New Project: Data Collaboratives to Improve Children’s Lives

As public problems grow in complexity and increasingly require new insights, decision-makers both inside and outside government have begun exploring ways to be more data-driven and collaborative. Several of society’s greatest challenges—from addressing climate change to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals—require greater access to data, ability to analyze particular kinds of datasets, and collaboration between public- and private-sector entities.

However, much of the most useful, timely and comprehensive data resides with the private sector—in the form of, for instance, Web clicks, online purchases, market research, sensor data, and data generated from the use of mobile phones . With consumers connected to more and more platforms as well as the increasing prevalence of sensing technologies (i.e. the Internet of Things), data on how people and societies behave is becoming even more privately owned. Today, companies are exploring ways to make such  data available for the public good, as a form of corporate social responsibility – also, often called data philanthropy.

Today, the GovLab and UNICEF, in collaboration with the UN Global Pulse,  announce a new partnership to leverage the potential of private sector  data to improve children’s lives through the study and creation of “data collaboratives.” Data collaboratives are a new form of public-private partnership in which participants from different sectors — including private companies, research institutions, and government agencies — exchange data to help solve public problems. To accelerate solutions to the problems UNICEF works on and to bolster UNICEF’s efforts to become more open and data-driven, the GovLab will help UNICEF and the UN Global Pulse identify and craft data philanthropy collaborations with private sector companies in support of UNICEF’s mission.

Despite an increased awareness and experimentation in establishing data collaboratives, there exists little consensus about best practices, and only a provisional understanding of how, precisely, data can be shared and used to enhance the public good. In particular, companies and international organizations may still have limited knowledge about how to maximize the benefits of data sharing while minimizing its associated risks, such as potential threats to privacy and competition.

The 18-month initiative being launched today comprises a number of activities aimed at increasing insight on current data collaboratives practice, what works and what doesn’t, how to share data in a trusted manner using data governance frameworks, and what steps and conditions must be in place in order to ensure the exchange of value. In the coming weeks and months, the GovLab, UNICEF and the UN Global Pulse will collaboratively develop and share new resources and tools aimed at: mapping the current data collaboratives ecosystem, articulating policies and frameworks for responsibly sharing data for the public good, and helping practitioners operationalize this next generation of public-private partnership to solve big public problems, including but not limited to improving the lives of children around the world.