Why Data for and about Children Needs Attention at the World Data Forum: The Vital Role of Partnerships
Stefaan Verhulst, Chief Research and Development Officer and Director of the Data Program
Eugenia Olliaro, Programme Specialist – Responsible Data for Children, UNICEF
Danzhen You, Chief of Demographics and Senior Adviser Statistics and Monitoring, UNICEF
Estrella Lajom, Statistics and Monitoring Specialist, IDAC Coordinator, UNICEF
Daniel Shephard, Missing Data Project Lead, NORRAG
March 28, 2023
Issues surrounding children and data are rarely given the thoughtful and dedicated attention they deserve. An increasingly large amount of data is being collected about children, often without a framework to determine whether those data are used responsibly. At the same time, even as the volume of data increases, there remain substantial areas of missing data when it comes to children. This is especially true for children on the move and those who have been marginalized by conflict, displacement, or environmental disasters. There is also a risk that patterns of data collection mirror existing forms of exclusion, thereby perpetuating inequalities that exist along, for example, dimensions of indigeneity and gender.
This year’s World Data Forum, to be held in Hangzhou, China, offers an opportunity to unpack these challenges and consider solutions, such as through new forms of partnerships. The Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) initiative offers one important model for such a partnership. Formed between The GovLab and UNICEF, the initiative seeks to produce guidance, tools, and leadership to support the responsible handling of data for and about children across the globe. It addresses the unique vulnerabilities that face children, identifying shortcomings in the existing data ecology and pointing toward some possible solutions.
The issues considered by RD4C are vital for data practitioners, and embody the conference’s theme of supporting innovation and partnership for better and more inclusive data. The initiative’s core principles, developed through field visits and rigorous desk research, emphasize the need for organizations to be participatory, engaging and informing those affected by data use, as well as people-centric, thereby ensuring the needs and rights of children, their caregivers, and their communities are prioritized by those handling data. RD4C also embodies the Summit’s call for building trust and ethics in data, urging organizations to be professionally accountable, prevent harm across the data lifecycle, and work to protect children’s rights. Through these principles, RD4C highlights and supports best practices around the world, develops tools to help practitioners operate ethically, and enables the use of data effectively in a manner that acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders within a data system.
The International Data Alliance for Children on the Move (IDAC), launched in 2020, offers another key model for partnership and innovation. It seeks to address the urgent data needs of one of the world’s most vulnerable groups of children – those who have migrated or been displaced. Worldwide, there exist an estimated 35.5 million international migrant children and 36.5 million children who have been displaced by conflict and violence. Many face severe risks and deprivation, yet are commonly missed in data collection efforts, and remain all but absent in social statistics. Reasons for these shortcomings include a lack of political will, a shortage of technical capacity and human and financial resources, and a failure of coordination across the national statistical system.
Through its cross-sectoral membership – representing UN agencies and other international organizations, NGOs, think tanks, academic experts, and member states – IDAC acts as a voice for these children. Guided by its joint Secretariat (UNICEF, IOM, UNHCR, OECD and Eurostat), IDAC provides a platform to gather all concerned stakeholders to discuss challenges and to co-create tools and public goods aimed at strengthening foundational data and social statistics on migrant and displaced populations. The initiative is driven by a conviction that the surest way to leave no child behind is through collective innovative data solutions, forged collaboratively among all stakeholders.
Partnerships are key to addressing these two education data gaps that are rooted in historical repression. Such partnerships should be led by affected communities themselves and engage stakeholders at all levels of the education system to address persistent gaps in data collection, use, and governance. For data on gender and education, the Accountability for Gender Equality in Education (AGEE) project is developing an innovative indicator framework for gender equality in education through a series of critical participatory discussions with youth advocacy groups, civil society organizations, academia, and government entities. These discussions have provided insight into what constitutes gender inequality in education in different contexts and what data should be prioritized. The AGEE project is led by a partnership between University College London’s Institute of Education, University of Kwazulu-Natal, University of Malawi, and the University of East Anglia. For data on education and indigenous peoples, Indigenous Peoples from multiple countries collectively developed the Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility, and Ethics (CARE) principles for good Indigenous Data Governance in 2019. Indigenous Data Governance and Sovereignty are foundational for addressing persistent gaps in education data for Indigenous Peoples. The enactment of such principles by indigenous leadership provides a path forward to ensure that data for the education of Indigenous children represents their worldviews, priorities, values, and cultures.
In conclusion, the importance of utilizing data for and about children responsibly cannot be overstated, and the World Data Forum plays a critical role in promoting this objective. Our session focused on “Data and Children: gaps, opportunities, and responsibilities (TA1.32, Tuesday, 25 April 2023 at 15.00) seeks to review progress made and focus on the crucial role partnerships play in enhancing the quality, availability, and use of data related to children. Such partnerships are essential for ensuring data is leveraged to address the complex challenges that children face, from poverty and malnutrition to lack of access to education and healthcare in a responsible and systematic way. Ultimately, the success of efforts to improve the lives of children worldwide hinges on the continued attention and investment in data-driven solutions, and events like the WDF are instrumental in advancing this crucial work.