This research will address the overarching question 'What political and institutional conditions are associated with effective poverty reduction and development, and what can domestic and external actors do to promote these conditions?'
It will do this by focusing on one country, Liberia, and exploring in-depth the relationship between national and international institutions and actors to understand how the linkages and processes between state and society are benefiting one of the most marginalised populations - persons with disabilities. It is argued that persons with disabilities tend to be among the poorest in the world (Groce et al 2011), particularly in lower income and post-conflict countries.
They frequently face social exclusion, marginalisation and stigmatisation. This generally implies they have limited "political voice", which is reflected in a lack of attention to disability issues within national policies, in particular those aimed at poverty alleviation. As a result, the living conditions of persons with disabilities tend to worsen over time, facilitating a frequently discussed reciprocal link between disability and poverty - a 'vicious circle' - that produces a spiral of increasing deprivation. However, the Government of Liberia is trying to break this circle. Since the end of the brutal civil conflict in 2003 and the election of Africa's first female President in 2005, Liberia has taken a number of steps to try to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. It has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and has supported the establishment of a National Commission on Disability.
One of the major international actors, the United Nations, through the Human Rights and Protection Section (HRPS) of the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL), has been instrumental in facilitating a productive interchange and constant dialogue between the Liberian government and civil society, as well as increasing the human rights focus in national poverty reduction and policy development. These actions are based on the premise that it is possible to promote and foster a 'virtuous circle' in which the efforts of the Liberian Government can be reinforced through an iterative feedback process from persons with disabilities and their organisations. In order to understand this iterative process, further work needs to be undertaken using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to better understand the impact of policies and programmes on the lives of persons with disabilities across Liberia.
The promotion of wellbeing for persons with disabilities and their families is crucial in achieving equitable development, as measured by indicators such as the Millennium Development Goals, particularly considering the recent shift in the criteria for measuring country-level development performance from economic production to people's wellbeing (Stiglitz et al. 2009). This shift entails new challenges, different assessment and evaluation procedures, multidisciplinary theoretical approaches and new analytical strategies. This research will represent a first attempt to use an innovative approach to broaden knowledge in this area by surveying families that have at least one member with a disability, assessing quality of life indicators from different members within the same household, and analysing the information using methodologies which take into account the nested nature of this data.
In addition, the research will be situated within the on-going international debate on wellbeing. Due to the complexity of both multidimensional poverty and disability issues, a multidisciplinary approach will be used and a broad range of stakeholders will be involved throughout the process, including disabled peoples organisations, NGOs, and universities.
This research will situate a study of the quality of life and multidimensional poverty experienced by individuals with disability and their families in Liberia within the on-going international debate on wellbeing. There is a general agreement about the need to focus on inequalities as an essential determinant of wellbeing (Stiglitz et al, 2009). Therefore a study examining the subjective and objective wellbeing of individuals with disabilities and their families must be considered a priority, especially as disability is among the main sources of inequality in low income countries. Specifically, using a mixed method approach this study will collect information related to objective indicators of socio-economic wellbeing and the complex drivers of poverty (both established and emerging ones), including intergenerational transmission, and subjective indicators of psychosocial wellbeing, Due to the multidimensionality of poverty, the need for integration of objective and subjective well-being indicators and the complexity of disability issues, it is essential to adopt an interdisciplinary approach, including economic, sociological, anthropological and psychological competences. These will be reflected in assessment procedures that integrate different perspectives and methodologies, include a pilot phase to test and refine tools, and promote a culturally sensitive approach.
We will adopt more a "family" than a "household" approach for data collection, surveying different members within the same household, balanced by gender and age. This will avoid the assumption that the information derived from head of households reflects perceptions and experiences of all members. In turn, this will identify differences linked to gender and age as well as specific issues related to the policy delivery process. The primary beneficiaries will be persons with disabilities and their organisations (DPOs), policy makers, donors, and international and national actors working on poverty reduction, as it will support improved policy planning and implementation.
The results will also be of interest to UN agencies, NGOs, universities and think-tanks supporting on-going work on disability and poverty. There is a clear indication from the Liberian government and international community of the pressing need to increase inclusion of persons with disabilities into policies and programmes that alleviate poverty and improve wellbeing. Greater understanding of gaps and generation of evidence-based data on persons with disabilities will increase the effectiveness of national and international programmes aimed at fostering inclusive development and better living conditions, guiding the design and implementation of more effective and sustainable interventions.
Universities and think-tanks will be involved throughout the project to promote interest and commitment to disability research by in-country research programmes. The results of this research will provide foundations for planning future long-term longitudinal national studies aimed at highlighting causal pathways to poverty in a context sensitive perspective. Results will be disseminated though publications, policy briefs and updates, shared with a range of government and civil society partners, with particular attention to the Human Rights and Disability Task Force (HRDTF), at national and local levels. This group will provide a forum at which to present findings and a platform for robust input into on-going research.
The results will also be presented to the National Disability Commission, who are well positioned to utilise the research findings in advocacy and campaigning. A key stakeholder workshop, to be held in Monrovia in the inception phase, will ensure all partners and stakeholders are fully engaged with, and have input into, the project. In addition to local partners, the team will invite members of the HRDTF, government ministry representatives, UN representatives, academics, DPOs and NGOs