Creating an Information-Healthy Society

On the way to establishing equal access to relevant information, opportunities, and choices

Naroa Zurutuza
A Complementary Basic Education class in Afuaminyi, Krachi-East District in the Volta Region.
UNICEF/UN0267107/E. Ademuyiwa
16 November 2016

We have been inspired by the work being done in nutrition, establishing certain data points like the number of calories a child needs per day, the type of calories that are important, and also standard ways to measure them. These data points help inform governments, policy makers and those in the developmental space to make informed decisions and allocate resources efficiently.

What if we could determine the minimum amount and type of Kilobytes a day a child should consume to be ‘information healthy’? We believe that if we can focus our efforts to establish some minimum standards around information quality and quantity that children need to consume (Kilobytes/day), we can build sustainable infrastructures and programmes, and make informed decisions for children to have equal access to relevant information, opportunities, and choices.

All children deserve access to fundamental information and education that will allow them to reach their full potential and provide them with the opportunities to navigate the world on a more  even playing field. As much as children need a minimum amount of nutrients to be healthy, they also need a minimum amount of information to avoid information poverty. But what does it mean to be information healthy?


Is it about the mode of access to education? 

Providing communities with connectivity has the potential to bring quality education to every child in the world. Information shared at an early stage around vaccines and basic health practises can also help prevent the infection and spread of preventable diseases, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and AIDS, that cause half of the world’s under-five deaths.

Children from the community of Pavia (Lara) during the implementation of Child Friendly Spaces.
UNICEF/Venezuela/Eduardo Párraga
Children from the community of Pavia (Lara) during the implementation of Child Friendly Spaces.

Is it also about the purpose of information? 

One of the roles of education and knowledge is to prepare adolescents for the workforce. Knowledge also has the potential to empower women by improving their skills and capabilities to become more competitive in the workforce and communities. Information about safe places to learn, and opportunities available to women that don’t offend cultural practices, could reduce gender inequality. If a child has the tools to know what to do when bullied, he or she could survive more encounters, and help others in turn. With access to technology, we can go so far as to improve financial inclusion and provide financial services in countries where most of the population has no access to banking systems.

These are just some of the many possibilities that if addressed, could help organizations, governments and local communities provide adequate access to information at the right age and stages in a child’s life. At UNICEF, we believe that every child has the right to be information healthy. To achieve this, we need to start by identifying what type of information and services are most needed, when, and where.

Information sources and channels illustrated by the diagram below include, markets, community boards, schools, newspapers, radio, TV, phone (text, voice), and the internet.

Information Poverty multidimensional system
UNICEF Innovation
Information Poverty multidimensional system

“States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.”

Article 17, Convention on the Rights of the Child

UNICEF is working on a solution – building a tool to measure a child’s access to information and help us identify information poverty globally.

With UNICEF’s strong belief that information provides opportunity, leads to choice, and creates better outcomes, the Information Poverty project aims to further identify:

  • The life stages at which children consider options and make decisions.
  • How knowledge and information affect these children’s choices and decisions.
  • The type of media/sources children use to search and access relevant information on areas such as health and education.
  • The factors and variables such as language, literacy, infrastructure, network coverage, socio-economic status, and how it affects children’s ability to access, search and use relevant information.

To be able to understand and validate the dynamics of information poverty within different contexts, we are conducting pilots and research activities in countries such as Brazil, Mozambique, Kenya, Liberia, Nicaragua. These pilots and in-country activities support UNICEF’s Principles of Innovation of designing with the user, building for sustainability, being data-driven and collaborative, and designing for scale. Let’s take a closer look at two such pilots.

Shanty-houses built on stilts line the edge of the city of Manaus, perching on the Amazon River.
UNICEF/Brazil/Jeff Perkell
Shanty-houses built on stilts line the edge of the city of Manaus, perching on the Amazon River.

Manaus, the disconnected community of the Amazonas

Manaus is the capital city of the Amazonas state in Brazil. With 2 million inhabitants – already half of the whole population of the Amazonas state – it is the 7th largest city in the country. However, unlike other big cities, Manaus lacks accessible roads – disconnecting the area from the other parts of the country and the rest of the world. The ‘only’ way to access Manaus is by plane or boat – unless you want to drive through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to finally reach Brazil. If Manaus is the state’s capital, imagine how disconnected the rest of the region is. It consists of remote, isolated villages that are spread across an area larger than France, Germany and Greece’s land mass combined. These villages are home to several indigenous communities – using boats as their means of transport. It takes a 9-day boat trip from Manaus to reach some of these communities. When the river is low, boats cannot go through, and people are unable to reach the nearest town.

These communities also live without a phone, radio and internet coverage. Children can only access information by going to school – if they are lucky enough to enroll – where they have very few materials, and limited qualified teachers. Thus, providing essential services like education and health to children in these isolated communities becomes extremely complicated and challenging.

