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Responsible Data for Children in Abu Dhabi: Responsible integrated data systems in early childhood development

The Responsible Data for Children Initiative reflects on a recent event in Abu Dhabi with the Early Childhood Authority.

Posted on 29th of November 2022 by Eugenia Olliaro

On 15 November, the Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) team participated in the Abu Dhabi Child Data Symposium 2022 organised by Abu Dhabi’s Early Childhood Authority (ECA). ECA has used the RD4C resources to ensure their integrated data system handles early childhood development (ECD) data responsibly. 

In many ways, life is a story and early childhood sets its tone. It is an essential first chapter in a powerful book, one critical to providing strong and equal foundations to children's lives. 

Ensuring every child has the best possible start in life, however, entails understanding a child as a whole. To do so, ECD actors from sectors such as health, education, nutrition and child protection need to bring together all the pieces of information they have on a specific child's overall growth, development and well-being, regardless of the services they receive. Once these bits of data are integrated responsibly, data has the potential to generate actionable insights on children's needs and drive targeted public interventions. 

It is in this spirit that ECA has recently launched the Abu Dhabi Child Insights System Program. With the cross-sectoral data obtained, ECA seeks to generate two types of insights: 

  • macro-level insights to understand state-wide ECD challenges and develop informed policies for the Emirate; and
  • micro-level targeted insights identifying children in need and enhancing the day-to-day support offered by practitioners.  

With this two-pronged approach, ECA hopes to maximise the use of data and optimise child development and wellbeing.

Because integrated data systems allow the collection, processing, sharing, analysis, and use of information from many ECD programmes, they can generate risks to the children whose data has been captured. Even if aggregated and anonymised, data can pose risks related to the re-identification of children (mosaic theory), or to demographic and group privacy. ECA has used the RD4C resources to design the Child Insights System responsibly, in alignment with the RD4C principles, to ensure the interests of the child are prioritised and the risks of using their data are mitigated. 

In particular, the Child Insights System is participatory and professionally accountable: 

  • The Child Insights System aggregates multiple administrative data sets and involves key government agencies. These actors jointly assess the trends and act upon the outcomes with coordinated measures. This participatory approach ensures that all relevant actors receive the same insights and are aligned on how to enhance children's well-being. 
  • Access is limited to accredited users on the basis of criteria such as the user's documented experience of handling sensitive data; or the user's completion of Government credentials on data governance. Access is also reviewed and revoked on a needs basis. By developing clearance mechanisms and hands-on training, ECA relies on responsible and professionally accountable practices.

To design its own responsible ecosystem, ECA also aims to learn from international ECD examples. The insightful examples from Children’s Data Network (USA), Centre for Social Data Analytics (New Zealand) and Allegheny County's Department of Human Services (USA), showed how integrated administrative data systems can be built responsibly and how their insights can be leveraged to inform decision-making at programme and policy levels. 

In the next months, the RD4C team will conduct an assessment of ECA’s best practices and release a RD4C case study. The emerging collaboration between ECA and RD4C is an opportunity to shed light on government-led RD4C practices in the region and on the importance of responsible data systems from the early stages of life.


[Image credit: Piero Olliaro]

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