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Study Design

Evidence for Better Lives - Draft Study Design
A global study on the causes and the prevention of violence


Each year millions of people across the world are the victims of violent acts such as physical and psychological maltreatment, sexual abuse, bullying and assault that result in trauma, injury or death. There is an in urgent need for better knowledge about the causes of violence and how it can be prevented. In particular, there is a pressing need to understand the ways in which we can most effectively intervene early in the life course to tackle victimization and perpetration risk from the very beginning of life. "Evidence for Better Lives" proposes a global, trans-disciplinary research, training and prevention programme with the overarching goal of contributing to violence reduction on a global scale. The core idea is as follows:

  • The study will cover four to six sites selected to reflect the diversity of cultures and societies across the globe.
  • Research will be organized into three themes each overseen by a group leader based at the University of Cambridge working in close collaboration with the site-specific research teams: Neuroscience of Violence, Sociology of Violence, and Prevention and Intervention of Violence.
  • Within each site, we will recruit a population representative sample and a high risk sample. Both will comprise individuals followed from the pre-natal stage to 10 years of age.
  • Informed by initial results and in collaboration with experts from international organizations (e.g. WHO, UNICEF), each site launch will develop a violence reduction strategy that is adapted to the local situation.
  • Capacity building will be an essential goal of the study. Studentships will be available to gifted young people, which will allow them to earn a doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge

"Evidence for Better Lives" would be the most ambitious violence reduction programme to date, with the goals of understanding the forces that shape human aggression and cooperation in different cultures, achieving an effective worldwide reduction of violence, and promoting productive lives amongst disadvantaged young people across the globe. By bringing together a group of talented researchers from different cultures in a cross-cultural collaborative project, the study will support a shared global commitment to violence reduction. By including a training initiative for doctoral students and young academics from low and middle income countries, we will create a next generation of experts with the skills needed to facilitate violence reduction in their countries.


Further Detail The Sites

Site selection will be based on:

  • Ensuring the representation of societies varying along a range of cultural and economic dimensions
  • relevant to understanding violence causes and prevention. We would also seek to select sites varying in both levels and patterns of violence.
  • Capacity and commitment to collaborate on the project long-term. We propose to target cities within Pathfinder countries, cities with existing links to the research team, or cities with existing research infrastructures that could facilitate the implementation of our proposed study.

Appendix 1 shows a provisional list of countries and cities that could be targeted for inclusion in the study, along with a series of indicators for levels of violence, socio-economic structure, and position on the World-Values Survey global cultures map.


The Global Development Study

Almost all knowledge on the forces that shape the development from infancy is based on findings from Western affluent societies. We know little about these processes in other societies; societies that often have rates of violence that far exceed those in Western democracies. Such knowledge is indispensable to develop effective violence prevention strategies that serve disadvantaged people across the world.

The first pillar of the "Evidence for Better Lives" project is therefore a comparative study of the factors that shape human development in relation to violence and associated behaviors from birth to age 10 across the chosen sites. In each site pregnant mothers will be recruited with the goal of obtaining 1500 infant participants. Comprehensive assessments of the infants and their primary carers will be conducted each year over a ten-year period. These data will be complemented by intensive intra-wave experience sampling studies on subsets of participants to yield information on the within-person and day-to-day influences on violence. The primary focus will be on the factors that promote a healthy development, respectively those that increase the risk of violent and antisocial behavior. However, the data-set will also be immensely useful for analyzing questions related to education, health, labor-market participation, and family formation.

No such study has ever been conducted. It could therefore become an invaluable resource for research in public health, education, criminology, and economics for decades to come.


Six Locally Adapted Intervention Projects

Each site will develop and implement an intervention aimed at reducing interpersonal violence and enhancing productive positive life-courses.

Interventions should: a) be adapted to the needs of the local community, b) target important risk factors in the local community, c) have a strong evidence base and d) be sustainable. In order to achieve this goal the project will work closely with experts from leading international organizations and philanthropies, who have built up a comprehensive knowledge-base of promising strategies. In order to achieve sustainability, local stakeholders will be involved in all stages of the development and implementation of the intervention. The interventions will be delivered as part of randomized controlled trials taking advantage of the infrastructure of the above-described developmental studies. This component of the study would, for the first time, allow for a comparative assessment of prevention strategies. It would also create a basis for assessing the long-term effectiveness of preventive interventions across the world.


Capacity Building

A major obstacle to more effective violence prevention in low and middle-income countries is the lack of research capacity that can guide policy-making. Capacity building is key component in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The proposed study will therefore expand the capacity for major advances in evidence-based prevention in each of the sites. First, the project will establish research collaborations between leading universities in each site and the University of Cambridge. Regular seminars with the participating sites will promote excellence in basic and applied research, and participation in a network of world-leading scholars. Second, the project will offer, over a 10-year period, a total of up to 20 doctoral studentships and 1-year postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Cambridge. This scheme will allow the brightest and most talented young people from each site to collaborate on the project, be guided by field- leading experts and exchanging ideas with researchers from across the world.



The proposed project has the potential to become a highly influential pioneering study on the causes and the reduction of violence by

  • including sites from all major cultures across the globe,
  • generating unique data on the social and cultural dynamics implicated in aggression on the one side,
  • and cooperation and a productive life on the other,
  • promoting local and sustainable prevention activities that are evaluated to high standards,
  • engaging local academic institutions in a long-term collaborative work,
  • and contributing to capacity building in the areas of public health, prevention science and criminology