarily be undertaken with the support of caregivers and older children.
Conduct transect walks and participatory mapping workshops with caregivers, pregnant women, children and the local community; and run a photo collection exercise by distributing film or digital cameras to caregivers and pregnant women, who can provide local insight into the use of spaces, mobility, and perceived challenges and opportunities. Use playful methods and approaches when engaging with children.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
Build trust and recognise the community’s local knowledge and expertise. Be wary of making extended commitments when resources are plentiful, and morale is high. Do not create expectations you cannot meet and deliver what you promise.
Adopt ethical conduct standards and treat people respectfully. This includes complying with relevant data protection law; obtaining site-specific informed consent from participants with regards to the nature and intent of their participation, use of their data, and their rights to further information; and adhering to NSPCC child protection and safeguarding procedures when conducting research.
Value local resources, skills and patterns
Context-sensitivity is critical to succeed in framing relevant interventions. Solutions that may succeed in a globally north-western city with a foundation of supportive socio-economic, political, cultural and infrastructure assets are likely to fail in an informal settlement or refugee area in a rapidly urbanising context.
Privilege local knowledge about processes, systems, resources and relationships to help your project proceed more smoothly and be more durably effective.
Use local materials and construction techniques when possible to contribute to context-appropriate solutions, provide community revenue streams, mitigate risks of weather damage, and help ensure maintainability and sustainability.
Contract local partners and contractors to provide facilitation and labour, to build opportunity within the community and foster a sense of ownership over the final outputs.
Fostering integration between long-time residents and newcomers is a key aim of early childhood development projects, particularly in refugee settings. Carefully consider the site of your project to avoid favouring access by a particular group. Creating employment opportunities must be done in a sensitive way that avoids entrenching harmful or precarious practices, or the exclusion of certain groups from remunerative work.
Building material and construction crew should be sourced locally to extend economic benefits from the project into the local community and enhance sustainability. Interventions must be aware of and realistic about local capacities and should supplement these where possible.
Ensure that structures and interior designs feature culturally relevant spaces, motifs and objects. This is particularly important when intervening in refugee contexts, where material culture can provide an important therapeutic link for displaced children.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
When working with a divided community, focusing efforts on co-creating and engaging through children can create positive engagement and future use of the renewed space across the community.
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.
Derive multiple benefits from routine everyday spaces
Leverage data collection to identify where upgrades, improvements or training will be more effective for the beneficiaries and the broader community, and carefully consider your intervention design such that positive impacts are felt across different scales of the urban fabric and in different spheres of social life.
Think creatively about and engage community discussion around how your project can serve multiple purposes. A creche can be an adult education centre in the evenings; an outdoor play space can host performances or gatherings for adults; a transit stop can provide space for small businesses that cater to caregiver needs.
Encouraging neighbourhood awareness and engagement with young children-specific spaces can provide a pathway to disseminating early childhood development best practice knowledge, increasing community cohesion, and developing advocacy or political voices.
Pair uses of facilities and public spaces that work for caregivers as well as for young children.
Adapt existing or planned spaces to fit a second or third purpose and maximise their benefits.
Ordinary elements of infrastructure (i.e. school buildings, windows, doors and stairs) can be given a playful, stimulating or educational purpose.
CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS
When working with a divided community, focusing efforts on co-creating and engaging through children can create positive engagement and future use of the renewed space across the community. Be mindful of other vulnerable groups during this process who may not acknowledge the benefits of engaging through children.
The Assessment Tools can be used for carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the factors that contribute to making a site child and family friendly, and generate evidence to inform decisions about priority interventions.
This is the initial step for understanding the site, identifying key issues affecting early childhood development, and developing a database of key local stakeholders to engage. To assist and structure this step, the following tools can be used.
Proximity of Care Framework: Use this tool to compile relevant secondary data and maps, generate a preliminary understanding of the site, and identify the key issues affecting early childhood development. Use the Framework to perform a gap analysis, and prioritise data to be collected in field activities.
Stakeholder Map: Use this tool to develop a database of key local stakeholders, sorted by specialisation and mapped against the Proximity of Care Dimensions and Goals, to engage for field activities including interviews, focus groups, and workshops.
A site visit is an essential step to validate the desktop analysis, and to collect additional data to better understand early childhood challenges and opportunities in the selected site.
Proximity of Care Framework: Use this tool to guide the compilation of relevant primary data, undertake a spatial analysis, and prioritise data to be collected as part of the site visit.
Transect Walk Sheet: Conduct at least two transect walks through the site to make a spatial assessment, observe built and social environments, gather photos and videos, and interact with community members.
Survey Sheet: Conduct Survey in the target site, using either paper-based forms or Kobo app as a data recording tool. Questions should be reviewed according to context and desired data to be collected. Printed maps of the area are needed.
The next step is engagement with different stakeholders, including children, their caregivers, pregnant women, local authorities, practitioners and community members to understand user experience, their perceptions and aspirations for the study area. To assist and structure this step, the following tools can be used.
Key Informant Interview Sheet: Conduct Key Informant Interviews with various stakeholders to assess early childhood development needs and built environment performance in the selected site from a variety of perspectives and sectors.
Focus Group Discussion Sheet: Conduct Focus Group Discussions with relevant key stakeholders and community members to identify thematic areas of concern and understand community perceptions of and desires around early childhood development.
Photo Contest Guidance: Engage children from local primary schools and/or caregivers in a photo contest – using disposable cameras, to capture their perception about challenges and opportunities they experience in their neighbourhood.
Assessment Workshop Guidance: Conduct two assessment workshops with children, their caregivers and the broader community to refine your understanding of early childhood development challenges and opportunities in the selected site and engage the community in participatory mapping and solutions development.
Data gathered in the previous steps set out an understanding of the study site and beneficiaries, and the existing opportunities and constraints for early childhood development. To assist and structure this step, the following tools can be used.
Proximity of Care Framework: Use this tool to assess and deliver a consistent evaluation of a diverse set of factors that influence early childhood development within the site context.
Profile Report Template: Structure the data collected and analysed during the desk-based, site visit and engagement steps, and consolidate key findings related to challenges and opportunities to early childhood development in the project site.