On­line tool aims to de­liver nitty-gritty on youth chal­lenges

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

A FAR-REACH­ING col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town re­searchers and the civic tech­nol­ogy non-profit OpenUp has de­liv­ered a wholly open-source on­line tool that pro­vides rich ward-level in­for­ma­tion on the lives of young South Africans.

Youth Ex­plorer has been de­signed to give pol­icy-mak­ers espe­cially a tex­tured pic­ture of the chal­lenges fac­ing peo­ple aged be­tween 14 and 25, a widely vari­able re­al­ity which, re­searchers point out, is of­ten ob­scured by the re­duc­tion of data to na­tional or re­gional av­er­ages.

And, in the ab­sence of a de­tailed un­der­stand­ing of ac­tual con­di­tions in widely di­ver­gent com­mu­ni­ties, broad­stroke pol­icy mak­ing is un­likely to be ef­fec­tive.

As the Youth Ex­plorer site ex­plains: “Lit­tle co­her­ent un­der­stand­ing ex­ists about the re­al­i­ties that shape young peo­ple’s lives, how they change over time or dif­fer from one com­mu­nity to an­other.

“This lack of un­der­stand­ing se­verely con­strains the abil­ity of poli­cies and in­ter­ven­tions to ad­dress the chal­lenges fac­ing youth and op­ti­mally sup­port them in their at­tempts to forge pos­i­tive and trans­for­ma­tive path­ways.”

The Youth Ex­plorer tool was de­vel­oped “to be­gin to fill these gaps in our un­der­stand­ing”.

The user-friendly tool pro­vides sim­ple data vi­su­al­i­sa­tions – in­clud­ing ta­bles, graphs and maps – and al­lows for fur­ther in­ter­ac­tive ex­plo­ration. It is pos­si­ble, for in­stance, to com­pare dif­fer­ent ar­eas on one screen and to down­load or share data with ease.

Youth Ex­plorer was de­vel­oped by UCT’s Poverty and In­equal­ity Ini­tia­tive (PII), in part­ner­ship with OpenUp, Sta­tis­tics South Africa and the Economies of Re­gions Learn­ing Net­work. The 2016 pi­lot ver­sion in the Western Cape was sup­ported by the Western Cape gov­ern­ment, the City of Cape Town and the Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence in Hu­man De­vel­op­ment.

The na­tional data – which will be aug­mented as new re­search is in­cor­po­rated – is based on the 2011 Cen­sus.

OpenUp data wrangler and pro­ject man­ager Ju­lia Re­nouprez said in the case of the Western Cape, Youth Ex­plorer in­cor­po­rated ad­di­tional data – crime fig­ures from the po­lice and health and ed­u­ca­tion data from the Western Cape gov­ern­ment.

All in­for­ma­tion is or­gan­ised within a set of key in­di­ca­tors in a Multi-Di­men­sional Poverty In­dex crafted by the PII.

Eleven in­di­ca­tors, rang­ing from un­em­ploy­ment and food se­cu­rity to ex­po­sure to vi­o­lence, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and other ser­vices, pro­vided a more com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of “vul­ner­a­bil­ity” and its im­pact on the well-be­ing of young peo­ple.

Re­nouprez pointed out that “poverty” – or any full mea­sure of de­pri­va­tion – was more than merely in­come in­suf­fi­ciency. Yet, prior to the cre­ation of Youth Ex­plorer, there was “lit­tle co­her­ence and un­der­stand­ing about these de­pri­va­tions and how they in­ter­sect”.

In ad­di­tion, the ward-level de­tail pro­vided a more tex­tured pic­ture.

“Av­er­ages eas­ily hide re­al­i­ties, but the small-area anal­y­sis can help iden­tify ar­eas of great­est need and en­able pol­icy mak­ers to de­sign spe­cific in­ter­ven­tions.”

Un­der­stand­ing the state of the youth and what to do to im­prove their lives was borne out by the fact that a full 62% of young South Africans lived in house­holds earn­ing less than R779 a month.

Crit­i­cal to con­fronting the chal­lenge, how­ever, was un­der­stand­ing where and how to in­ter­vene by know­ing wardlevel con­di­tions.

Thus, while, in av­er­age terms, 23% of greater Cape Town’s youth pop­u­la­tion counted as multi-di­men­sion­ally poor, ward lev­els ranged, for in­stance, from Cross­roads at 72% (liv­ing in in­come-poor house­holds) to Bantry Bay (5%).

Re­nouprez said: “This is not news to us… but the tool gives us a way to ac­tu­ally see the data.”

The PII’s Ariane de Lan­noy ex­plained this week how, in dis­cus­sions with Western Cape of­fi­cials in 2015, it had emerged that in the ab­sence of more de­tailed, area-spe­cific in­for­ma­tion, pol­icy in­ter­ven­tions some­times failed.

“We were try­ing from our side to bring as much aca­demic ev­i­dence to bear on the sit­u­a­tion of young peo­ple and make it avail­able to pol­icy mak­ers and, in one of the dis­cus­sions, an of­fi­cial said that what would re­ally help them would be to know what was go­ing on in com­mu­ni­ties on the ground. The of­fi­cial said: ‘Of­ten we im­ple­ment a strat­egy in one com­mu­nity and it works, but then try and im­ple­ment it some­where else and it doesn’t work, and we don’t un­der­stand why.’ ”

This had shaped the PII’s ap­proach, De Lan­noy said.

A key fea­ture of the gen­e­sis of the pro­ject is the de­ter­mi­na­tion of re­searchers from UCT and other uni­ver­si­ties to “reach out be­yond the class­room and the aca­demic jour­nals”, ac­cord­ing to Mur­ray Leib­brandt, direc­tor of UCT’s South­ern Africa Labour De­vel­op­ment Re­search Unit and head of the PII. He also leads uni­ver­sity ef­forts to feed re­search into the pub­lic and pol­icy-mak­ing sphere.

The fo­cus of this was to “pro­vide some in­put into bet­ter pol­icy mak­ing, to re­ally sharpen the op­tions that con­front us all, and work a bit harder to reach out be­yond the class­room and aca­demic jour­nals”.

South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal “mo­ment” was one where “we are try­ing to re­con­fig­ure a cit­i­zenry that works to­gether and does its thing”.

Jour­nal­ism and civil so­ci­ety – or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als – were es­sen­tial in strength­en­ing this “part­ner­ship” and in stim­u­lat­ing a “vi­brant cit­i­zenry”.

Good, ac­ces­si­ble data was vi­tal in al­low­ing so­ci­ety to “push be­yond the shout­ing and tease out the so­phis­ti­ca­tion” at a time when “real de­bates” were not tak­ing place be­cause of dis­tract­ing po­lit­i­cal strife.

((bold dot)) The Youth Ex­plorer tool can be reached at https://youthex­plorer.org. za. A range of other data tools that are run by OpenUp can be ex­plored through https:// openup.org.za.

‘We know lit­tle about what shapes young lives’

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