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Caregiving Behaviours for Nutrition and Child Development in Malawi

These complementary reports present findings from formative research and people-driven design (PDD) workshops undertaken for a Save the Children project working in two districts in Malawi. The study aimed to provide a deeper understanding of the behaviours which drive poor maternal and child nutrition outcomes along with the barriers and entry points for shifting them, including identifying key do-able behaviours for focus in the programme’s SBC strategy, which were refined and tested in communities during the PDD phase. The formative research was undertaken using immersion research in 4 communities. Some of the findings from the formative research included:

Sources of food and income:

  • Family diets included a relatively narrow range of goods, influenced heavily by availability and affordability.

  • Though families viewed their food stocks as a form of savings intended to last into the lean months, most shared that the preserved food did not last for the whole year and cash was needed to purchase basic foods before the next harvest.

Pregnant women’s care and nutrition:

  • As counselling was rarely given in Antenatal care (ANC) sessions, moms did not have the opportunity to build relationships with  health workers.

Nutrition and care for babies and infants under three:

  • Most moms said that they had not been given any specific advice related to nutrition.

  • Across locations, babies were usually breast fed in response to crying rather than on a particular schedule.

  • Given the need to juggle childcare along with other household tasks, mom’s primary interactions with babies were limited to direct care only.

Hygiene:

  • Families did not prioritise hygiene and rarely shared concerns about bacteria, pathogens, or ‘getting sick’.

The PDD process was based on the formative research, which identified four priority behaviors for exploration: exclusive breastfeeding, dietary diversity, diarrhea prevention and management, and early learning and stimulation.

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Peace Village Initiative Scoping Study

Empatika was engaged by UN Women to conduct a scoping study of the Peace Village Initiative in Indonesia. The Peace Village Initiative, implemented by the Wahid Foundation since 2017 is an initiative that aims to address the drivers of extremism by mobilizing community members, especially women, to promote social cohesion.

This scoping study looked at the relevance and effectiveness of the Peace Village Initiative’s strategies through participatory focus group discussions, informal conversations and observations, and key informant interviews conducted in 12 communities across West Java, Central Java, and East Java. The study also explored future expansion for the Initiative to communities outside of Java.

Some of the study’s recommendations included: 

  • Link Peace Village activities to existing village development and planning structures; build on existing local structures to help address conflict or extremism

  • Build buy-in among village officials and other key decision makers as a first step in the engagement process

  • Create opportunities for community members, local leaders and policy makers to share information and emerging concerns regarding extremism whilst recognizing any pre-existing tensions between groups   

  • Establish clear metrics of success related to extremism and monitor these regularly; these may also be used to feed into national, regional or provincial-level tracking.

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Adolescents Engagement and Skills Acquisition in Digital Spaces

This study was an opportunity to go more in-depth into some of the areas we examined in the situational analysis of Digital Learning in Indonesia conducted earlier with Quicksand Design. As identified in that report, while digital learning spaces hold immense potential for adolescents’ learning and their futures, there are still many issues limiting the potential of these digital spaces. The study included research in four countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand, with Empatika supporting Quicksand in Indonesia. We conducted participatory focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with young women and young men (aged 10-19) in South Sulawesi and West Java to better understand the barriers and enablers that impact young people’s online experiences, and to explore pathways that could help adolescents become active and contributing participants in the digital world. A survey was also conducted across the four study countries.

Across the four countries, the research found that adolescents are using digital spaces primarily for entertainment and leisure, rather than for exploring opportunities for skill development and active engagement. The research also found that Southeast Asia suffers from significant digital inequality between urban and rural communities and entrenched gender inequalities that persist in the online world. Though the anonymity provided by the internet offers some adolescents the confidence to openly express themselves online, others face excessive harassment from unknown people online. To compound these risks, most adolescents do not have adequate skills to protect themselves from such online risks.

Some of the other study insights included:

  • Though digital spaces have opened avenues for adolescents in low-resource areas to connect and share beyond their immediate communities, poor internet connectivity, financial constraints, and gender barriers limit their access.

  • Distracting home environments, ineffective teaching styles, and limited social interaction with peers and teachers make distance education ineffective - resulting in adolescents preferring in-person engagement for formal education.

  • Pre-existing gender norms and stereotypes influence what content girls seek out when online and what content they are offered. 

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COVID-19 in Indonesia: Experiences of Children and Families

This longitudinal study was conducted remotely over a nine-month period and included 45 families living in 23 districts across Indonesia who shared insights on their experiences and those of their surrounding communities on the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on families' main concerns during the initial listening phase, the following three rounds of data collection focused on three thematic areas: learning and social lives of children; health and hygiene; and livelihoods and social assistance. Insights on each of these themes were captured in separate research briefs, as well as synthesized into a summary brief which looks back across the entire study period.

Some of the study insights included:

  • Some livelihood groups recovered quickly, while migrant workers and informal labourers continue to face challenges into 2021.

  • The scale, frequency and unpredictability of COVID-19 social assistance meant that most people did not consider this to be a significant form of support or a driver of recovery.

