Info Poverty

Computational Approach to measuring a child’s information health.

girl drawing on a paper


Inequitable distribution of information sources and content leads to a generation of children who are not able to access the ideal mix of information necessary for them to be successful in life.

These systemic challenges stem from lack of infrastructure (there are not enough mobile phone towers in a community), lack of appropriate content (kids in the Amazon don’t have ‘apples’ so it’s not a helpful learning object), and biases of ethnicity, belief, and culture. If we can quantify these gaps and inequalities, we can talk about them, and work with governments and education systems to address them.

Measuring a child’s information health.

1500 calories per day is enough for a child to be nutritionally healthy. How many kilobytes (and of what type) could provide us a measure of a child’s information health? What if we could determine the minimum amount and type of kilobytes a day a child should consume to be ‘information healthy’? UNICEF is motivated to determine and establish some minimum standards around information quality and quantity that children need to consume (kilobytes/day). Thus, we are building a framework to measure a child’s access to information.  We can then build sustainable infrastructures and programmes, and make informed decisions for children that will lead to equal access to relevant information, opportunities, and choices.

The work we do.

UNICEF is building an open source tool that will measure community and individual level information poverty and identify the main barriers, providing actionable insights to advocate for optimally positioned resources. For example, it can benefit children who live in remote communities in Amazonas and lack connectivity and qualified teachers by advocating for and supporting the planning of satellite-based education programs. In Mozambique, it could also serve as evidence to advocate for: the creation of content in local languages, the infrastructure necessary to access information through sources other than radio; the creation and dissemination of the right content at the appropriate stage of each child’s life, and country-level policies to improve affordability and accessibility.

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

A Closer Look:

How are we doing it? Information poverty is a complex system that depends on many variables and dimensions:

  • 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?
  • Relativity/Social graph: What’s the level of access to information of a child relative to the level of access of the people around him/her?
  • Content: Is the content relevant – locally, globally -, timely and diverse?
  • Skills: Has the child the ability to receive, share, search, create information and content?

To be able to understand and validate the dynamics of information poverty within different contexts, we are conducting pilots and research activities in several countries. 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 data from different sources to do quantitative analysis and build a robust, reliable Information poverty model 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.

Qualitative Research on Children’s Ability to Search, Access and Use Information in Mozambique

girl looking at camera

Despite strong economic performance, and two decades of peace and political stability, Mozambique remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Access to formal mass media remains quite low, especially in the rural areas and among women, limiting access to information critical for health and broader wellbeing. The illiteracy rate of 50% (and proficiency in the official language) further impedes access to knowledge, opportunities and informed choices.


  • What are the areas of children’s lives they can actually make decisions/choices on?
  • What are these decisions based on and which part of them relates to knowledge and information?
  • How and when do adolescents access time-sensitive and/or life-saving information?
  • How does access and usage to time-sensitive and/or life-saving information vary by geographic location, income quintile, literacy levels, gender and other variables?

To answer these questions and to test the hypothesis that information leads to opportunity, leads to choice, leads to better outcomes and better access to services such as education, health and other basic social services, UNICEF has conducted qualitative research in Mozambique.