Tutorials on Responsible Data for Children (RD4C)

By Marine Ragnet

In April, the RD4C — a collaboration by UNICEF and The GovLab — hosted a series of tutorials to support UNICEF staff in operationalizing RD4C principles and implementing RD4C tools in ways that built on lessons learned from UNICEF and partners.

Led by UNICEF’s Eugenia Olliaro and The Govlab’s Andrew Young, Andrew J. Zahuranec and Marine Ragnet, the two-hour talk brought together UNICEF staff from different parts of the world to learn how they could realize the principles in the areas they work. It then sought to understand possible challenges, gaps, risks, and lingering questions on responsible data for children that UNICEF staff might have encountered in their countries and regions.

The event began with an introduction by Mark Hereward, Chief Data Officer at UNICEF, on the need for strengthened governance of data.

Following these overviews, Andrew Young and Eugenia Olliaro explained what each RD4C principle means, demonstrating their application in practice through real-life examples from the field. Andrew J. Zahuranec and Marine Ragnet, meanwhile, presented tools that could be used to enforce the principles. The session dove into each principle in detail:

  • The participatory principle involves engaging and informing individuals and groups affected by the use of data for and about children. The team discussed how InForm, an Open Data Kit-based data collection and management tool, illustrated the principle in practice. The tool centralizes dispersed data streams, secures collected data in a common platform, and enables data analysis and visualization. InForm illustrates the participatory principle because any deployment requires connecting disparate sources held by various parties. It calls on agencies to work together to ingest and centralize many data sources instead of having them engage only with their own data systems and data collection processes.
  • A professionally accountable initiative would operationalize responsible data practices and principles by establishing institutional processes, roles, and responsibilities. For example, Afghanistan’s Nutrition Online Database was a web-based information system providing access to aggregated nutrition data to inform planning and service delivery at the national, provincial, and zonal level. Afghanistan and partners provided training to data users to more effectively monitor conditions. Administrators also received manuals with guidance on how to avoid unauthorized access.
  • A people-centric approach is also one that incorporates responsibility by ensuring the needs and expectations of children, their caregivers, and their communities are prioritized by actors handling data for and about them. To demonstrate it in practice, the team used the example of the Aurora Project, a child-protection platform developed by UNICEF Romania with partners. The program was people-centric because its components were crafted in recognition of the influence and importance of not just a child’s experience and needs but also that of their caregivers.
  • Prevention of harms across data lifecycles: Establishing end-to-end data responsibility by assessing risks during the collecting, storing, preparing, sharing, analyzing, and using stages of the data life cycle. UNICEF’s MICS, a series of surveys launched to monitor the status of children around the world, served as a use case for this principle. The MICS team emphasized that ensuring the security of the data was paramount. During survey collecting, they discussed how data collected in the field undergoes rigid checks for quality during the interview process — checking and cross-checking data across the interview.
  • Proportional: Aligning the breadth of data collection and duration of data retention with the intended purpose. This was illustrated through the Childline Kenya case study, a helpline offering services for children subjected to violence or neglect. The Childline case study was considered because the start of each call, the counselor informs the caller that while the discussion will be recorded, all information provided will remain confidential, accessible only by case management personnel, unless it needs to be shared with service providers for a specific, authorized referral.
  • Being protective of children’s rights in programming entails recognizing the distinct rights and requirements for helping children develop to their full potential. Childline Kenya was again used as a use-case to illustrate this principle. The Childline Kenya program installed specific requirements such as letting only approved staff members have the necessary digital credentials for accessing, changing, or printing certain case records and creating an audit trail when a user edits, deletes, or prints a client record — but not when a user only accesses the record.
  • Leading a purpose-driven initiative entails identifying and specifying why the data is needed and how the intended or potential benefits relate to improving children’s lives. InForm provides a good example for it because the program was developed with a “user-centric design approach” to ensure that the tool would be useful for compiling and visualizing data. This fact is evident not only from the platform’s origins, which sought to respond to a clear, pressing need to compile data, but to the way UNICEF sought to respond to that need.

The session then included reflections from the field with Mac Glovinsky at the Learning Passport. Mac discussed his experiences with Responsible Data for Children and how it had helped advance his work. He spoke to how the RD4C principles could be realized in the field, honing in on some of the success and challenges encountered.

The second part of the session was not recorded, to give UNICEF staff the opportunity to add to the conversation by exchanging on their respective experiences with RD4C in the field. During breakout sessions, participants shared present and past work with each other, discussed the challenges they faced, and posed questions to the RD4C team. This input will inform RD4C work and future training programmes as it enters its third year of operation.

UNICEF field offices interested in sharing their experience and learning, can contact the RD4C team to be featured in a blog post. Please contact us at rd4c@thegovlab.org. For those of you who would like to view the tutorials, a recording is now available on our YouTube page.

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Responsible Data Leadership to Address the Challenges of the 21st Century

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