  • With ‘distance learning’ arrangements implemented across Indonesia, many children and particularly adolescents struggled to remain engaged in their education.

  • Teachers found it hard to interact with and assess students and lacked guidance on how to better support them during distance learning.

  • One of the significant impacts on health services was the suspension of posyandu sessions for three to six months in most study locations.

  • Worries and uncertainty about COVID-19 such as testing and quarantine led families in many locations to rely more on village-level health providers and facilities rather than visiting puskesmas and hospitals unless they were seriously ill.


Many of the study implications highlight the need for more context-specific approaches for government policies.

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Thematic Briefs

People's Perspectives of Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance in East Lombok

This study was a follow-up to our 2019 study on post-disaster Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance (MPCA) in Central Sulawesi and North Lombok. This study in East Lombok added a baseline and endline element to the assessment along with a survey component to complement the qualitative insights. The study explored how people’s livelihoods have been affected by the 2018 earthquake along with COVID-19, how people perceived the MPCA assistance including the assistance process and mechanism, how families spent the money, and the impacts that it had on their lives.

The qualitative portion of the study was designed to include multi-day community immersions, but due to COVID-19 we modified this to include a combination of scoping, Participatory Focus Group Discussions (pFGDs) with mothers, along with informal conversations with other community members, service providers, and village officials.

Some of the key findings from this study included:

  • Imposition of less restrictions on the use of the MPCA cash assistance enabled people to meet small credit payment obligations which allows further credit to be taken and flexibility for savings.

  • Smaller disbursements incur higher opportunity costs to collect and are used to pay off incidental debts while larger tranches provide more tangible contribution to families’ costs and the potential to reserve some as savings.

  • Improved advance information about the timing of disbursements enabled families to manage their household finances better. This reduces stress for beneficiaries and the certainty provides reassurance to credit providers of likely repayment times.

  • Feedback/complaint phone lines are rarely used not because there are no complaints or queries but mostly because of culturally entrenched norms about seeming ungrateful or criticising service provision. Beneficiaries and the wider community prefer personal interaction to get questions answered.

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Study Briefs

Situational Analysis of the Digital Learning Landscape in Indonesia - supporting Quicksand Design Studio

Empatika was excited to continue our partnership with Quicksand to explore some of the gaps of the digital learning situation in Indonesia (an issue also explored in our soon to be published Remote COVID-19 Insights study). We combined secondary research, expert interviews with people from MoEC (Ministry of Education and Culture) and EduTech Companies, as well as virtual interviews with teachers, students, and parents from Papua, East Java, West Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and West Java. The report provides an overview of the access to and quality of digital learning along with insights on internet connectivity and affordability; the availability of digital learning devices; the relevance and content of digital platforms; and the digital skills of students and teachers.

Some of the insights from the study include:

  • The pandemic has resulted in an upsurge of platform and content innovations within the education space, by both the government and the private sector. However, little awareness and perceptions of low quality content have limited its uptake.

  • The shift of education outside the physical space in classrooms has led to challenges for monitoring teaching and learning performance.

  • Limited access to affordable quality internet and poor availability of appropriate digital devices makes learning from home less conducive for most students - especially those in remote and poor settings like 3T areas.

  • The Government's efforts to provide internet packages have faced limitations in design and implementation, limiting its Uptake.

  • Many students have struggled to adjust to this new way of learning, and their parents lack the capacity to adequately support them.

  • Inadequate support for teachers to transition to digital learning has posed challenges for them to adapt. This is accentuated by their poor formative training and limited pre-existing digital skills.

  • Government interventions focused on teachers have thus far been top-down in their approach and largely failed to include teachers in their design and formulation.

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Addressing Gender Barriers to Entrepreneurship and Leadership Among Girls and Young Women in Southeast Asia - supporting Quicksand Design Studio

Empatika had the opportunity to be the local partner in Indonesia for a multi-country study led by Quicksand Design Studio in India and commissioned by UNDP. The study, our first collaboration with Quicksand, was trying to unpack the gender barriers to entrepreneurship and leadership among girls and young women in Indonesia. Overall, it aims to map up the journeys of girls and young women – relative to boys and young men – in understanding how their capacity and agency for entrepreneurship and leadership are shaped by their household, community, and wider ecosystem. The study was also conducted in Lao DPR and Thailand.

The research utilised participatory co-design discussions  and in-depth interviews with young women and young men (aged 10-24) in East Nusa Tenggara and West Java. Some of the key issues that our team was looking to explore included insights on: self-perception, motivations, aspirations, sources of strength, social norms and perceived roles, key resources and institutional structures, and barriers and enablers.

Some of the specific takeaways for Indonesia from the primary and secondary research included:

  • Gender inequality limits girls’ and women’s access to educational opportunities

  • Low educational attainment and high domestic care burdens contribute to women’s high rates of informal and necessity-based entrepreneurship

  • Women entrepreneurs struggle to access finance for business start-up and growth

  • These factors above factors are exacerbated due to a lack of gender-responsive policies and support services

  • The domestic work burden, lower educational attainment and the decline of the agriculture sector are key factors behind the current low rate of female labour force participation in Indonesia

  • Overall, young women experience low levels of self-confidence and high fear of failure both at a personal and professional level.

