Sharing data in the time of covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has democratized the use of data to inform people’s decisions and to help them make sense of the situation we find ourselves in. At the start of the pandemic, people watched aghast as crimson circles ballooned over a dark world map, displaying the power of dashboards to communicate and visualize information. This crisis moved the language of data from a select group of people – statisticians and researchers working behind the scenes to glean insights – into an expanded field of action, compelling people to track the toll of the virus while the media reported on its progression through the lens of data. As the numbers grew, they told the story of the pandemic – daily case counts soaring, total infections and deaths unfolding before a global audience. Elected officials with no prior experience in data found themselves referencing charts and maps before them, making data-driven policy decisions to chart the course ahead.

At UNICEF we’re leveraging our strongest resource – the data and what they tell us about the lives of children – to ensure that these decision-makers and their governments have access to timely information to place children at the heart of their response.

We built a dashboard from our global databases to answer key questions on children’s lives as a baseline for action: How many children lack soap and running water to wash their hands? Where are children beyond reach for remote learning? And how many risk falling into poverty? We uncovered how existing vulnerabilities could be exacerbated and published many analyses on groups like migrants and refugees, sharing them with decision-makers to show how the harmful impacts of the pandemic are not distributed equally. Our COVID-19 data hub offers a snapshot, synthesizing research and analyses on COVID-19 and children in an accessible format.

We worked with our colleagues in country offices to compile a rapid data dashboard to track measures taken by governments to contain the pandemic and the resounding socioeconomic impacts of these measures like the disruption of essential services. Our dashboard on government responses brings together information on COVID-19 measures alongside the population size and the number of children, child migrants and displaced children living in those countries to provide insights on the number of affected children.

We make all these data publicly available and open as a commitment to targeted, efficient global communication and so that our data can be triangulated with other data sources to yield additional insights. Our databases, including all of the child-focused Sustainable Development Goal indicators, are available via globally accessible, machine-readable, web-based data services, enhancing the transparency and auditability of our data. These standards enable the use and exchange of our data among international organizations and their member countries.

This year’s Virtual UN World Data Forum calls on us to support the world’s understanding and use of data. Throughout the pandemic, the international data community has been working swiftly to ensure that the unprecedented demand for data has been met with a timely supply. Now we have the space to learn from each other’s challenges and successes in this rapidly changing landscape. We must seize the opportunity to grow and build our work together while tapping into the rich ecosystem of various data sources and platforms that are fit for purpose. Our ultimate success will be measured by if these data and insights are turned into action and used for the benefit of children.

If our newfound global data culture is to persist beyond the pandemic, it will take a group effort that neither of us can accomplish individually. At this year’s World Data Forum, we must build on our partnerships and strengthen the social capital that has sustained us – the communities of analysts, researchers and partners, that we have worked with to produce and share statistical analyses. Our ability to stay connected remotely is built on the sense of collective we formed when we were together. These connections erode over time; they must be fortified if they are to withstand new challenges.

Moving forward, we must plan clearly and together, so that we can continue to share the critical insights and knowledge necessary for decision making. Because our investment in data is an investment in children for the realization of their full potential. The work we do now will impact children for generations to come.