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Nairobi, 29 April 2016: Developing UNICEF’s data strategy

By Emily Garin

© UNICEF/UNI173464/Schermbrucker
A community health worker sits in the clinic and uploads results for patients via SMS technology Ngabu Clinic, Malawi.

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.

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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