From 'What Happened?' to 'What's Happening?' Equity in Action Through Real Time Monitoring

20 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2015

Date Written: February 3, 2014


The use of real time monitoring (RTM) of key social services and socio-economic conditions is growing exponentially in rich and poor countries alike as a tool for better and faster decision-making. Service providers, development actors and civil society activists have recognised its potential for identifying emerging priorities, pinpointing bottlenecks in service delivery, increasing accountability and providing a voice for marginalised populations. UNICEF country offices are part of this trend, increasingly supporting initiatives that aim to harness the potential of RTM for children.

This report presents evidence and proposes ideas on how RTM can be utilised to advance social inclusion, equity and child rights. The information is the result of a UNICEF learning initiative which sought to better understand how RTM could make a difference for the most vulnerable. The learning initiative assessed selected UNICEF-supported RTM initiatives, conducted an extensive literature review related to RTM experiences and consulted with key practitioners both within UNICEF and beyond.

The main finding is that RTM is making a difference in the design of policies and programmes for children: empowering vulnerable populations, improving local planning and service delivery, strengthening crisis or emergency preparedness, and enhancing equity-focused policies, plans and budgets. Preliminary evidence also indicates that RTM is contributing to concrete results for children, including saving lives by improving supply chain management, preventing infant and maternal deaths by strengthening demand for health services, and providing better support to children who are most at risk of violence by speedier entry and sharing of case management information. Such RTM results occur when initiatives go beyond rapid data collection to speedy use and responsive action. Ensuring that RTM initiatives are guided by a systemic approach (e.g. paying attention to each of the distinct components that define effective RTM — data analysis, reporting and response capacity) is crucial to maximize the potential of future initiatives.

Suggested Citation

Chai, Jingqing and Cummins, Matthew, From 'What Happened?' to 'What's Happening?' Equity in Action Through Real Time Monitoring (February 3, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Jingqing Chai

UNICEF ( email )

P. O. Box 4884
New York, NY
United States

Matthew Cummins (Contact Author)

UNICEF ( email )

PO Box 44145
Nairobi, Nairobi 00100

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