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Daniel Kardefelt Winther

Research Specialist (Digital)

Daniel Kardefelt-Winther leads UNICEF’s research programme on Children and Digital Technologies, at the Office of Research. He works at the intersection of child rights and digital technology and has several years of experience in designing, implementing and managing cross-national comparative evidence generation projects involving children and adults. In his role at UNICEF, Daniel manages the Global Kids Online and Disrupting Harm projects, generating evidence with children in more than 30 low-middle income countries. His work involves developing new research methodologies to study how digital technology impacts children’s lives, manage project implementation, conduct data analysis and support researcher training, government engagement and research uptake. He also supports UNICEF offices around the world with research expertise, training, knowledge management and capacity building initiatives, working alongside national governments and researcher partners. Daniel holds degrees in Computer Science (BSc) and Psychology (BSc) from Stockholm University, as well as in Management (MSc) and Media & Communications (PhD) from the London School of Economics. He also holds a post-doctoral research position in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute.

Publications

Disrupting Harm in Namibia: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse
Publication

Disrupting Harm in Namibia: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse

Funded by the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, through its Safe Online initiative, ECPAT, INTERPOL, and UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti worked in partnership to design and implement Disrupting Harm – a research project on online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA). This unique partnership brings a multidisciplinary approach to a complex issue in order to see all sides of the problem. OCSEA refers to situations that involve digital or communication technologies at some point during the continuum of abuse or exploitation; it can occur fully online or through a mix of online and in-person interactions between offenders and children. The Disrupting Harm research was conducted in six Southeast Asian countries and seven Eastern and Southern African countries, including Namibia. Data were synthesised from nine different research activities to generate each national report which tells the story of the threat, and presents clear recommendations for action.
Estimates of internet access for children in Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania
Publication

Estimates of internet access for children in Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed internet connectivity from an important asset to an essential piece of infrastructure. Yet two thirds of the world’s school-aged children still have no fixed internet connection at home. This lack of connectivity limits their ability to go online; prevents them from participating and competing in the modern economy; and risks isolating them from the world. This research brief presents new data on children’s internet access in five countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. It provides estimates of the frequency with which children use the internet and assesses the most common barriers they face. Finally, it explores the potential consequences of leaving these bottlenecks unaddressed.
Disrupting Harm in The Philippines: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse
Publication

Disrupting Harm in The Philippines: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse

Funded by the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, through its Safe Online initiative, ECPAT, INTERPOL, and UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti worked in partnership to design and implement Disrupting Harm – a research project on online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA). This unique partnership brings a multidisciplinary approach to a complex issue in order to see all sides of the problem. OCSEA refers to situations that involve digital or communication technologies at some point during the continuum of abuse or exploitation; it can occur fully online or through a mix of online and in-person interactions between offenders and children. The Disrupting Harm research was conducted in six Southeast Asian countries, including The Philippines, and seven Eastern and Southern African countries. Data were synthesised from nine different research activities to generate each national report which tells the story of the threat, and presents clear recommendations for action.
Disrupting Harm in Viet Nam: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse
Publication

Disrupting Harm in Viet Nam: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse

Funded by the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, through its Safe Online initiative, ECPAT, INTERPOL, and UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti worked in partnership to design and implement Disrupting Harm – a research project on online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA). This unique partnership brings a multidisciplinary approach to a complex issue in order to see all sides of the problem. OCSEA refers to situations that involve digital or communication technologies at some point during the continuum of abuse or exploitation; it can occur fully online or through a mix of online and in-person interactions between offenders and children. The Disrupting Harm research was conducted in six Southeast Asian countries, including Viet Nam, and seven Eastern and Southern African countries. Data were synthesised from nine different research activities to generate each national report which tells the story of the threat, and presents clear recommendations for action.

