11.04.2013 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Social inclusion policies: a plea for scientific and participatory evaluation

© UN Photo / Paul Banks

Organized within the framework of UNESCO's Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST), a workshop of experts on the measurement and assessment of social inclusion policies was held on 25 and 26 March 2013 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, with the aim to assist the work of the Organization’s Secretariat in the study and mapping of available indexes and methodologies to measure social inclusion and assess the level of inclusiveness of public policies.

Concretely, this expert workshop had as final goal the identification of the most effective methods of measuring and assessing in order to adapt or develop those that are likely to have a real impact on public policy-making and on the process of evaluating policies in all UNESCO Member States.

Held before the 11th session of the MOST Intergovernmental Council, this expert meeting focused on one of the two thematic priorities identified for 2012-2013 by the Member States of this Council and brought together, for a day and a half, more than sixty participants, all experts and stakeholders in the implementation, measurement and assessment of social inclusion policies.

Whether they were social scientists, representatives of organizations of public policy evaluation, representatives from various agencies and funds of the United Nations, or of associations fighting against poverty, they all shared their views on the effectiveness of methods and tools for evaluating social inclusion, and discussed possible improvements to the link between research and social policy in the field of social inclusion.

The workshop was divided into three sessions: the first session was devoted to the measurement of social inclusion, the second session dealt with the assessment of public social policies, and the last session focused on the links between science, research and policy making. Each of these sessions was organized around the same principle: three or four presentations on the theme, followed by a debate in which all stakeholders were represented.

The focus was not only on questioning the categories of people concerned by inclusive policies, but also on the social inclusion indicators most likely to be widely shared, and on the most appropriate tools to monitor these indicators.

"We expect that this workshop will contribute to the development of active and evidence-based approaches to social inclusion," reminded the Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Social and Human Sciences during her opening remarks, stating that it should particularly "take into account the contextual issues." For Pilar Alvarez-Laso, the workshop should not, however, remain at the stage of an overview. According to her, "this will be an opportunity to identify possibilities for partnerships between the scientific community and the entities involved in the evaluation."

For a day and a half, participants coming from different backgrounds and with different perceptions therefore tried to answer - or to at least open the debate - around issues of concern to the entire international community at a time when the multiplication of financial crises might lead to worsening poverty and increasing social inequality.

What are the best tools for assessing social inclusion policies? What data should be taken into account to effectively assess the impact of an inclusive policy? How does social science research inform policy makers on issues of social inclusion? Why do policy makers not use researchers' work more and what could be the methods for facilitating their networking?

The discussions of the first session, focusing on measuring social inclusion and poverty, showed very clearly the interest and importance of this measure, both at a national and an international level. The participants agreed that it was crucial to dispose of relevant and robust measurement instruments not only in order to understand the complex issues of social inclusion, but also to study its evolution, to compare the performance of different countries and to assess the political action in this area. This first session also illustrated the diversity of approaches and the role played by institutions and data providers. The session contributed to a progress in the understanding of the phenomenon of inclusion and of its multidimensionality.

The role of NGOs also appeared important during the discussion on indicators and their interpretation. Thus, for the workshop’s participants, if the statistical quantification is of major importance, it is not sufficient and can be usefully enriched by more "qualitative" information and also by a participatory approach involving social stakeholders and excluded people themselves. This is a question of democracy, and also of political efficiency: the excluded people can contribute to find the means, the keys that enable them to escape poverty and exclusion, policy makers having a lot to learn from a truly participatory approach.

The second session highlighted the link between relevant inclusion indicators and assessment methods. The presentations given by experts from the European Union showed the need to establish a solid and complete database that allows Member States to discuss about their progress in the field of inclusive policies. If inclusive policies are elaborated, they need to be evaluated, improved and reassessed periodically. Impact studies allow measuring the foreseeable consequences of inclusive policies in improving the standard of living of the targeted populations and detecting, in advance, the difficulties which might arise during the implementation of inclusive policies.

However, the debates revealed a great diversity of approaches in the assessment of the level of inclusiveness of social policies. On the one hand, there are approaches based on the assessment of development projects, and on the other, there is the evaluation of inclusive policies in developed countries.

Finally, the third session highlighted the catalytic role that has to be played by UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme, not only at country level but also at the level of regional organizations. The examples of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) demonstrated how, through intergovernmental collaboration mechanisms, a regional organization can allow a major boost in the areas of education, health, training, and how, through groups of experts, the link between social science research and policy making can be effectively stimulated.

The institutional organization of the debate, put forward by the representative of the Economic Commission for Africa, showed how, given the lack of data and resources, it is important to involve all stakeholders. The 7th Framework Programme of the European Union that was also presented during this session illustrated the role played by such a programme in strengthening the link between research and policy making in the field of young people’s inclusion.

While agreeing that the link between research and policy making should take into account the complexity of indicators, the conceptual basis of social inclusion policies and their context, all participants seemed to agree that there is a need to call for more investment dedicated to research on social inclusion. For them there is no doubt that such an investment would allow the effectiveness of implemented policies through a better understanding of the origins of social inclusion and by strengthening the necessary dialogue between the worlds of politics, research and civil society.

The main reflections and recommendations made during this international workshop of experts were delivered to the 35 Member States of the MOST Intergovernmental Council that met in Paris on 27 and 28 March 2013.

It is possible to review the entire workshop via the following links:

Sessions of 25 March 2013 

Session of 26 March 2013

Sessions of 25 and 26 March 2013




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