Unlocking results for children with data

Each morning, we know the official schedule for the carpool to the office. We listen to the weather report on the radio. We read the menu at our favorite restaurant. But we don’t just rely on these formal sources of information. We also look down the road to check for traffic. We glance out the window to see if clouds are gathering.

Without even thinking, we take multiple sources of information and put them together to improve our decisions – we’re integrating data. This seamless behavior for individual people is exactly what UNICEF needs to replicate at a much larger scale when it comes to data for children.

We know that the world has more potential than ever before to generate data about children. Our task is to bring that information together, sift through it, and turn it into data for children. Ultimately, this means getting the right data into the right hands at the right time to inform the right kind of decisions for children and about children.

This task is what brought more than 200 participants to UNICEF house on Friday, 11 September for the first Data for Children Forum. UNICEF colleagues were joined by other UN staff, private sector and donor representatives, and government and civil society counterparts from around the world. The event was co-convened by the governments of Mexico, Kenya, and the United States, the UN DESA Statistics Division and UNICEF.

The Forum was officially opened by UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, who emphasized that collecting and using data is not only about counting and being counted but also about giving a greater voice for the marginalized and the democratization of development. Over the course of a packed day, there were dynamic presentations about experiences in bringing data into decision making for children at the neighborhood, state, national or even global level. Participants from as far away as Afghanistan and China joined the conversation by asking – and voting for – questions through interactive web-based tools. Social media was buzzing with updates and tweets all day.

The event was capped off by a keynote speech from Hans Rosling, whose ground-breaking work has brought data to life through the gapminder.org website. Presentations and panel discussions are available on the event’s YouTube playlist.

While the presentations came from across the spectrum of data generators, analyzers and users, from low, middle and high-income countries, and from both development and humanitarian contexts, several common themes emerged over the course of the day:

  • Data from multiple sources can and should be brought together systematically to provide a continuum of information about children to inform decision making;
  • New data opportunities can also create new data challenges, including privacy concerns and the difficulties of expectations management;
  • Partnerships and innovation (new tools, technologies, topics) are critical to leverage the potential of different data ecosystems to improve the lives of children; and
  • Data aren’t just about or even for children – they can also come from children – and our approaches should also draw on the capacities of children and youth.
  • Additional resources need to be mobilized to overcome inequalities between data-poor and data-rich people and developed and developing countries.

As UNICEF moves forward in developing its next generation data for children strategy, the insights and lessons offered by the day’s speakers will figure prominently in our discussions. We know the process will be more complicated than deciding whether to call a taxi or wear rain boots, but we know we can build on the collective wisdom of the forum’s participants and our own experience to bring data together and improving decision making that will drive results for children.

Yoka Brandt is a UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.

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