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A Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus: Open Data

Guía de gobierno abierto y coronavirus: Datos abiertos

Guide pour un gouvernement ouvert et le Coronavirus: Données ouvertes

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The collection and analysis of population-wide epidemiological data, as well as the population’s access to water for hygiene, is a critical element of the COVID-19 response. From publishing disease spread statistics to location-tracking apps, governments around the world have engaged in sweeping data collection efforts to inform public health policies. In particular, open data has become key to facilitating a collective and informed pandemic response. However, it is crucial to ensure that data initiatives strike the balance between opening sufficient data to inform and increase trust in public health policies, while also protecting individual data privacy and rights. Accountability, transparency and participation are therefore critical to ensure this balance is met when determining open data measures.


Open Response:

Open response measures place transparency, accountability, and participation at the center of immediate government efforts to curb contagion and provide emergency assistance. 

Scope of open data

Particular categories of open data can contribute to a collective and informed pandemic response. The following categories offer a starting point for government prioritization of open data in the context of COVID-19:

    • Medical resources:
      • Hospital facilities, staffing, and equipment
      • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
      • Testing sites and processing laboratories
    • Epidemiological data:
      • Patient data (location, demographic, outcomes, and treatments)
        • Do not release personally identified information.
      • Data on essential services, closures, etc.
    • Economic data:
      • Recipients of emergency funding
      • Register of PPE suppliers
      • Supply chain data and price gouging
      • Travel related data
      • See our guides on fiscal openness and public procurement
    • Food security:
      • Food systems and supply chain
      • Levels of nutrition and hunger
    • Access to water for hygiene:
      • Equity of service (rural vs urban, gender, economic status)
      • Service quality and reliability
    • Crime data:
      • Domestic abuse
      • Cybercrime
    • Open science:
      • Drug research, treatment approaches, etc.
      • Publication of virus genetic strands
      • Establish requirements for the release of government-funded research’s underlying and anonymised data sets

Data Qualities:

    • Disaggregated data: Where possible, collect detailed data disaggregated by gender and geography as well as across time and levels of governments.
      • View more information about health data in our 2019 Global Report on Health here. For water data, see here.
    • Interoperable data: Aim to produce data that is interoperable between levels of government, across government agencies, and with international open data repositories.

Institutional approaches

Data advisory councils
Establish multi-disciplinary councils or teams to help prioritize data collection, standardization and release.

  • Mandate: Councils must operate within the boundaries of the law, in accordance with emergency laws and advisory committee rules.
    • Potential activity areas can, at a minimum, cover the same range of activities as data categories listed in the “response” section above.
  • Membership and selection: At a minimum, leaders of such committees should strive to widen participation.
    • Include experts, civil society, representatives from across government, and representatives from vulnerable communities.
  • Agenda and ways of working:
    • Practice maximal disclosure by documenting and publishing records of deliberation and supporting documentation.
    • Prioritize the release of data based on multi-stakeholder input.
    • Some OGP countries, such as the United Kingdom, have had success with interagency or single-agency working groups that focus on small and high priority datasets.

Decentralized processes
Identify a process for data standardization to allow comparability across subnational units.

  • Open research datasets and publications – see US example CORD-19
  • Document and share any information needed to contextualize and describe the data to enable proper use
  • Maintain strong channels of communication to facilitate clarifications and updates surrounding the data
  • Provide contests for publication of major treatment research

International interoperability
Move towards international standardization of core data sets to include keys sectors such as:

  • Medical resources
  • Epidemiological data
  • PPE procurement
  • Open science and research

Integrate safeguards

  • Only necessary and proportionate data should be gathered and shared with those who need it to address the pandemic, see our upcoming Privacy Protections Guide for more information.

Open recovery and reform

Open recovery measures place transparency, accountability, and participation at the center of medium-term government efforts to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Similarly, open reform initiatives ensure that the public is at the heart of government in the post-pandemic world.

Data scope and use: As government priorities shift in the post-crisis context, the scope and use of data collection will need to be reconsidered accordingly.

  • Collect and provide open data on allocations covering grants and subsidized lending.
  • Establish regulations on the storage and use of data collected during the response phase going forward, especially regarding how data can be repurposed to inform future pandemic response plans.
  • Establish procedures and policies for sharing data internationally to inform global recovery.