In 2007, the Brazilian government developed an initiative to bring education to remote areas of the Amazonas. Harnessing the incredible and precise reach of satellites enabled the initiative to provide a few hours of connectivity and education for remote villages. On a daily basis, more than 60 teachers can access the newly-built Media Center, where they deliver lessons that are transmitted to these communities in real-time.  So this initiative reaches over 2000 communities and 45,000 children.

The CEMEAM is an example of a possible solution to reduce information poverty. This research is the first step towards building a tool that can scale and that can be applied in different use cases where there is a lack of information. Indeed, the results from our first Information Poverty model based on data from National Statistical agencies, show that information poverty is highly correlated with the Human Development Index as seen in the diagram below.

This research trip strengthens our work in information poverty – highlighting how important access to information is and how it can serve as a gateway to other essential services like education and health to children. Additionally, this trip showcased that even in the most remote, inaccessible areas in the world providing access to information is possible.

Indigenous girl living in informal settlement in Manaus, Amazonas
UNICEF Innovation
Indigenous girl living in informal settlement in Manaus, Amazonas
Students attending lessons via satellite in rural community, CEMEAM
UNICEF Innovation
Students attending lessons via satellite in rural community, CEMEAM
Information Poverty Model (left) and HDI index (right)
UNICEF Innovation
Information Poverty Model (left) and HDI index (right)

Zambézia, where isolated and rural communities annually consume an average of 8 hours of informational video content.

In Zambézia, the coastal province of Mozambique, the vaccination coverage is just 47% of the population. Despite the high malaria prevalence, only 32% own or use a mosquito net. Additionally, less than 25% of women have comprehensive knowledge about AIDS, and only 26% of the women are literate. Less than 50% of the population speak the official language of Portuguese – they speak such local languages as Chuwabu, Lomwe, Lolo, Sena and Cicewa. Only 12% of the households own a phone. Could these numbers be attributed or contributed to the degree of information poverty?

Media access in Mozambique – ‘Information deprivation, focus on the unreach’ report
Media access in Mozambique – ‘Information deprivation, focus on the unreach’ report from the UNICEF Mozambique Country Office


Through conversations with the colleagues from UNICEF Mozambique, we have learned that there are ‘information poor areas’ – like those communities living in isolated and rural areas in Zambézia. These communities are not able to receive essential content if it wasn’t for UNICEF supported Multimedia Mobile Units (MMUs) that visit these communities 4 times a year – delivering vital information about child rights, health and education. Operated by the ICS (Instituto de Comunicação Social), these MMUs are equipped with a video projector, a big projection screen, and educational material. However, due to financial and human resource constraints, children and families only receive 8 hours of vital video content per year.

This initial research will serve as motivation towards working on the Information Poverty pilot in Mozambique. Based on these preliminary results, we will conduct further research to understand better the dynamics of information poverty in the country and that will inform future data collection and analysis.

Children use logs as benches in a bare-bones classroom in Zambézia Province
Children use logs as benches in a bare-bones classroom in Zambézia Province

These two examples are already taking us a step closer to building a solution to information poor areas. At UNICEF we are developing a tool to measure a child’s access to information and identify Information Poverty, globally. We are building technology that will process hundreds of variables and signals from different data sources and combine them to apply Artificial Intelligence techniques to model the multi-dimensional measure of access to information and get actionable insights.

The tool will be able to tell us the maximum impact governments and corporate partners can have with a minimum amount of resources. It will help us advocate for every stage of a child’s life, putting necessary infrastructure and relevant content in the right place at the right time.

By measuring Information Poverty and combining it with UNICEF’s global reach and local partners, we will create a world where every child has access to information, opportunity and choice.



More information about InfopovertyDimensions, Methodology, Data Types

Dimensions of Information Poverty system

Availability Is the source/service/content available where the child lives?
Access If the source/service/content is available, can the child access it?
Usage If the source/service/content is available and the child has access to it, does he/she actually use it?
Resilience The more connections to other systems higher the resilience or ability to respond to and adapt to changes.
Relativity/Social graph Characteristics of the system relative to larger systems.
Content Is the content relevant – locally, globally -, timely and diverse?
Skills Has the child the ability to receive, share, search, generate information?


Information Poverty is a complex system and there is no single database that contains all the information above.

Therefore, our pilots will consist of three main phases:

  1. Qualitative research to understand the needs of vulnerable communities and the main channels that children and adolescents use when looking for relevant content and making decisions. Collect ground data.
  2. Data gathering from multiple, diverse sources. Partnerships with both local and global data providers such as Mobile Network Operator, Satellites, Social Media, programs and initiatives from ministries from local governments, initiatives and programs from UNICEF and other International Organizations.
  3. Combine the insights obtained during the qualitative research and the ground data with the rest of the sources and apply Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms to build a robust, reliable Information Povertymodel that: 
    • Quantifies the information poverty level of the child/community in each of the different dimensions.
    • Identifies the main barriers that are preventing the child/community from accessing relevant information.
    • Informs about the action that will have greatest impact with minimum cost as well as the necessary inputs – infrastructure and content.