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Baseline studies

Last edited: December 20, 2011

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What is a baseline study?

The purpose of a baseline study is to provide an information base against which to monitor and assess an activity’s progress and effectiveness during implementation and after the activity is completed. Sometimes the data needed for a baseline, against which to measure the degree and quality of change during an activity’s implementation, will already exist. In such cases the only task is to collate the data and ensure that it can be updated in the longer term. So it is important to find out what information is already available. But more commonly, there will not be any existing data, or it will be incomplete or of poor quality, or it will need to be supplemented or broken out into categories that are relevant for the project being implemented.

When planning a baseline study, the implementing organization needs to determine both what change needs to be assessed and what sort of comparison(s) will need to be made as part of that assessment of change. There are two common ways to measure change:

  • ‘with and without’ activity – this seeks to mimic the use of an experimental control, and compares change in the activity location to change in a similar location where the activity has not been implemented, and
  • ‘before and after’ activity – this measures change over time in the activity location alone.

The study should be closely linked with the activity monitoring plan so that the data collected can be replicated if necessary during ongoing activity monitoring, for any mid-term review, when the activity is being assessed for the activity completion report and for any subsequent evaluations. Baseline data should provide the minimum information required to assess the quality of the activity implementation and measure the development results.

Ethics and Baseline Studies Related to Violence Against Women

Before conducting baseline research, it is important to be aware of any national guidelines on research that involves human subjects. Some organizations, such as universities, will have specific approval processes for any research that involves gathering data from human subjects. But even private organizations should ensure that they are aware of any national standards and that they incorporate ethical considerations into their methodology. Most countries have formal (legal) guidelines covering research and those engaging in research have the responsibility to check if their specific study has to go through a review/approval process. The United States posts the federal guidelines on ethical research practices related to human subjects online.

Methods for Baseline Studies

Many research methods can be used in baseline studies, including those described above in the programme planning section such as surveys, interviews, or focus groups. Visual items, including photographs, maps and diagrams, are important pieces of data and are often underused in a baseline study. It is often necessary to be creative and innovative about the data sources used. Of central importance in choosing a research method is the reliability of the data ultimately collected, meaning that if someone else used the same methods and repeated the data collection they would get the same results. Combining data collection methods is a recommended practice.

Adapted from: Australian Agency for International Development, Baseline Studies (2003).

NGOs conduct Baseline Studies of VAW in Asia

The International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific has assisted several organizations to conduct baseline studies of violence against women in Asia, including in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The Bangladesh Baseline Study established baseline information about the prevalence of several forms of violence including family violence, rape and sexual violence, murder/suicide, acid assault, community violence (resulting from community decisions to punish a fellow community member), and custodial violence (violence against persons in state custody). The Bangladesh study used a partnership approach, creating a coalition of non-governmental organizations to carry out the research, and based their work solely on secondary sources of data. The study authors noted the difficulty of comparing information from different sources and of relying on media reports in many instances. The report also describes the basic laws that apply in cases of violence against women, as well as criminal justice system responses to the problem.

In India, the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives conducted a baseline study specifically focused on the Rights of Women in Relation to Marriage. The group organized forums for an array of civil society groups from two Indian states and asked them to bring case studies and data related to violence against women, specifically forced and child marriage. As a part of this process, major gaps in state data collection on violence against women as well as civil society minimization of certain types of violence, such as domestic violence, were revealed. The final baseline report examined data, the legal rights of women, and the state response through three phases – entry into marriage, during marriage, and dissolution of marriage. The report describes the basic laws that apply in cases of violence against women, as well as criminal justice system responses to the problem, and used case studies to highlight key findings.

Source: IWRAW-Asia Pacific.

The specific baseline data collected will depend on the goals of the programme to be implemented. Baseline studies of the formal justice sector and violence against women should consider gathering data about:

  • Prevalence of violence against women and girls, including prevalence of specific types of violence in the target community
  • Characteristics of women and girls experiencing the highest rates of violence
  • Characteristics of perpetrators engaging in violent behaviour
  • Attitudes of key stakeholders about causes and consequences of violence against women and girls
  • Attitudes of key stakeholders about remedies for violence against women and girls
  • Number of cases of violence against women moving through the formal system, including complaints and cases investigated, charged, or filed but not pursued
  • Judges, prosecutors, and other court staff’s knowledge of women’ human rights principles and obligations
  • Description of the typical handling of a case of violence against women and the basic legal framework:
    • Courts: Specifically court system responses including court administrator and staff Responses, training programmes, data collection and communication, court infrastructure and safe spaces, judicial response during interactions with victims and perpetrators, staff supervisor responses and judicial activism and involvement in the community related to violence against women. Click here for examples of specific indicators.
    • Prosecutors: How do prosecutors use risk assessments, interact with the victim and her family, deal with victim non-cooperation, use no-contact provision, restraining orders, and trial motions to protect the integrity of the case? Do prosecutors use vertical prosecution, screen cases effectively, safety-plan with the victim, carefully evaluate bail decisions, maintain regular contact with the victims and keep her informed of progress and case status?  When evaluating a prosecutor’s successful disposition of cases, data collection should include evaluations of victim safety and recovery in evaluations of prosecutions, not just conviction or plea rates, re-offense rates, or rates of victim participation. Click here for other examples of other types of data that could be collected about prosecutors.
    • Civil justice system: Partnerships with local victim service providers, availability of legal assistance, specially trained attorneys, and coordination with criminal justice system. Click here for examples of specific indicators related to the civil justice system.
    • Special measures in place for case of violence against girls
    • Description of the interaction between the formal and informal system
    • Description of availability, quality and costs of legal and advocacy services for survivors
    • Description of availability, quality and costs of other services for survivors, including shelter, accompaniment and social support, or financial support

Namibia – Research on Rape Case Withdrawal

The Legal Assistance Center in Namibia carries out rigorous research in support of justice system reform advocacy. The group found in a 2006 largely quantitative study that complaint withdrawal was the single most significant reason that rape complaints failed to move through the criminal justice system. That finding led the group to conduct a second research study in 2008 focused on the rationale behind rape case withdrawals. The second study used qualitative methods, including focus groups, key informant interviews and community member interviews. In order to safeguard the security and privacy of rape victims, much of the information in the research study came from community and service provider perceptions, although survivors were invited to participate and some did decide to come forward. The researchers also conducted a literature review of other studies on rape withdrawal to help them contextualize and compare their results. The group documented the 10 most common reasons that women withdraw rape complaints in Namibia: the woman received compensation, the woman was pressured by her family to withdraw the case, the woman feels ashamed that she was raped, the rapist physically threatened the woman to withdraw her case, the timetable for the prosecution of a rape case is too long, the woman feels that she has insufficient evidence to win her case, the woman lacks the necessary information, the rapist occupies a position of status in the community, the woman was bribed to withdraw her case and the woman is in a position of financial distress.

Source: Legal Assistance Center. 2008. Withdrawn: Why complainants withdraw rape cases in Namibia.