How to strengthen your message with data

Two young women look at a mobile phone together

Leaders around the world make promises every day to turn the tide on the injustices in our society. They commit to changes for the fairer treatment of every child, be it the right to go to school or the right to a healthy childhood, by partaking in agreements like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).    

But how do we hold leaders accountable for their promises? Are we on track to meet the SDGs? How do we know?  

Where can we look for evidence rather than just trusting words?  

Data can help. Data have great power: they tell us where we’ve started, how much we’ve achieved and how far we still have left to go to reach the finish line.


So what are data? 

Data refer to information collected around a specific subject to provide reference or enable analysis. While the terms “data” and “statistics” are often used interchangeably, data refer to the raw numbers, while statistics provide you with a quick analysis such as a summary or interpretation of the data. 

UNICEF works with countries around the world to analyze information about different topics that span child’s rights – the number of newborns that die each year; the number of adolescents married before becoming adults ­­– to better understand the scope and scale of problems we aim to solve. Data are generated from many different sources, including surveys conducted among households as well as surveys conducted by governments themselves, which inform not only UNICEF programming but the wide field of stakeholders involved in protecting children’s rights.


What can you use data for? 

Are you trying to convince someone of your perspective, like supporting the rights of children with disabilities or investing in girls’ education? Data lend authority and credibility, making your argument more persuasive. They provide valuable evidence when your aim is to influence policies and action.  

Data paint a picture of the world that we can’t always see ourselves. They tell us about the environments in which people live and whether services reach or fail to reach them. They show us who is thriving and who is being left behind. Data provide a voice to the uncounted and represent the invisible.

Where do you find it? 

UNICEF maintains the most up-to-date information on the status of children and women spanning areas such as education, nutrition and child survival. This includes data that governments collect, called administrative data, as well as data from household surveys and other sources. Your hub for this essential information is  

The narrative text on the site will help you make sense of the numbers by providing an overview of the current status of an issue, where in the world it’s most concentrated and what progress has looked like over time.  UNICEF is constantly adding new information to, so check back frequently to keep up on the topic you’re researching or advocating for. 

Other places to find data: 


How do you make the most of data?

Once you have the information you need, how do you package it? You can use different tools to present data in an effective way.  

  • Visualizing data in the form of charts and graphs helps communicate key points and make the numbers more accessible to a wider audience.  A graph can be a direct, easy way to tell a story.

    • Use tools like Excel and Infogram to visualize and animate your data.

    • Use colors in a meaningful way. For example, light colors can be used to show low values while dark colors can be used to show higher values. Meanwhile, if you’re trying to illustrate qualitative things that aren't comparable in magnitude, you can use contrasting primary colors so that users don’t automatically infer relationships. Gray is often used for missing values and red can have a negative connotation. 

    • Use different charts to convey ideas. For example: pie charts are great for showing part-to-whole relationships, line charts are great for showing changes over time and bar and column charts are good for showing relative differences through size comparisons. 

  • If you’re writing a blog post or a news story, consider including a chart or graph as your brain can often process images more readily than written words. 

  • Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow you to quickly spread the word about the scope of your issue and ‘wow’ your audience with the numbers. 

When we tell stories backed by hard, compelling facts, our issues become clearer in the audience’s mind. Data can strengthen our voices and provide a powerful tool to deepen the effectiveness of our words. 


Remember, that whenever you use data, statistics or facts in your blogs or videos, you should make it clear what the source is. Always try to trace the data back to the primary source and make sure that your sources are reputable and trustworthy!