Online tool aims to deliver nitty-gritty on youth challenges
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’