Developing UNICEF’s Data Strategy

In the sprawling urban settlement, a young mother deftly shells beans while answering survey questions and keeping an eye on her toddler.

300 kilometres outside the capital, a community health worker hits send on her mobile phone and an SMS transmits her day’s vaccination numbers to the Ministry of Health.

36,000 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, satellites beam back detailed images of the devastation wrought by a new earthquake.

Each of these actions generates data with the potential to impact children’s lives. Those data – once collected, analysed, and translated into actionable information – can help decision makers determine where new schools will be needed, when new vaccines should be dispatched, or which villages need life-saving support first. They can tell leaders which children are thriving and which are being left behind.

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The potential of data to inform and improve decisions for children is clear. In a world of proliferating data options, however, the most strategic choices for collecting, analysing, and utilising data are not always obvious.

Ready to tackle this challenge, nearly 40 UNICEF staff members from around the world gathered in Nairobi last week to help identify areas of strategic investment and opportunity for UNICEF data work. The group, part of a global consultation process on UNICEF’s data for children strategy, spent three days grappling with the different audiences, tools, and purposes for data throughout UNICEF work. Over the course of the consultation, more than a dozen presentations highlighted examples of countries engaging in ground-breaking data work. Success stories ranged from using big data analytics in Brazil to map risk areas for Zika  to using data for advocacy to help outlaw child marriage in Zimbabwe. Using old and new methods, UNICEF offices are supporting countries in every region with demonstrating the power of data – and effective advocacy based on it – to impact children’s lives.

At the end of the consultation, it was clear that there is both a great deal of consensus on priorities for data within UNICEF as well as a great deal of work still to be done to improve coordination and knowledge sharing across the organisation. In the coming months, the UNICEF Division of Data, Research, and Policy will flesh out both the work to be done and the consensus areas in a data for children strategy and a global action plan for rolling it out.

Ultimately – whether data originate at a local health centre or at 36,000 above earth – data work in UNICEF will always be about getting the right information into the right hands at the right time to influence decisions for children.

Emily Garin is a policy specialist in the Division of Data, Research, and Policy. She got her start with UNICEF in the Liberia Country Office and is now based in New York.

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  1. Collecting quality data and information is fundamental in Evaluation. Also, over time, importance has been given the role of culture because its comprehension helps tell a more complete story of what is happening to and with program participants. Developmental specialists and evaluators are called to operate in a way that reflects the historical, social, cultural, political and economic contexts of people while planning, developing and implementing programs as well as monitoring, evaluating and disseminating results. Recognizing and understanding the cultural context allows specialists to address precise questions, collect quality data from the right people and places, draw valid and meaningful conclusions and yield results in formats that are both relevant and useful to stakeholders.

    In my working experience in Nairobi (Kenya), I have been living in an orphanage with locals assuming the role of an empowerment evaluator, creating empathy and enhancing participation. For example, I have been joining women’ activities such as: cleaning and cutting vegetables, preparing food, washing clothes, and collecting water. This way, I have become a critical friend for the entire community that has even invited me to attend traditional celebrations and events. The close interaction has smoothed the communication and facilitated trust and capacity building. At the same time, I have been able to understand more about their culture and social and human dynamics and put everything in perspective while assessing the effectiveness and impact of the operations undertaken.

    Directly experiencing the context where a developmental activity is taking place helps facilitate the process and ensure sustainability because communities get ownership of the work. My approach has allowed me to conduct interviews to a sample of children as well as their families in a friendly way. And the efforts to create empathy with the people have made children feel comfortable in explaining the real conditions experienced at home. Later, I have recorded data through interviewing teachers, program managers and other stakeholders involved in the program. Finally, I have prepared an evaluation report.

    Overall, I have experienced a lack of coordination and knowledge sharing; therefore it has been my priority to suggest a series of educational exercises to improve the program. I strongly believe that dialogue and participation are needed for any kind of development in every society, especially because it is no more possible talking about ‘melting pot’ but ‘mosaic’ countries where everybody depends on everybody else and all together play on the same, globalized ground where cross-cutting issues are more and more interconnected to each other. This approach could also be applied in developed countries like the United States where people of color are growing at a faster rate than the Caucasian population and pretty soon this will inevitably influence how culture and diversity are approached over the next decades.

    Thank you for providing evidence through data and information.

    Warm regards, Laura Gagliardone