Qualitative longitudinal research

Alongside the household and child survey, we also conduct in-depth qualitative research with a sub-sample of the Young Lives children. This work consists of two main strands:

  • A longitudinal study tracking 50 children in each study country, using a case-study approach to document their changing life trajectories over time
  • Shorter, focused enquiries on particular topics, for example orphanhood in Ethiopia or the impact of the National Rural Guarantee Scheme in India.

This approach gives us a set of ‘nested case studies’ within the bigger sample, allowing us to highlight particular issues and explore children’s daily experiences in more depth. The first data were collected in 2007 with a second round in 2008 and a third round taking place in 2011.

The main focus of our qualitative research is children’s own experiences and the circumstances of their daily lives. Combined with the longitudinal design of Young Lives and the detailed information gathered in the household and child surveys, this gives us a unique dataset to study children’s biographies over their life-course. In this way we can situate children’s experiences of poverty in relation to the people around them, and the socio-cultural context, institutions, services and policies that shape their lives and opportunities.

An important feature of this strand of our work is the attention given to children’s (and caregivers’) detailed narrative accounts to reflect on their childhoods (past, present and future). This includes their own views on what has contributed to shaping their current situation and their well-being, their aspirations and goals, as well as their expectations for the future.

Examples of the narratives we have developed include how children experience the transition from home to starting school (or pre-school), children’s views on what constitutes a ‘good life’ or a ‘bad life’ for themselves and their peers and what support they need, the role of children’s work in their household and how this contributes to family livelihoods, their learning, identity and resilience, and also the challenges children face in combining work with school.


The qualitative research is being carried out in 4 sites in each country (5 in Ethiopia), selected to enable exploration of variations in location, ethnicity and social and economic circumstances, and how these characteristics interact with and affect access to services and government support. In each country the sites are selected from different regions, including two rural and two urban sites, two that are poor and two that are less poor, and sites that reflect the main ethnic or caste groups within the country.

Within the sites, the children were randomly selected from within the larger Young Lives sample – an equal number of boys and girls, and an equal number of Younger and Older Cohort children.


Our research methodology may be characterised as child-focused and participatory. We use mixed and multiple methods to work with children and the key adults in their lives in a flexible and reflexive way, that is age-appropriate and acknowledges that research with young people may pose challenges for adult researchers, particularly in highly hierarchal societies that marginalise children’s views.

This approach has informed the development of a set of tools that can be applied in diverse cultural contexts, marked by variations in children’s daily lives, their relationships with adults (including adult researchers), and preferred ways of communicating their ideas and feelings. The toolkit includes a range of methods based on drawing (e.g. community mapping, life-course draw-and-tell and happy day/sad day comparisons), writing (a daily activity diary), talking (semi-structured interviews) and other creative techniques (such as photo elicitation and child-led tours of the neighbourhood).

The team

In each country a Lead Qualitative Researcher coordinates a small team with one or two assistant researchers and a team of fieldworkers. The country teams work alongside two researchers in Oxford, who coordinate the work to ensure consistency of approach across the 4 countries. The disciplines represented in the qualitative research team include anthropologists, education specialists, psychologists, social workers, sociologists.

Key contacts

Gina Crivello (gina.crivello@qeh.ox.ac.uk)

Download our fieldwork guides

Our series of technical notes give an overview of the study design and methods used in each round of qualitative research

Overview guide, Technical Note 26

Qual-1 Guide (2007), Technical Note 27

Qual-2 Guide (2008), Technical Note 28

Qual-3 Guide (2010/11), Technical Note 29

Archiving and access to qualitative data

ESDS study guide image_cropped

Our longitudinal qualitative sub- sample provides a rich source of narrative data about the Young Lives children. Qualitative data are not archived in the same way as the survey data because of concerns about confidentiality (and cost). If you are interested in using the qualitative data, please contact us outlining your area of interest and research questions so that we can discuss with you whether the data are appropriate for your work.

We need to end child poverty in order to break the cycle of poverty.