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Research Project on New Methods for Data Collection, Analysis and Use

Research Project on New Methods for Data Collection, Analysis and Use:

Case Studies: Iraq and Uganda.

(A joint UNICEF-SIPA initiative)


“[W]e call on the UN, working with other global institutions, to establish an effective mechanism to monitor the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable.”

— G20 Communique

“The Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System will provide early information on how an exogenous shock is affecting the welfare of the most marginalized populations.”

— GIVAS Concept Note

While the Executive Office of the Secretary General at the United Nations works on the Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS), various UN agencies, keenly aware of the need for real-time monitoring systems, are working on defining strategies and systems for hearing from the most vulnerable.

UNICEF is working on several such projects, and both Iraq and Uganda will be national pilots for this groundbreaking work. The hope is that the lessons learned from these national engagements can be reflected at higher policy levels in the discussion and planning for efforts in the EOSG.


Very few people in the developed world need to be convinced that mobile phones have many and varied uses. What is less easily grasped is that – with creativity and application – they can be used to save the lives of children dying from malnutrition. Humanitarian work, almost by definition, takes place in some of the most difficult terrain – countries where physical infrastructure is damaged or non-existent, and where distance and slow communications can literally costs lives.

How can we hear the voices of the most vulnerable and allow their needs to be expressed? How does this sudden increase in speed of communication affect our policies and activities? How can we take initiatives that seem promising, in this arena, and bring them to global scale? What are similar systems – global in nature, sub-national in source – that have been taken to scale and what lessons have we learned? [ie. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) and the Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) are UNICEF-championed examples.]

The rise of mobile phone penetration and coverage, as well as increasing access to the internet, is beginning to make real-time data collection possible in areas where it was previously not an option. UNICEF is undertaking two national-scale projects (Iraq and Uganda) to collect data from various populations about key indicators and use that data to affect policy and programmatic changes that can improve the lives of children.

UNICEF is proposing that the UN Studies Program at SIPA, Columbia University, undertake a semester-long research project to assist in ideation of methodologies and thinking about projects for collecting and disseminating data using new technologies in Iraq and Uganda.

Because mobile phones and computers are allowing data from the field to be collected with tremendous speeds, there is a potential with this project to look at existing indicators in new lights, or look for new indicators entirely. Output from this project will be documentation on how and where this sort of data can be used effectively for planning and improved operations, and also methods of mobilizing interested governments or other stakeholders.

Examples of some thematic areas being explored:

This work can also include assessment of the following key indicators (but not limited to these) and particularly how technologies like text messaging can fundamentally change the nature of these indicators when they are collected in real-time:

  • Education: Attendance in schools, presence of water points, etc (Uganda)
  • Health: HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, provisioning of health information (Uganda) / Water cleanliness, nutritional status, health centre status (Iraq)
  • Logistics: Delivery of supplies, needs at distribution points (Uganda)
  • Protection: Reporting on incidents of violence i.e. child helpline (Iraq)
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