Evaluating the impact of independent children's rights institutions: A European case study

Imanian, Sara (2016) Evaluating the impact of independent children's rights institutions: A European case study. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Most European countries now have independent children’s rights institutions, but there has been little attempt to systematically evaluate their impact. This study attempts to fill this gap by exploring the kinds of impact institutions make, and how this could be evaluated. Critical realism, case study and appreciative inquiry were the approaches to the research questions. The research had two phases: a survey of all members of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) to get a broad picture of how they understood their impact; and to recruit participants for phase 2; and case studies in two institutions.
67% of ENOC members responded to the survey, which was designed to shed light on the context in which IHRICs are working, mechanisms and their outcomes. It showed that contextual factors helping members are their staff, mandate and independence, frameworks and networks, especially NGOs. Impact was sought in terms of full implementation of the UNCRC, influencing law and policy, and raising awareness of children’s rights. As a result, the main focus of the case studies was on evaluating the organisations’ impact on law and policy, and how this was informed by children’s perspectives.
The second phase of the research involved talking to staff of the two institutions and a range of stakeholders, and reviewing relevant documents. This revealed that key contextual factors were: powers and remits, staff, political independence and background of the Ombudsman and Commissioner. Participants mainly pointed to the greater visibility and priority of children’s issues in policy-making, greater participation, and raised awareness of children’s rights as impacts of the two institutions.
The research showed that the impact of children’s rights institutions can be substantial but variable, that evaluation has to be highly contextual, and that generalised indicators have limited value. It produced a template for contextual evaluation, to help ICRIs and IHRICs show the evidence of their impact and reflect on what works well for them. The study also suggested that institutions can act as interlocutors between children and the State by empowering both to engage in more effective dialogue, and so enable children to have real impact on policy.

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