What are Life Stories?

The Life Story (LS) is a qualitative research technique, part of the biographical method (Sanz, 2005), with which a narrative is built based on the story made by an informant about his own life along with the collection and analysis of additional information of the informant’s context, from documentary records and interviews with people in the social environment of the interviewee, for example. In the case of interest, the informant is a selected participant of the program to be evaluated.

By incorporating the Life Stories to the Platform, it is aim to understand the current attitudes and behaviors of the participants of the evaluated programs, and the way this attitudes and behaviors are influenced by the intervention.

The LS are individual, so they are based mainly on private interviews with participants who choose to participate in this exercise. The interest of the Platform is to develop multiple autobiographical stories and collecting the narratives of several participants in the program in a defined period of time. The number of LS is defined based on each particular case, depending on the variability of the targeted population of the evaluated program. Likewise, individual interviews to the tracked households are complemented by interviews with program officials or other households, in order to conktrast with the participant’s perspective.

What is the purpose of Life Stories?

The qualitative information collected from Life Stories is very useful for designers and implementers of the programs. On the one hand, it provides signs on the perception of the participants about the processes and activities of the program evaluated and secondly, identifies the changes that the program has produced in households as well as understand the mechanisms and channels through which these changes have been generated. It is a particularly useful tool when seeking to understand the effects of the program on variables difficult to measure, such as those relating to welfare, empowerment, aspirations and expectations, time use, among others.

Thus, Life Stories, are an essential complement to the outcomes evaluations, because they allow to understand the quantitative results of these evaluations and facilitates the understanding of perceived changes in complex variables; This has been demonstrated with the use of this methodology in previous assessments of Graduation Programs in Ethiopia – Ethiopia Graduation Pilot- (Sengupta, 2012), Pakistan – Pakistan Graduation Pilot- (Kabeer, Huda, Kaur and Lamhauge, 2011) and India – Trickle Up Ultra Poor Program- (Huda and Kaur, 2011; Sengupta, 2012; Kabeer, Huda, Kaur and Lamhauge, 2011).

How are Life Stories done?

The methodological design of Life Stories includes 3 main elements. These are:

Definition of the target population

The targeted population of the Life Stories corresponds to participants of the program to be evaluated. As in other qualitative methodologies, Life Stories seek the study of few individuals to gain depth in their analysis. For this reason, it is important to define certain eligibility criteria that provides greater variability in study subjects.
While the selection criteria depend on each case, some possible considerations are:

  • Geographical representation.
  • Different household composition.
  • Different isolation levels of the relevant markets.
  • Different access conditions to the evaluated program (eg. vulnerability due to poverty or conflict victims, among others).
Definition of the data collection periods

The construction of Truncated Life Stories is made from regular visits to participating households, throughout the implementation of the program. The dates of the visits will be adjusted to the development of the Graduation Program, to coincide with key moments in their implementation.

In order to create the enabling environment for the interview and seek comfort and tranquility of the respondent, the visits will take place at the times, places and situations preferred by the interviewee.

Data collection

Primary information

Primary information comes mainly from interviews with participants. It is important to note that household participation in this exercise should be entirely voluntary, and that its approval must be supported by a written consent.
Each of the interviews must maintain a clear objective, which guide each of the visits. It is suggested to develop a first visit for exploratory purposes and developed the following ones depending on (1) the specific information requirements of each evaluation and (2) program’s development.
Platform promotes that follow up to selected households (the “focal households”) to be developed in conjunction with additional interviews to other households in the same community (“satellites households”), and because of that, they receive the program similarly. Also, it is pertinent the development of interviews with program officials, closer to selected households during the implementation. For the Graduation Programs case, this could mean to select families that were assigned to the same “Gestor” and the “Gestor” itself. These additional interviews allow to triangulate information to better understand the changes that are generated -or not- in Life Stories participants as well as their context or opportunities ‘window’ (Moreno-Sánchez et al., 2017).

Secondary information

Before and during the exploratory visits, is seek to conduct a literature review of secondary information for municipalities/localities where the Life Stories will be carry out. The main sources of information include the entities responsible for producing national statistics, libraries, municipal entities for technical assistance, municipal government, regional government (land use plans, municipal development plans, agricultural diagnostics, etc.). The aim of collecting secondary information is to know and understand the overall context of the municipalities/localities where Life Stories will be done, which can affect differentially the participants experiences with the program.


Huda, K and Kaur, S. 2011. ‘‘It was as if we were drowning’’: shocks, stresses and safety nets in India, Gender & Development, 19:2, 213-227

Kabeer, N., Huda, K., Kaur, S., and Lamhauge, N. 2011. “And Who Listens to the Poor?” Shocks, stresses and safety nets in India and Pakistan. BRAC Development Institute. Disponible en: http://www.merit.unu.edu/events/event-abstract/?id=986

Lybbert, T. and Wydick, B. (2016). “Poverty, Aspirations, and the Economics of Hope”. Economic Development and Cultural Change.

Ray, D. (2002). Aspirations, Poverty and Economic Change. New York University and Instituto de Análisis Económico (CSIC). URL: https://www.nyu.edu/econ/user/debraj/Courses/Readings/povasp01.pdf.

Sanz, A. 2005. El método biográfico en investigación social: Potencialidades y limitaciones de las fuentes orales y los documentos personales. Asclepio. Vol. 57, No 1. Disponible en: http://www.eduneg.net/generaciondeteoria/files/SANZ-2005-El-metodo-biografico-en-la-invest-social.pdf

Sengupta, A. 2012 (a). Pathways out of the Productive Safety Net Programme: Lessons from Graduation Pilot in Ethiopia. Working Paper. The Master Card Fundation and BRAC Development Institute. Disponible: http://www.microfinancegateway.org/sites/default/files/publication_files/pathway-out-of-psnp.pdf

Sengupta, A. 2012. Trickle up – Ultra Poor Programme. Qualitative Assessment of Sustainability of Programme Outcomes. The Master Card Fundation and BRAC Development Institute. Disponible en: http://www.microfinancegateway.org/sites/default/files/publication_files/trickle-up-up-program-final-qualitative-assessment.pdf

Moreno-Sánchez, R., Rodriguez C.A., Martinez, V., y Maldonado J. 2017. Historias de Vida-PxMF. Reporte Final. Parte I: Introducción. Documento Interno de Trabajo. Plataforma de Evaluación y Aprendizaje de los Programas de Graduación en América Latina. CEDE-Facultad de Economía, Universidad de los Andes.