An initiative encouraging public and private sector organisations to share data, with the aim of improving the lives of children, has been launched by The Data Lab and UNICEF.  

The first project will address child obesity in Scotland. Over the last 10 years, the proportion of children aged 2 to 15 at risk of being overweight and obese has ranged between 29% and 33%.

UNICEF believes that solving some of the most complex problems affecting children around the world will require access to different data sets and expertise from diverse sectors.

It has developed in partnership with The Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the Omidyar Network.

DataCollaboratives encourages organisations from different sectors, including private companies, research institutions, government agencies and others, to exchange and share data to help solve pressing public problems

The platform is now being promoted in Scotland through UNICEF’s relationship The Data Lab. The two organisations are using the project on obesity as a proof of concept.

Once completed, they will work on delivering a Data Collaboratives hub in Scotland where data scientists and strategists will work on some of the most pressing problems facing children around the world, such as famine, the refugee crisis and the spread of diseases like Zika virus.

Jude McCorry, business development director at The Data Lab, one of Scotland’s innovation centres, said : “While there is evidence relating to economic conditions and weight of children, there are other factors where there is no firm evidence such as diet, advertising and level of exercise.

“We would like to collaborate with the owners of data sources like shopper data, TV adverts, online gaming, use of green spaces and school lunch suppliers through the Data Collaboratives platform.

“We want to use the data to predict, inform and then help families and organisations that play an influential role in our children’s lives. It’s about helping understand the real factors impacting obesity.”

The project also aims to look at the links between obesity and other health conditions and predict the treatment of these diseases into the future. The findings and outcomes from the initiative will be shared with other countries around the world.

Lucinda Rivers, head of UNICEF UK in Scotland, added: “This initial pilot collaborative project will not only help children in Scotland but the knowledge will be disseminated to UNICEF HQ in New York to support the work we do for children around the world.

“As well as data and expertise on the obesity challenge, we also welcome ideas on the resource, time and financial support that will be required to more clearly understand and therefore tackle Scotland’s child obesity problem.”

Roger Halliday, chief data officer at the Scottish Government, said: “The Scottish Data community has a fantastic ‘can do attitude’ and comes together regularly at events such as hackathons – particularly when they know their skills can do societal good.

“Using public and private data to understand and solve these challenges will be good for Scotland.”