Blogs

Responding to screen time concerns: A children’s rights approach
Blog

Responding to screen time concerns: A children’s rights approach

Over the past decade there has been escalating concern that the time children spend using digital technology might be harmful. Calls have been made to protect children by restricting the amount of time they spend in front of digital screens. But recently there has been a change in tune, following research showing that the effects of screen time on children may be too small to warrant such restrictions.In other words, we don’t have enough evidence to inform policy on child screen time. These views were echoed in an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people by the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee. They highlighted methodological and practical issues with existing research, such as misinterpreting small effect sizes and focusing on statistically significant rather than meaningful effects. Similar concerns were reported by UNICEF Innocenti in an evidence review from 2017, which called for an improved research agenda in this field.Young people finding amusement online in Dili, Timor-Leste.As expressed in a report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, the pleasure children derive from digital technology is often seen in a negative light by adults; even though they would agree that digital technology is important for living a full life and developing one’s potential. Rigid screen time rules may have deprived countless of children of freedom to pursue their interests in a digital world. Parents have been put in the role of policing rather than coaching children’s digital engagement.Children have an extraordinary capacity to learn and develop when motivated by genuine interest and provided the right opportunities. Cultivating their intrinsic motivation – through education or play – is critical for learning outcomes. As Roger Hart writes in an essay on children’s participation published by UNICEF Innocenti in 1992, “much of play is a training ground for later participation with adults in work: learning the properties of materials, developing physical skills, exploring tool use, and social cooperation.”For these reasons, play is enshrined as a fundamental right of all children. It is recognised as being essential to the development of creativity, imagination, self-confidence, self-efficacy, and a range of social, cognitive and emotional skills. Digital technologies can facilitate this development, albeit in new ways that older generations may not yet fully appreciate.Today virtual platforms and social networks forge new cultural environments for play and artistic opportunities that can broaden a child’s horizons, provide opportunities to learn from other cultures and traditions, experience autonomy, and contribute toward mutual understanding and appreciation of diversity.In other words, we don’t have enough evidence to inform policy on child screen time.This autonomy, where children and adolescents participate and make their own choices, express their own views, and take responsibility, is not a binary state, but rather depends on a young person’s evolving capacities – maturity, skills, and abilities. Therefore, a delicate balancing act needs to take place – between a child’s right to be protected, and their right to have progressive autonomy in making decisions about their lives. Unfortunately, Hart notes, children are the least listened to members of society and have limited opportunities for genuine participation, in part because adults underestimate their competence. Moreover, opportunities for free play with peers are declining due to a combination of forces: fear for children’s safety, parents’ work patterns, and growing pressures for academic achievement. UNICEF Office of Research- Innocenti · The Screen Time Debate: What Do We Really Know About the Effects of Children’s Time Online? This is highly relevant in contemporary debates around children’s use of digital technologies. Digital media has become the primary means through which young people play, communicate, receive, create, share information, and express themselves. Young people explore their identities online, access health information and sources of advice and counselling, learn about their rights, report abuse or violations, express opinions and engage civically and politically with governments and the world around them. The internet has become a powerful vehicle through which young people can overcome forms of discrimination or exclusion, to participate and be heard in meaningful decision-making processes, and exercise rights on their own behalf.However, nearly 30 years after Hart’s essay, the barriers that prevented children’s play and participation in the 90s still prevail, now limiting children’s rights and freedoms in the digital environment. In making a case for a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) General Comment on Children’s Rights and Digital Media, researchers argue that in order to shift adult thinking on the digital environment, children’s rights (including to participation and play) must be emphasized within popular and policy debates around digital technology.A rights-based perspective on children’s engagement with digital technology is useful for at least three reasons:It makes clear the need for integrated perspectives: All of children’s rights need to be considered together, meaning that the right to protection from harm cannot supersede the rights to participation, privacy, play, education, freedom of information or expression.It emphasizes that children should be consulted on decisions concerning their use of digital technology: Article 12 of the UNCRC states that children have a right to be heard in matters that concern them, and that their views should be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.It acknowledges the obligation to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning the child: Article 3 of the UNCRC calls upon all actors to ensure that children’s beset interests are at the heart of these conversations. To achieve this, guidance and policy needs to draw on children’s own voices and experiences. By consulting with children on how to best balance their use of digital technology, we could help them turn digital technology into a tool for creative expression, participation, play or learning. Schools could teach children how to search for high-quality information and distinguish fake news through their mobile phones. In doing so, they will be training children to use technology purposefully while negotiating and overcoming its distracting elements. Learning how to stay focused on a task despite technological interference will likely be an important skill in the future.Piaget found that children learn best not by unequivocally accepting what authority tells them is right, but when, through discussion and cooperation, they can form their own views and reach consensus. As Hart states, when seen in this light, children’s participation is not just an approach to developing more socially responsible and cooperative youth; it is the route to the development of a psychologically healthy person.It is entirely possible to make digital technology work in children’s best interest. This will require less alarmism in the public debate and greater respect for children’s opinions. Daniel Kardefelt-Winther is UNICEF Innocenti's lead researcher on child internet use, online safety and child rights. 
Zhang Haibo is taking children’s opinions about digital technology seriously
Blog

