As one of the world’s longest running longitudinal mixed-methods studies in low- and middle- income countries, Young Lives has amassed a rich body of knowledge and learning about research methods.

Undertaking large-scale cohort research brings a host of challenges often not present in other forms of research. Sustaining funding commitments over an extended period of time, coping with inevitable attrition in study participants, navigating complex ethical frameworks, adapting to global and national crises, or linking longitudinal data with other data sets – these are just some of the challenges we have encountered. 

Our multidisciplinary approach means we bring a variety of angles and diverse expertise which adds breadth and depth to our understanding. Our qualitative research is crucial to capture the ‘voices’ of young people so that they have an opportunity to narrate their lives, hopes, concerns and priorities, in their own words. Our data are co-produced with young people, who are uniquely positioned to provide us with insights and explanations about changes in their personal and social worlds over time. 

We continue to learn, innovate and adapt our methods. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 required the team to adapt to the use of remote data collection methods and we launched a multi-call phone survey. Young Lives, along with other longitudinal studies, found it had a comparative advantage when conducting phone surveys, as we were able to build on a long-term relationship with participants.

The use of remote data collection methods offered an opportunity to explore new ways of collecting data from our study participants. In 2021, the study collected GPS data on the participants' household location using an online survey. This will support improved tracking of the participants, reduce attrition and expand future research by linking with external databases. In recent months, we have begun to match data with other datasets to increase the power of our survey data. A recent example is Grace Chang, Marta Favara, and Rafael Novella's paper, 'The Origins of Cognitive Skills and Non-cognitive Skills: The Long-Term Effect of in-Utero Rainfall Shocks in India'.

We have also piloted new innovations within the phone survey.  Young Lives was the first to investigate the highly sensitive topic of domestic violence during the pandemic using an adapted list experiment. The findings of the research into domestic violence in Peru can be found here.

Switching from in-person to remote phone-based surveys raises important ethical questions explored in a recent paper and that we continually discuss and devise strategies to answer as a team. 

Between 2019 and 2021, a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council supported us to look back on our unique twenty-year study and to document key learning in a number of areas: research design and analysis, data management and governance, research leadership and impact, and ethics and safeguarding. We will continue to reflect on our methods and innovate to progress our longitudinal study.