Case Study: Youth Workforce Development in Nicaragua


In Nicaragua, 65% of the unemployed are under 30. Services provided by training institutions, employment agencies, and other workforce development actors are only weakly aligned with the demands of employers and job-seekers, and there is little apparent collaboration among them. It was on this basis that LINC was asked by USAID to help to design a new youth workforce development project in Nicaragua. Despite being aware of the major gaps between supply and demand, information was nonetheless very limited on specific actors and leverage points, essential ingredients to well-informed design.

This provided the scope for application of LINC’s Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) tool to assess existing relationships and identify opportunities for youth workforce development network strengthening. Throughout the spring and summer of 2015, LINC undertook a network analysis of 131 actors in Nicaragua’s youth workforce development sector, identifying 506 unique organizations and 1,248 partnerships. The findings provided clear, actionable design insights to USAID and other donors, a roadmap to relationships in the sector.


LINC took a deliberate approach to the Nicaragua research, ensuring that the network analysis was framed-up within current workforce development thinking and would result in clear observations and actionable recommendations that could be designed-into new donor-supported projects.

Assess research feasibility

First, LINC focused on identifying data sources, collection methods and research objectives. LINC opted for a snowball (nomination) method to data collection, given that we were not able to pre-identify all actors in the network. Our research objectives were three-fold:

  1. Address critical WfD program design information needs;
  2. Assess specific functions within the WfD system; and
  3. Provide comparative insight.

Develop a Theory of Change

Linking the research to a theory of change enhances prospects for actionable recommendations. Borrowing from the World Banks SABER working paper series, our research was couched within well-established thinking related to coordination, information and relationships (the very core of network analysis). Specifically, “alignment of skills demand and skills supply is central to a well-functioning WfD system. In systems where the match is good, significant benefits can accrue in the form of a dynamic and productive workforce, and higher rates of employment and labor utilization.”

Define the network and relationship question

Networks are often informal, and need to be defined in advance. Ultimately we focused on a goal-based definition overlayed with some specific parameters, asking respondents the following network question: “Please list the organizations / institutions / companies that support workforce development with which your organization has had a relationship with during the past 12 months.”

Design questionnaire to capture learning objectives

As there is no opportunity for a re-do once the census has been completed, it is important to think carefully about both respondent (node) and relationship (edge) attributes to be collected. In our case this prominently included:

  • functional groupings of actors (e.g. association, government, union, etc)
  • demographics (# of employees, women-led, etc.)
  • subnetworks (e.g. agriculture, construction, tourism)

To view the actual questionnaire, see Annex B of the final report here:

Implement census and analyze results

In the case of this study, data collection was done through traditional in-person enumeration. This was the most time-consuming part of the process, requiring 2 full-time equivalent enumerators and 1 supervisor / cleaner over the course of 2-3 months. Analysis was conducted by a four-person team in iteration and soliciting feedback through presentation events over the course of the final two months.

For a more detailed presentation of the Nicaragua study’s methods and results, please visit:


The network analysis captured several previously uncovered insights, important for design of new programs and strategies. If you wish to explore the map, please visit: Some of the more salient findings concerned NGOs, Donors and Employment Agencies, including:


NGOs are plentiful and entrepreneurial partners in the workforce development space, but constrained by a lack of power and influence, making them less suitable for leadership of advocacy initiatives.


Among all organization types, donors are the most highly engaged and central to the network, introducing questions as to the extent to which they should directly intervene in the system rather than playing a more facilitative role.

Employers and Educators

Major gaps exist linking graduates of training institutes to employers and employment agencies, serving as impetus for workforce development programming to link these actors.


As a single iteration network analysis, the information collected on actors and their relationships in this study is a snapshot in time. This means that until we go back and re-survey the exact same actors, we are unable to assess changes in the network, and thus utilize the study for monitoring or evaluative purposes.

Nonetheless, the study was designed to inform future workforce development programming / strategy, and has met with significant uptake in that regard. Most tangibly, USAID utilized the findings from this study in their design of a new youth workforce development program in the Fall of 2015. Beyond this, a group of donors in Nicaragua came together soon after the completion of our study to review its findings, with particular attention to the report’s observations on donor involvement in the sector, and specific recommendation to play more of a facilitative role in the network. While feedback from this group has been anecdotal, we understand that a number of these recommendation have been incorporated into donor strategies, particularly those of LuxDev and SDC.

Next, we have been encouraged that the Nicaragua Network Analysis has generated quite a lot of interest and utilization in the broader development community. We attribute this to a number of factors, including the quality of the study and its early application. Nonetheless, we can also point to some specific measures taken by LINC to encourage participation and learning. This included presentation and feedback events with various stakeholders both in Washington and Managua before, during and after the study. Further, we have been diligent in posting the findings of our research, detailed presentations and reports, available for review and download on the LINC website here:

Lastly, we have been encouraged by the interest that the study has generated on the part of respondents themselves. These are actors in the network interested in learning more about their own place in the network, and facilitating more relationships within it. Results presentation events that LINC conducted in Managua were attended by approximately forty network actors, some of which were interested in commissioning LINC to conduct more detailed analyses of their own networks. We see this as a promising development, indicative of local buy-in, and perhaps future replication.