Zhang Haibo is taking children’s opinions about digital technology seriously

This statement: “Children use digital technology for specific reasons and it is important to take their opinions and explanations seriously” comes straight out of UNICEF’s recently published State of the World’s Children report for 2017, Children in a Digital World. The report recommends that children are placed at the center of efforts to understand how digital technology impacts on their lives. Clearly, if we hope to understand children’s lived experiences and support their positive development, we need to include their voices in research and policy responses. However, research and policy in this area is often grounded in adult’s assumptions about how children engage with digital technology. Is this good enough? Zhang Haibo, Deputy Director of the Guangzhou Children's Palace discussing the design of a questionnaire with child researchers.In my recent visit to Guangzhou together with colleagues from UNICEF China I met a man who certainly doesn’t think so. Zhang Haibo is the Deputy Director of the Children’s Palace in Guangzhou, China, a public facility where children can engage in extra-curricular activities after school, such as learning arts, languages, sports, computing skills and digital literacy. The Guangzhou Children’s Palace has conducted annual research on children’s online behaviors and digital literacy for many years, to underpin their educational efforts. One day Mr. Zhang had his research put under some scrutiny, as his 9-year old daughter flicked through a report and concluded that it was too adult-centric. She thought that children would be in a better position than adults to ask questions about children’s online behavior. The Children’s Palace changed their approach from conducting research ON children, to conducting research WITH children, strengthening children’s agency and enriching their research. At the Children’s Palace, Mr. Zhang engages children aged 9-14 who are interested in digital technology, and divides them into groups according to their favorite topic of research. Some children have studied how students play Kings of Glory – the hugely successful mobile game developed by Tencent – or how young people use digital technology to facilitate studying and shopping. Teachers train children in basic methods of research, guides them as they develop their own small-scale questionnaires and conduct interviews in their school or community. Teachers also help them with interpreting findings and writing reports, collecting feedback from fellow researchers and refining reports, eventually leading to a conference where they present their findings and conclusions to parents and teachers. Child research officers present their findings at the Children's Internet Conference in Guangzhou, China.But can children really conduct research? Some parents initially expressed skepticism, but witnessing the unexpected growth and development of their own children forced them re-examine their beliefs about children’s capabilities. Mr. Zhang emphasizes that child-led research brings new and different perspectives compared to adults’, partly because children do not carry as many prejudices and assumptions about other children as adults do. Adult-led research found that they believe children spend too much time playing games on their mobile phones. Child led research revealed that many children feel that whenever they pick up the phone – even if it is to do homework – parents wrongly assume that they’re playing games and they start complaining. Based on the results research carried out by young people at the Children’s Palace, creative recommendations are reaching industry. One research group suggested that since the private sector already creates many products for children they ought to be able to develop a children’s version of QQ and WeChat (popular Chinese social media platforms). Child-centered design is also being suggested by UNICEF as a way towards a more beneficial online environment for children. Mr. Zhang emphasizes the concrete outcomes of research is less important than the process. The purpose is not to cultivate young scholars writing papers, but to allow children the chance to take initiative, to let them identify a problem they care about and give them the space to explore it and express their own ideas. The philosophy underpinning their participatory research is a belief that education must do more than just provide children with answers; rather, it should teach them to ask more and better questions. This method of Child Researchers at the Children's Internet Conference in Guangzhou, China write their reports in groups.engaging children in research about online behaviors has successfully created a space for inter-generational dialogue around digital technology, which can strengthen the knowledge of young people about the online world, while simultaneously addressing parental concerns. As some initial research suggests, positioning young people as experts and equals might be more effective for online safety education, as it provides adults with a window into what young people do online and how they feel about their experiences. The process can also lead to concrete learning outcomes for children, as showcased in participatory research conducted by our colleagues in UNICEF Montenegro. What is truly exciting about the approach of the Children’s Palace’s digital literacy education programme is that their goal is not only to teach children about digital technology. Rather, the goal is to foster children’s agency and harness their curiosity about things digital to impart valuable life skills. Like asking questions adults haven’t even thought of.   Daniel Kardefelt-Winther is Research Coordinator for the Global Kids Online project at UNICEF Innocenti. Explore the UNICEF Innocenti research catalogue for new publications. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter and sign up for e-newsletters on any page of the UNICEF Innocenti website.
The internet of opportunities: what children say
Blog