The full report is launched at the Youth Co:Lab Summit on June 2021.

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People’s Perspectives of Emergency Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance in Central Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara

Following the July 2018 earthquake in West Nusa Tenggara and the September 2018 earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi, UNICEF and its partners introduced Multi-purpose Cash Assistance (MPCA) programs as part of their efforts to support recovery in communities. UNICEF commissioned Empatika to understand people's experiences after these disasters, and specifically their perspectives and experiences of the MPC assistance.

For this qualitative assessment our team visited two communities each in Donggala, Palu, and Sigi in Central Sulawesi (May 2019); and two communities in North Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara (July 2019). The insights gathered from the study have helped inform learning for the Cash Working Group and its partners about best practices in MPC assistance during emergencies from the perspectives of beneficiaries.

Some of the key findings from this study included: 

  • People want cash, although ‘in-kind’ assistance was appreciated right after the disaster before markets resumed normally.

  • People prefer receiving cash assistance early on because i. livelihoods were disrupted and families had limited to no earnings to meet expenses, and ii. assistance cash could be used to buy what people needed to fill gaps in external aid.

  • People had limited information about the MPCA programme, including recipients who too had limited or unclear information relating to disbursement frequency and dates, and required documentation.

  • People thought the house damage criteria for assistance eligibility (as was used in Donggala and Palu) is opaque with levels of damage open to interpretation. Targeting based on having young children seemed to be more accepted.

  • People in Central Sulawesi were critical of the programme’s rationale for using bank accounts as a way to encourage financial inclusion. Most people do not have savings and did not expect to continue using their accounts.

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Study Summary Briefs

Central Sulawesi  

North Lombok

Supporting Girls to Thrive:
Baseline Mixed Methods Study

Last year Empatika partnered with Stats4SD to conduct a mixed methods baseline study commissioned by UNICEF Indonesia to support the start of their programme on supporting girls to thrive in West Papua. The study explored a wide range of issues including literacy, WASH, in-school participation, life skills, bullying and violence.

The quantitative portion of this mixed methods study used a survey conducted with students and teachers at eight schools (4 SMP and 4 SD) in the Sorong district of West Papua. During the survey an Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) was also conducted with grade 2 and 3 students. Following the survey fieldwork our researchers returned to conduct a RCA immersion in three of the survey locations, staying with some of the students to gain deeper insights and learn more from the students, their families, and the surrounding community. School observations were also conducted both during the survey fieldwork and the immersions in order to help complete the picture around these issues.

Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • Students are in general happy, physically active, enjoy school and feel relatively safe.

  • In many aspects boys are doing less well than girls at both SD and SMP level although more so at SMP level.

  • Papuan students are often treated differently and discriminated against both in school and in mixed-ethnicity communities. This affects how teachers view their Papuan students but also how Papuan students see themselves.

  • Physical punishment is widespread in schools but is used more for boys and particularly male SMP students; however very few students have a strongly negative view of physical punishment.

  • Students made clear distinctions in their assessment of what constitutes harassment and felt that the level of inter-student teasing and ‘banter’ did not amount to harassment although students considered to be 'geeky' were said to be the least likely to cope well with this.

  • WASH knowledge and practices were poor and not integrated into day-to-day teaching and learning.

  • Absenteeism is high with both teachers and students and school contact hours are on average quite low.

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Let's get back to our routine: Listening to children who were affected by the Central Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami

Empatika was engaged by Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik (YSTC), UNICEF, Yayasan Plan International Indonesia (YPII), and Wahana Visi Indonesia (WVI) as part of their relief assistance and recovery efforts in Central Sulawesi to consult with children and caregivers affected by the Central Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami. The findings are expected to help influence the agencies’ child centered response planning on how to support the recovery phase and people’s long-term needs by optimising children’s resilience and community coping strategies.

This study was conducted using participatory focus group discussions (pFGDs) in two communities in each of three affected most affected districts (Palu, Donggala and Sigi), involving a total of 244 primary school-age and secondary school-age children. We also had opportunistic interactions with pregnant women and caregivers of small children to include their perspectives. Our approach to pFGDs intentionally moves away from the traditional FGD question-and-answer format to a more participatory form where interactive hands-on exercises, visuals, photos, drawings, written, or drama-based elements are used to seed discussion to gain insights into the perspectives of study participants.

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Study Summary Briefs

RCA study: Urban Villages - Perspectives and Experience of Migrants and Their Families on Moving from Villages to Cities

This Reality Check Approach (RCA) study was commissioned by The World Bank and carried out in November to December 2017. The RCA findings in this report are supported by big data analysis from Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ). The objective of this study was to provide people-centred insights to feed into the World Bank’s Poverty and Social Development Global Practices current analytical project to help the Government of Indonesia better understand the process of urbanization in Indonesia, particularly through learning more about rural to urban migration in the country.

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