How do we make the data revolution work for children?

Amina Mohammed, the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning participated as an ex-officio member in the Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.

She recently visited UNICEF as part of the Conversations with Thought Leaders series to discuss how to make the data revolution work for children. We caught her after the talk and she shared some insights on trends in the field of data and development, and on how to build the right capacities and secure resources to mobilize the data revolution for social good.

UNICEF: What are the trends in the field of data and development that excite you the most? What is the most promising part of that agenda?
Mohammed: The most promising part of the agenda for the data revolution is its accessibility and seeing how it can engage young people. Because I think that’s going to be really key for the future. The next 15 years are all about who is going to carry this agenda. It will be about who is going to use this information for the kind of planning that we need for scale; in order to be able to say “leave no one behind”; and to get real-time data back as we have never had before.

It’s these elements that will allow us to really use data in a way that makes the investments timely so we can save lives, and not think about it over five years but NOW. Those are the kind of things that technology can help with, in particular focusing on vulnerable groups.

So, for example, you’ll be able to go into my country, Nigeria, and go right down to the local government level and say this is where the children are; this is where the vulnerable groups are; this is where the orphans are because they’ve had to run across the border fleeing from conflict…This is the information that we can map with technology and communicate to identify where investments need to be made. I think this is really exciting.

UNICEF: And what are the main risks that you see associated with the data revolution? Are there any specific challenges that you’d like to draw our attention to?
Mohammed: I think the first challenge is bureaucracy – can we rise to the occasion knowing that we can no longer have business as usual? What we’ve done in the past was fine but it doesn’t work for today, or allow us the scale that we can potentially reach. So institutions have to really think differently; leadership has to be bold and courageous enough to know that they’ve got to partner, which doesn’t mean reducing their capacity or their power, but knowing that sharing will take us further.

The second thing is that we need the resources to make it happen. This is not going to be done on fresh air – it needs resources, different types of resources. How can we partner better to get there? It is not just about government providing money and financing for it, but it is about building the right capacities. It is one thing to collect the data and have this opportunity, it is another to use it. Can data literacy become part of school curricula? Can it be a part of the basic education that you get?

UNICEF: And where do you see UNICEF fitting into all of this?
Mohammed: One of the many ways UNICEF can contribute is by helping make the invisible visible through data. One illustration is on violence. UNICEF has been able to put the spotlight on what types of violence we’re talking about – with children, with women, in different constituencies and backgrounds – whether it is conflict or in the home or in the community.

How does that become something that’s mainstreamed? The zero tolerance for violence doesn’t mean that we make government responsible for no violence in a community but how communities and families say zero tolerance. We all know that in our communities we look the other way – it is sensitive, it is too close to home. But that’s where the zero has to start, and if it starts there the government then has to say that they’re going to reinforce the zero. But the starting point has to be at that community and family level and I think UNICEF has to help making it happen in communities so that they take ownership of both the good and the bad that we need to address.

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