The internet of opportunities: what children say

"We grew up with the internet. I mean, the internet has always been here with us. The grown-ups are like 'Wow the internet appeared', while it is perfectly normal for us." -Boy, 15 years old, SerbiaWhen our research teams in Argentina, the Philippines, Montenegro, Serbia and South Africa, who are part of the new Global Kids Online initiative, set out to interview children about their use of the internet we expected to find wide spread use of the digital technologies for entertainment and communication. And indeed, it was hardly a surprise that a majority of children in our research countries visit social networking sites at least every week for communication and interaction with peers.In fact, qualitative and quantitative research in Argentina found that social networking sites are the primary means of communication, socialization and expression of adolescents today, and we might expect this to be the case for children in many parts of the world.The Internet is fun, children say. In South Africa, 96 per cent of child participants reported that they sometimes or always had fun when they went online.A student uses a mobile phone in a classroom at Oswaldo Lucas Mendes Public High School in Taiobeiras municipality in the Southeastern state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.But learning can also be fun, they say; in Montenegro children told us that learning online was much easier and more fun than learning from standard textbooks:"This is a smartphone time, and I am sure that no one would give advantage to book over the phone." -Girl, 14 years old, Montenegro.This sentiment seems to be shared by children on the other side of the ocean; in Argentina almost 80 per cent of teens said they use the internet to do homework or access educational content on a wide range of topics (maths, history, music, dance, cooking, etc.):"I wanted to learn to play the guitar and went online." said one boy, 15 years old. "I flunked math, so I watched a couple of vids where they explained what I had to study", said another. In addition, many use the internet to post images, videos or music online, and close to 40 per cent of children in Argentina published things on a website or wrote a blog in the last month.It is clear that access to and use of the internet can have beneficial if not transformative potential for children. As Frank La Rue, former UN special rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, stated in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2014, the internet not only enhances opportunities for communication and freedom of expression, but it can also serve as a tool to help children claim their other rights, including their right to education, freedom of expression, association and full participation in social, cultural and political life, and should therefore be recognized as an indispensable tool for children.While the discourse around children's rights in the digital age often centers on risks, which we acknowledge do exist and can potentially cause serious harm, children themselves seem to be more interested in the opportunities digital technologies bring.Another key opportunity that emerged in our work with children was the opportunity for participation online. Participation is one of the underlying principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, allowing children's voices to be heard in matters that affect them.It can provide opportunities for civic engagement and self-expression among those children and adolescents who do not necessarily have a voice in their communities.   It can help transcend barriers linked to gender and ability/disability and can allow children to learn about decisions and choices available to them.Social networking sites can bring a new sense of "community", one that is different from community defined by geography and one that goes beyond participation to also include social support.While talking to children about self-expression, learning and participation we found thatBetween 56-94 per cent of children learned something new online and between 23 and 45 per cent looked for health information onlineBetween a quarter to one third of children reported that they use the internet to talk to people from different backgrounds at least monthly, a helpful way to become more familiar with other countries, cultures and35 to 50 per cent of children went online to read news and this percentage is higher (up to 70 percent) among older childrenFewer children are engaged in civic activities - only about 11 to 17 per cent of children discussed social and political problems on line while 16 to 32 per cent of children looked for information about their neighborhood.Global Kids Online is a new online research partnership which aims to support high quality research on child internet use all over the world.This snapshot shows potential benefits of the internet for many children: that they like to explore and seek information, read news and look for answers to their concerns independently. In a today's world, the internet becomes not only a new "playground" but also a "library" a "public space' and a "community".In light of these advantages, it is important to state that some children are still unable to go online as much as they would like, impeding the realization of their rights. Barriers to access still persist, preventing full participation online. In South Africa we identified that just about half of children were able to access the internet whenever they wanted to most often due to high cost of data (47 per cent), but also because adults did not allow them to go online (32 per cent).This is certainly not due to malicious intent - indeed, most parents we spoke to in South Africa seemed very aware of the many advantages that internet brings - but rather due to the fear that they would be unable to adequately help and support their children online, which might subject them to risks.As a parent in South Africa expressed it during a focus group: "We don't know the internet, we don't know where to press to go in to look while they aren't there. We must also almost know how it works before we can say "how can we help?", because we can't help if we don't know [...]".In order to ensure that children globally can enjoy free (but not necessarily unsupervised) access to the internet, we need a two-pronged approach that focuses not only on informing children about internet use, but equally on informing parents and other stakeholders such as teachers and policy makers.Policies and strategies that promote empowered and safe online experiences should take into account children's agency, including their desire to experiment and sometimes to take risks, and also their desire to be responsible for themselves and their actions.Written by Jasmina Byrne and Daniel Kardefelt-Winther from UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti. Search the UNICEF Innocenti research publication catalogue . Sign up for UNICEF Innocenti email updates on any page here.  Visit Global Kids Online (www.globalkidsonline.net) to join a global research partnership led by UNICEF Innocenti and the London School of Economics and Political  Science to build a robust evidence base for better internet policy worldwide. The GKO website makes high quality, pilot tested research tools freely available.  
Piloting a research toolkit on child internet use in rural South Africa
Blog

