Monday, 14 July 2014

Cross-National Research

At the ESRC Research Methods Festival last week, I attended a session on cross-national research. This topic is particularly relevant to my research as I am involved in an international project looking at the effects of an anti-bullying programme. Although much of the discussion in the cross-national research session related to much larger projects, I found that many of the issues were similar to those I had encountered.

I was pleased to hear Vitalija Gaucaite Wittich championing the need for international research, despite the often negative views often surrounding it. Firstly, the evidence base it provides allows for the comparison of countries. This is important for policy makers as it allows benchmarking, which can be an important motivator in policy debate. The Active Ageing Index was given as an example of a successful tool which has enabled the monitoring of outcomes nationally and internationally.

Jane Scobie spoke about a large scale project aiming to monitor the wellbeing of older people across the world. The Global AgeWatch Index aimed to provide benchmarks and insights into areas of policy intervention within 96 countries. While the project helped to identify, track and monitor key trends of ageing internationally, there were a number of difficulties in compiling the information. Firstly there were cultural challenges in terms of definitions - cultures define the concept of quality of life differently, and assign priorities differently to the dimensions used. It is difficult to capture 'wellbeing' when it has different meanings internationally. There were also issues methodologically as there was no international agreement on the measurement indicators. This led to a lack of comparable data, which is hugely problematic given that international comparisons was one of the main aims.

These issues resonated with some of the problems I have come across during the course of the international project I am working on. Although bullying is generally defined in the same way within the countries involved in our project, the way that it is viewed varies a great deal. Here in the UK, schools are aware of bullying and are required to have anti-bullying measures in place. This was unique in our project, as the other countries had the initial hurdle of raising teacher awareness of the negative effects of bullying. Overall this meant that we couldn't all use exactly the same protocol, as teachers in our schools wouldn't want a lesson from us on why bullying is bad. We have also found that it isn't possible to have comparable data across all countries, due to differing priorities. Some partners value the more qualitative measures, while others value the quantitative measures. These factors have led to some challenges in project design and in interpreting our results.

Despite these challenges, cross-national research has the potential for informing policy debate, increasing accountability, identifying effective policies and improving diagnosis. Isabelle Engsted-Maquet ended the session on a hopeful note that cross-national research can bring social monitoring level with macro-economic monitoring.