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What’s the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF all about?

Blog by Alex Hutchison, Delivery Director of the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF – based at The Data Lab.

My name is Alex and I have now been the “Delivery Director of the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF” for over six months, which is nearly enough time to have learnt to say my full job title without a pause.

I am on secondment from RBS for a year and my remit is to get the Data for Children Collaborative off the ground and delivering projects which have a real impact on children’s lives – a very exciting challenge, I’m sure you would agree. And quite a change from my role at RBS leading the Finance function’s Data Management team.

So, what’s the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF all about?

From the initial kernel of an idea over two years ago, we have now launched this initiative which sees UNICEF, The Scottish Government and the University of Edinburgh joining forces to look at innovative ways to solve childhood issues across the globe, using data and data science – all hosted at The Data Lab. What that means in practice is that we can leverage expertise from each of the partner organisations, to try and address existing problems through a data lens.

This Collaborative will deliver a portfolio of projects across a range of topics with a priority focus initially on Obesity, Poverty and Population Dynamics. What makes the Collaborative different is the strength of the triumvirate. This partnership gives us real opportunities to ensure that projects provide; high quality, evidence based insights; actionable insight that can influence policy or practice; and people on the ground to implement the changes needed to make a difference to children’s lives.

What kind of projects are we talking?

There were many reasons behind UNICEF wanting to base this data science focused initiative in Scotland, one of which being the high quality and tightly controlled health data that NHS Scotland holds. With obesity featuring as one of our first focus areas, we have a working group set up with membership from the three partner organisations where we discuss potential project proposals to put forward to our governance bodies.

One proposal that is being worked up is the potential to link some of the aforementioned high quality NHS Scotland data to private sector data to gain further understanding to the obesity epidemic. We have recently held a roundtable discussion on supermarket data to understand what sort of data is available, what the challenges are around the data, and what potential there might be to link it to health data to see the impact of consumer purchasing decisions on obesity levels.

This is where the Collaborative will look to partner with more organisations (private sector, public sector, third sector and other academic institutions) to broaden the variety of data that is being used to look at these questions. The breadth of data sources that we could look at ranges from satellite imagery data to telephone call record data to social media data.

Children and Data – sounds like the perfect ethical storm

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to working on projects relating to children. And there’s a lot to think about when it comes to working on projects relating to data. So when we are combining these two fields we need to set up a robust framework to deliver these projects. This framework includes clear and transparent governance, an ethical assessment for each project and safeguarding training for anyone involved with the Collaborative. Luckily we have the expertise of three large organisations who can all support and advise from their pool of resources to ensure that the Collaborative is being established in the right way, to deliver projects in the right way.

Interested in learning more?

If you are keen to find out more about the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF, or support in some way (do you have data that may help us solve any childhood issues?!) then get in touch via our website:

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