Deploying open data tools and standards to support UNICEF global public indicators

February 26, 2019

What is open data? 

‘Open data’ refers to data that are freely available without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. The practice is derived from the larger concept of global public goods, where data is considered a ‘good’. In our contemporary context, where data-driven decision-making acts as a key driver in reaching desired outcomes, the ability to easily leverage relevant data is a basic requirement.

How are UNICEF data considered global public goods? 

Knowledge is a classic example of a global public good. As part of its mission to protect children’s rights and well-being, UNICEF designs, collects, analyses and publishes indicators on the state of children and women around the world. These data play a vital role in informing national, regional and global policy and programming decisions, while also directing international assistance.

What is required to make data truly ‘open’? 

While publicly sharing data in hard copy reports does in a sense make them open, the idea of open data movement seeks to go much further. The movement embodies an additional set of principles that work to maximize data’s utility. For data to be fully open, they must not only be public in a legal sense, but also easily accessible worldwide, structured using internationally-accepted classifications (such as ISO-3166 for countries), use non-proprietary file formats (such as JSON or CSV), be available via standards-compliant communication interfaces (such as SDMX-JSON), and include metadata making their lineage auditable.

What is UNICEF doing to make our data open? 

UNICEF’s Helix project, initiated by a catalytic fund from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has implemented public, web-based open data services that share our global public indicators on the state of children and women. These services use the UN (and most public agencies) preferred ISO data standard,  SDMX (Statistical Data and Metadata Exchange), together with internationally shared classifications to provide globally accessible data for public consumption.

How can I find and use UNICEF’s open data ?

UNICEF is the world’s leading source of data on children and maintains databases of hundreds of international valid and comparable indicators. With such a wealth of information available, the UNICEF Data Warehouse has been designed to allow easy access to those indicators across a range of countries,  with some datasets spanning back decades. The United Nations Inter agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME) database and website is using the same best practices open data standards.  

What about API’s? 

Any SDMX-aware client or library can access the REST JSON data services at: The convenient query constructor makes it easy to craft any custom query. In addition, the Excel  plugin can facilitate the creation of tables directly within Excel for users who prefer: