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About Us


The Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation (CESI) has partnered with UNICEF, Yale, Harvard and New York University in leading a new global research network, LINKS.

The LINKS network is part of the international Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) hosted by UNICEF, New York and seeks to support the development and evaluation of early childhood development (ECD) programmes in societies affected by conflict. During its first phase, the network will support the development of programmes in Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. At the heart of our work is the development of a measurement framework which can be used as a resource for governments, policy-makers, researchers and ECD service providers working in conflict-affected areas to guide investment in, delivery, and evaluations of ECD programmes for peacebuilding and social cohesion.


Our work is driven by a belief that ECD programmes can not only play a key role in contributing to sustainable development but can also make a significant contribution to peacebuilding.

ECD services represent a wide range of programs and interventions that seek to support a child’s development. They typically include: prenatal health provision; home-based programmes for parents and caregivers; health, social care and education services provided through community-based centres or schools; and the provision of child care centres, nurseries and preschools. There already exists compelling evidence that high quality ECD services that focus on creating and sustaining nurturing environments for young children not only have a significant effect in improving short-term developmental outcomes but that these improvements are associated with improved long-term outcomes in adulthood. ECD services can, therefore, play a key role in contributing to sustainable development. By being at the heart of local communities, and engaging so directly with families, they can also be a major vehicle for change in enabling and sustaining horizontal and vertical social cohesion.


LINKS is led by Professor Paul Connolly (University of Lancaster), and Dr Laura Dunne and Dr Sarah Miller from the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast.

Paul is Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Lancaster University and former Professor of Education and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at QUB. He is Director of the LINKS project and is responsible for leading the Group’s work in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Laura, a Senior Lecturer at QUB is a member of the LINKS Core Delivery Team and is responsible for leading the Group’s work in Egypt and Timor-Leste. Sarah, a Senior Lecturer at QUB, is a member of the LINKS Core Delivery Team and is responsible for leading the Group’s work in Mali and Vietnam. LINKS is supported by a team of experts within Queen’s University Belfast including Prof. Frank Kee, Dr Karen Winter, Dr Mark McGovern and Dr Laura Taylor. LINKS is also supported by two researchers. Dr Aoibheann Brennan-Wilson supports the team’s work in Mali, Tajikistan and Timor-Leste. Dr Nicole Craig supports the team’s work in Egypt, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam.


We are funded by the National Institute for Health Research and UNICEF and we are affiliated with the Early Childhood Peace Consortium. We work in strategic partnership with UNICEF in each of our partner countries to support the development and evaluation of ECD services to promote social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Our work is supported by global ECD experts at Yale Child Study Center, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, NYU Global TIES for Children Center and Early Years – the Organisation for Young Children.


We are working with local researchers and UNICEF to support the development of ECD programmes in six low- and middle-income countries.

We are working with our partner countries to provide guidance, support, and training in research design, data analysis and reporting. Our aim is to support our partners to develop the skills and expertise to conduct further research and develop the evidence base both within country and internationally. We also have plans to expand our research network to include additional LMICs affected by conflict. This work is already underway; we are currently exploring opportunities to extend the network to Colombia and Palestine and Israel. Future work will include publishing our measurement framework as an open access resource for other researchers interested in evaluating the impact of ECD services on social cohesion and peacebuilding and developing an open access interactive research tool to help researchers identify outcome measures for their evaluations, based on the outcomes they are interested in.


Positive Early Years

By setting out a clear theory of changes explaining how ECD services can contribute to social cohesion and peacebuilding, the measurement framework can be used to support advocacy work in each of our partner countries and at an international level.

Evidence on the effectiveness of ECD services, including long-term outcomes can not only help to inform positive developments, but also highlight the consequences of inaction. Drawing on existing evidence and identifying gaps in the evidence can help us to support our partner countries and the international community in lobbying for investment in and commitment to the provision of ECD services.

We will work with our partner countries and international partners to engage policy makers, government representatives and other key stakeholders through various mechanisms including in-country events, meetings and international conferences.

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Children Lead the Way

The measurement framework can be used as a tool to provide guidance for governments, investors, and other key stakeholders in relation to strategic investment in ECD services.

ECD services vary widely according to context, target group, and the aims of the service. The measurement framework can therefore provide guidance to programme developers in relation to the design and delivery of ECD programmes to ensure that they meet the needs of different communities and their particular contexts. It can also provide guidance to ensure that programmes are designed and delivered with a focus on social cohesion and peace building.

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Working Together

For those working in the ECD sector, the framework can provide support by helping them to ensure the services that are being delivered meet the needs of those engaging with them, and that the services are designed to be most effective in achieving positive outcomes for young children and their families.

The framework can also provide support for the development of a theory of change for a particular context and support service providers and other key stakeholders to identify what outcomes are most important and therefore what type of service and delivery would be most appropriate to achieve these outcomes.

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Global Evidence for Change

The measurement framework can also provide support and guidance to researchers to conduct robust evaluations of the impact of ECD services on social cohesion and peace building.

The outcomes of these evaluations can then help service providers to refine their ECD services to ensure they are effective. The results of these evaluations can also help governments, NGOs and other key stakeholders identify priority services for investment and further development. Service evaluations are part of an ongoing, cyclical process and essential to ensure services continue to meet the needs of young children, their families, and the wider community.

Our aim is to work with our partners to develop an international evidence base to determine what works where and for who in relation to the provision of ECD services for social cohesion and peace building. Our hope is that this will in turn help other researchers and service providers identify gaps in the evidence base in relation to programme delivery and evidence of programme effectiveness in particular contexts. It will also help to ensure that the development of new ECD programmes and revisions to existing programmes are underpinned by high quality evidence.

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