Institutional approaches

  • Provide resources for an ombudsman or investigator to identify major cases of data processing abuse. This may be part of an existing data protection, parliamentary, administrative body or all of the above. Such investigative bodies should have the power to recommend prosecution (in cases of criminal violation), administrative remedies (in cases of civil or administrative violations), and legislation.


The following examples are recent initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and are drawn from our crowd sourced list as well as partner materials.

  • Global: Examples of COVID-19 open data include open research datasets from the United States, and European Union, open epidemiological data in Switzerland and Basque Country, as well as open data on medical supplies and testing in Korea.
  • Aragon, Spain: The Government of Aragon’s Open Government Laboratory in partnership with civil society organizations, social enterprises, and volunteers created Frena La Curva. This network provides technical and organizational assistance for citizens around the world to establish a website featuring citizen efforts and innovations in response to the pandemic. The website is currently operational in 12 countries.
  • Slovak Republic: The Institute of Health Policies of the Slovak Republic (IHPSR) provides inputs for policymakers and responders handling the COVID-19 crisis. Their epidemiological research reports are updated and available online under a gold standard open license. The source code for the mathematical models are published on GitHub under a permissive license. The IHPSR representatives welcome feedback, collaborate with outside experts and communicate on Facebook.
  • Johns Hopkins University, United States: Johns Hopkins University has created an epidemiological map to help researchers and public health authorities track the pandemic through a user-friendly tool. All data collected and displayed is freely available on GitHub and the dashboard’s feature layers are included in the ESRI Living Atlas.
  • Spain: The COVID-19 Monitoring Project provides graphs and narrative analysis which are automatically generated every hour through Application Program Interface (API)technology. All materials produced are free for use.
  • Africa: The COVID-19 Data Repository for the continent summarizes epidemiological data for each country in Africa. The data is disaggregated by demographic, location, and symptom information when possible. Data is obtained from official sources (e.g., WHO, departments of health, CDC etc.) and unofficial sources (e.g., news).
  • United Kingdom: Global Health 5050 has compiled a COVID-19 data tracker that includes country-level data related to cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and cases among healthcare workers disaggregated by age and sex.
  • Brazil: Open knowledge Brazil maintains a COVID-19 Transparency Index that ranks states according to their transparency and commitment to open data.

The following examples are commitments previously made by OGP members that demonstrate elements of the recommendations made above.

  • Sweden (2016-2018): The Government of Sweden convened multi-stakeholder panels to determine an open data approach to food supply chains, in addition to other sectors.
  • Finland (2017-2019): In 2017, Finland began publishing all procurement data as open data in real time including, what was purchased, by which agency, from whom, and which financial source was used to make the purchase.
  • France (2018-2020): The Government of France formed an Open Science Committee to evaluate and advocate around open science as well as provide a national dataset on all government funded research projects.
  • Canada (2018-2020): The Government of Canada created a platform for citizens to access federal research publications and contact federal scientists as well as actively promote federal research findings.
  • Paraguay (2016-2018): The government published open data on the quality of health services to grant citizens the information needed to participate in shaping health resource allocation and policy.
  • Mexico (2019-2021): Mexico held regular forums for citizens to participate in the creation of policy on government use of personal data.
  • Uruguay (2016-2018): The Municipality of Montevideo created a common database of citizen monitoring of air quality, food processing, and spending on public works published in an open data format.


  • OECD and GovLab have created a repository of open data responses to aggregate open data collection and analysis initiatives across the globe.
  • Open Data Charter, OECD and others are creating a collaborative taxonomy and guidance to open up essential data during a pandemic.
  • Paris 21’s policy brief outlines guidance for governments and statistical offices in response to the pandemic.
  • Access Now offers a report with recommendations on privacy and data protection.
  • OGP, the Open Data Charter, and Access Info held a virtual conversation to address some of the challenges that governments have faced when trying to promote data transparency during crisis response, and draw attention to the current data needs from citizens and civil society.
  • Experts from the World Wide Web Foundation, the Governments of France and Taiwan, Luminate, and Article 19 led a cross-sector conversation to unpack the policy measures related to use of digital platforms in times of crisis response and policy considerations important for longer term reform.

Partners who can
provide further support and information

Our thanks to our partners at the Open Data Charter and Iniciativa Latinoamericana por los Datos Abiertos for sharing recommendations and reviewing this module.


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