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My Reflections on GUIDE Conference, Florence Italy

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

Last month, October, was absolutely full-on. Organising events remotely from the UK to take place at different venues in Italy on consecutive days is not for the faint hearted. However, I’m proud to say that in my role as Project Manager Manchester Metropolitan University within the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit for EU funded H2020 @COORDINATE Project - the international conference and project consortium meetings in Florence, Italy were a huge success.

On Monday 23rd October 2023 it was great to have the first GUIDE conference - Growing Up in Digital Europe: Evidence for child wellbeing policy making across Europe held at Brunelleschi Hall, Istituto degli Innocenti. This was closely followed by the COORDINATE project consortium meeting at UNICEF Research office, Innocenti on 24th and 25th October 2023.

The first of these events, the GUIDE conference, was an invite only hybrid in person and online event. Sunday night alarm clock set for a very early Monday morning start to get to the venue bright and early to set up, do tech checks and finalise arrangements.

The conference registration desk opened early at 8:30 (CET). We had a pleasing 95% of registered in person delegates in attendance with a few extras who were equally welcomed and accommodated. Online attendance was at 60% of registrations.

After a welcome from COORDINATE Project Coordinator and GUIDE Co Director Professor Gary Pollock, the event was opened by David Anthony, Deputy Director, UNICEF Innocenti Global Office of Research and Foresight. David spoke passionately about the work of UNICEF and of the value of the GUIDE study to enhancing child wellbeing across Europe and UNICEF’s ongoing support of this work.

Gary Pollock took the reins again and set the scene with an introduction to the GUIDE project and its development to date, as well as pointing to its projected 30 year life-span following the lives of thousands of European children until they are 24 years old.

We then had a pre-recorded video presentation from Former President of Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca who has served in politics for 45 years and was a Member of Parliament for 16 years. She was the very first elected female General Secretary of one of the two main political parties in Malta. Her excellency, now President of Eurochild strongly articulated the case for more and better public investment in children in Europe, and emphasised the importance of high quality data to inform policy making.

This was followed by a video collection of community reporting, originally facilitated by People's Voice Media - which included children and young people across Europe using digital tools to tell their own stories of well-being in their own way.

Next a change to the scheduled mode of delivery from in person to online (thanks to COVID), from long standing supporter of the GUIDE initiative Dominic Richardson, formerly Social Policy and Economic Analysis lead at UNICEF, Office of Research – Innocenti, now Managing Director, The Learning for Well-being Institute. Dominic highlighted international inequalities and data needs on child wellbeing across Europe and the ever increasing need to invest in high quality longitudinal data.

Gabriella Conti, of UCL presented on Child wellbeing and evidence based policy making and made the powerful argument that the early origins of inequalities in child wellbeing start in the womb, the role of focused supportive early year integrated policies and the importance of tracking progress using cohort data.

Jennifer Symonds, Co-Director of GUIDE and Director of CLOSER followed with a compelling presentation explaining how different disciplinary conceptualisations of child wellbeing have been operationalised and measured in the GUIDE pilot surveys.

It was no accident that Toni Babarovic (IPI) and Ognjen Obucina (INED) then made the most anticipated presentations of the day. Toni & Ognjen are in charge of the GUIDE Pilot fieldwork. They presented findings from the impressive large-scale pilots which were successfully conducted in Croatia, Finland, France, Ireland and Slovenia with both parents and children.

Vera Skalicka [TESS & CHAIN) discussed the importance of comparative longitudinal research in studying health, and how GUIDE would support its aims. Vera stressed the need for harmonized, longitudinal data to describe and explain children’s and youth development. To better understand and inform social policies’ impact on differences in children’s wellbeing.

Having reached the halfway point there was a real buzz and energy at the networking lunch, the catering and of course the coffee was outstanding. Apologies to the online participants who were unable to partake.

After a very impressive morning of speakers the programme resumed with the same momentum and calibre of contributions. The first post lunch presentation was Marcel Das who has been the Director of Centerdata since September 2000. Marcel delivered an extremely thought-provoking presentation based on the work conducted with Tom Emery Director of ODISSEI on digital technologies and the future of social surveys.

In our last formal presentation of the day, we were delighted to have an online presentation from Marie-Cécile Rouillon, Commission Coordinator for the Rights of the Child. Marie-Cécile presented the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child and emphasised the importance of embedding a child perspective in all EU actions policy and legislation.

For our final session of the day, we were very lucky to have a panel with representatives from European Survey Research Infrastructures. Gary Pollock (GUIDE) chaired the panel which included Rory Fitzgerald (ESS), Letizia Mencarini (GGP), Radim Bohacek (SHARE).

Each panel member gave a brief description of their Research Infrastructures, and the importance of their survey data to both science and policy communities. We heard reflections on how GUIDE fits in to the landscape of European comparative survey data and some of the challenges facing social surveys in the future and how these should be addressed. The event closed with a lively panel discussion with some pertinent questions from both the in person and online participants. In an attempt not to exclude the online participants, I commandeered the mic to ensure their voice was also heard and their questions and points were addressed.

The overall hybrid programme ran smoothly with only one very minor online technical glitch I think we refer to this as a ‘cyber hack’ which was picked up immediately and promptly shut down - Marcel Das was admirably unfazed and this did not disrupt the flow of the presentation.

A clear message reinforced by all our high-profile speakers was the need for national investment in longitudinal data collection and how this will have a profound direct and positive effect on child wellbeing through evidence-based policy making. It is wonderful to be part of the GUIDE journey, as Project Manager on FP7 Measuring Youth Well-Being - MYWEB Project - the feasibility study (2014 – 2016) then H2020 European Cohort Development Project (ECDP) - the design study (2018 – 2020) now H2020 COORDINATE project (2021 -2025). It feels quite special and rewarding to be able to do my part in helping to bring a large European social science research infrastructure into being.

Watch this space! In coming weeks - Video extracts from the conference and speaker presentations will be posted on COORDINATE website and on LinkedIn.

I encourage you to sign up to be a member of our growing Cohort Study Scientific Network on LinkedIn. Here you will find details of outreach activities, training courses, research visit opportunities developed as part of the COORDINATE project. We are using this platform for the dissemination of project results, relevant impact cases and promotion of innovation in child and youth wellbeing research and want this to be a forum for sharing good practice.


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