Conceptual debates on poverty measurement: the use of qualitative expert consultation in mixed-method multidimensional poverty research

Ritterbusch, Amy Elizabeth; Sánchez-Franco, Sharon Carolina; Pinilla-Roncancio, Mónica Viviana; García Jaramillo, Sandra; González-Uribe, Catalina (2018). 'Conceptual Debates on Poverty Measurement: The Use of Qualitative Expert Consultation in Mixed-Method Multidimensional Poverty Research' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


In response to growing international interest and debate surrounding the measurement of child poverty from a multidimensional perspective, the main objective of the research project discussed in this article was to design and calculate a Multidimensional Poverty Index in Latin America, which responds to the  needs of children (0 to 17 years-old) using a mixed-method approach. This article presents the qualitative component of this mixed-method multidimensional poverty research process that involved expert consultation through semi-structured interviews with 27 experts worldwide on child poverty and poverty measurement. In this article, we discuss both the lessons learned within the qualitative research process of expert consultation and the conceptual debates surrounding methodological decisions implicit in multidimensional poverty measurement in the Latin American context.

The objective of the qualitative component was to draw from experts’ perspectives and methodological suggestions as a means of informing and guiding our decision making process regarding the composition of the Child Multidimensional Poverty Index. The quantitative component of the study aimed to engage in comparative child multidimensional poverty measurement in different Latin American countries and elsewhere we discuss the methodological challenges of this process (see Pinilla-Roncancio, González -Uribe, García Jaramillo, Ritterbusch & Carrero, 2018). Within the context of the international methodological debates regarding the selection, conceptualization and prioritization of dimensions and indicators of child poverty (Espíndola, Sunkel, Murden & Milosavljevic, 2017; Thorbecke, 2007; Minujin, Delamonica, Davidziuk & González, 2006), we conducted thematic analysis of our interview data to contrast the opinions of experts about the inclusion of 50 dimensions and indicators in a measure of child poverty in Latin America.

Throughout the empirical section of this article, we draw from interview data and highlight the diverse perspectives of experts working in Latin American, North American and European contexts. We found that expert participants most frequently define child poverty within rights-based, capabilities approach or material deprivation frameworks. We also found agreement about the inclusion of health, education, nutritional and household dimensions and include a comprehensive table containing the position of expert participants on the inclusion of 7 dimensions and 11 indicators central to poverty measurement.

In order to contextualize opposing positions and possible agreement within conceptual debates on child poverty measurement, we focus on the following four indicators: recreation and cultural activities, child labor, access to information and violence against children. These indicators were selected because they represent the most dynamic issues discussed with experts and are the subject of polarized debate within the literature (Gordon, Nandy, Pantazis, Pemberton, & Townsend, 2003; Biggeri, Libanora, Mriani, & Menchini, 2006; Neuborg, Chai, Milliano, Plavgo, & Wei, 2012). The empirical section of the article is divided into five subsections including a discussion of the four indicators mentioned above and concluding with a methodological reflection on participatory methods.  

In order to assess the possibilities of a participatory approach as a means of selecting the dimensions and indicators to be included within a child poverty measurement process (see García & Ritterbusch, 2015), we present experts’ opinions on the inclusion of children and adolescents in the poverty measurement research process. As a means of concluding the empirical section, we present expert participants’ perceptions of participatory approaches to child poverty measurement and discuss the tendency to vote against this approach in terms of financial feasibility and quantitative conceptualizations of rigor. 

While the debates about the measurement of child poverty are largely conceptual (Minujin, Delamonica, Davidziuk & González, 2006), the methodological decision about the selection of dimensions and indicators requires critical reflection on the definition of poverty employed in the project, the operationalization of indicators, an assessment of the availability of data and a rigorous empirical analysis of the composition of the index. Listening to and considering diverse perspectives on the particularities of poverty measurement through the expert consultation process provided a participatory approach to poverty knowledge production that informed our design of a rigorous and sustainable measurement methodology in technical, political and administrative terms (Alkire, 2007).  After discussing the opinions and methodological perspectives of expert participants, we conclude the article by reflecting on the qualitative expert consultation process and consider how to employ this approach in multiple research contexts beyond poverty measurement.

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