Piloting a research toolkit on child internet use in rural South Africa

When the scope of a research project on child internet use spans  multiple countries with vast cultural, economic and social variation, navigating the differences presents formidable challenges. For the Global Kids Online network, a research initiative led by the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti in partnership with the London School of Economics, tackling these challenges is crucial. Our goal is to develop a survey that will enable researchers anywhere on earth to explore how internet use enhances or undermines children's well-being. Recently we managed to complete the pilot phase of this survey in Argentina, Philippines, Serbia and South Africa. Four different continents, countries, cultures and research teams, all using the same tools to generate comparable data. As the project coordinator I've had the challenging but enjoyable task of supporting this effort. My previous research experience,  mostly in the global North, limited my understanding of rural communities. A big question for me was how can we make the most out of working in relatively unfamiliar contexts? The answer I found was to listen, participate and learn from local knowledge. I recently travelled to the Eastern Cape in South Africa to support the implementation of our Global Kids Online survey, courtesy of UNICEF South Africa and our research partners, the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP).  CJCP works exclusively with local enumerators who are familiar with the communities where the research is conducted - a model that ought to be non-negotiable. Since we carry papers Whenever our team arrived at a field site our enumerators would visit every single house, starting with the ones closest to where we parked, even though there were no children to interview. I asked why we did this, as we were there specifically to interview children. One of the enumerators explained that going to each house serves two purposes: first, we show everyone respect by visiting their home, giving us credibility and trust in the community. Once we gain people's trust, they will be more inclined to help us find out where children from the community live and perhaps even facilitate some interviews. Second, if we only visit certain houses people might get suspicious, in particular since we carry papers, which could indicate that we are there on official government business. This could make it more difficult for us to talk to children and parents in the community. Through their awareness of the local way of life, the enumerators both improved our success with recruiting respondents and also helped us to avoid unintentionally offending community members. These insights have some interesting implications for popular sampling methods such as "random walk" procedures, where enumerators only visit certain households based on numbering or other criteria. Such methods might have less success with recruitment because they do not align well with local customs, and could also damage the reputation of the organization conducting the work. Asking if they play games on an X-Box Our local research team informed us they had issues with some of our survey questions. Since the field site was located in a lower socio-economic area, they pointed out that it reflected badly on them when they asked children questions that everyone should know are not applicable. They emphasized "when we ask children here, in very poor communities, if they often play games on an X-box, it makes us look stupid and the child becomes uncomfortable..." A field research site on child internet use outside Mdantsane in Eastern Cape province, South Africa.We had anticipated that some questions would have low response rates in some areas. But we did not foresee that asking those questions might negatively impact the relationship between interviewer and child. If the interviewers had not been from the community, they may not have picked up on this subtle but important point and we would have failed to make our instrument more appropriate. By being upfront about my lack of familiarity with the local context and making clear that I was there to learn - not to oversee and control - I managed to open up an honest dialogue with the team. It is not always easy to gather direct feedback if you are participating from a coordinator position. But recognizing and admitting my  own lack of understanding and expressing a willingness to learn seemed like a good starting point. I explicitly invited criticism of our assumptions. When conducting research across multiple contexts it is rarely possible to have a good understanding of every country, but working together with the community, listening and making good use of local wisdom and skills has been crucial. My work on the Global Kids Online project has been an eye-opening experience that has taught me many new things about the world, but it has also shown me that there is some truth to the saying, "The more I know, the more I realize I don't know." Special Note: South Africa Kids Online, the first major Global Kids Online pilot study, was recently launched in  Johannesburg. The full report is available here. Daniel Kardefelt-Winther supports Innocenti's research on children's internet use, online safety and child rights. He coordinates the Global Kids Online project, developing methodological tools to support global research on the risks and opportunities of children's internet use. The Office of Research - Innocenti is UNICEF's dedicated research centre undertaking research on emerging and current priorities to shape policy and practice for children. Subscribe to UNICEF Innocenti emails on any web page. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter @UNICEFInnocenti. Access our research catalogue here.

Journal articles

Piloting a research toolkit on child internet use in rural South Africa
Journal Article

Addressing violence against children online and offline

Piloting a research toolkit on child internet use in rural South Africa
Journal Article

Contextualising the link between adolescents’ use of digital technology and their mental health: a multi‐country study of time spent online and life satisfaction

Podcasts

Piloting a research toolkit on child internet use in rural South Africa
Podcast

The screen time debate: what do we really know about the effects of children's time online?

Piloting a research toolkit on child internet use in rural South Africa
Podcast

The Screen Time Debate: What Do We Really Know About the Effects of Children’s Time Online?