Data Readiness, Response, Recovery and Reform
4 Rs for Open Data in the time of COVID-19
This blog was originally published on the Open Data Charter’s Medium page in August 2020 here. Natalia Norori is a Research Associate for Open Data Charter’s ongoing project aimed to create an Open COVID-19 Data Taxonomy. Follow the Open Data Charter blog or contact them at email@example.com to get involved with their work.
COVID-19 has brought to light how gaps in public health-related data hinder pandemic readiness, response, and recovery. These gaps, along with the pre-existing inequalities exacerbated by them, have increased the urgency to shift to demand-driven publication of data and identification of data types needed across different regions and contexts.
What We’re Doing in light of Covid-19
As part of a united Covid-19 response, we launched an international collaboration with the OECD, to identify high-value open data in a pandemic. Since then, data users and producers have been organizing meetups to identify the specific data types relevant to their COVID-19 needs. These virtual meetups have served as a starting point to discuss the biggest gaps and build resources based on recommendations that fit diverse contexts, aiming for a more consistent approach to publishing quality, comparable and trustworthy data.
The Open Data Charter’s Implementation Working Group hosted the first meetup where data practitioners reflected on the impact that lack of standardization has on quantifying the true scope of the pandemic, recognizing the need for further guidance to understand how data is collected and shared with the public to increase access and analysis. A lot of emphasis was also put on identifying the data that needs to be opened up to factor in vulnerable populations and support the implementation of data sharing policies that protect fundamental rights.
Mutual discussions under lockdown promote collaboration across different sectors. During the past months partners around the world, such as Open North in Canada and the governments of Mexico and New Zealand have also hosted their own meetups with their networks of data users. Other countries such as Slovenia and Catalonia are designing their own meetups, which are serving as spaces to get feedback on current initiatives, gather findings, and accelerate the creation of resources.
Virtual meetups have also served as a space to discuss how governments can demonstrate accountability and fairness by showing what data is being shared and collected, how it is being used, and what segments of the population are benefiting from it.
Notable findings and future steps forward are highlighted below:
- Readiness to share data during COVID-19
As mentioned above, during the IWG’S discussion, data users and publishers reflected on the impact that lack of standardization has on quantifying the true scope of the pandemic. As governments and organizations are rapidly adopting digital data-sharing practices to measure and track the disease spread as well as health sector capacity, the inconsistent adoption of standardized data vocabulary is affecting how different countries report and interpret their data. For example, a lack of shared standards on how direct and indirect deaths related to COVID-19 are reported has led to wide variations in data quality across countries. This is also the case of other types of data, such as the one reflecting the number of cases, high-risk patients, and vulnerable populations.
In Canada for example, health is managed at the provincial level and therefore most of the disease spread data is released by the provinces. At their Meetup, one of the main challenges identified includes the need to address overarching issues around data release and coordination: interoperability, data quality and geographic scale of data released. Provinces and the federal government need to coordinate better to make sure data means the same thing (e.g. recovered cases) and they are using common categorizations of variables (e.g. age brackets), while protecting privacy and enabling ethical use of data.
Further guidance on how data is collected and shared with the public, as well as its limitations and methodology can help increase interoperability and coordination of data request forms between different levels of government, allow to make sense of the big picture, and increase global preparedness for this and future waves of the disease.
2. Responding to include minorities and vulnerable groups in data collection
Public health outbreaks are known for causing a disproportionate impact on minorities, migrants, and socially excluded communities. To prevent the consequences of excluding vulnerable groups from COVID-19 response, we must put the hardest-hit communities at the center of all phases of the pandemic.
Identifying the release of the specific data types required to factor in vulnerable populations is crucial to mitigate the impact of this and future epidemics on all members of our societies, and support the implementation of policies that protect their specific needs.
Participants at the New Zealand’s meetup mentioned the importance of providing better data about migrants, including visa expiration dates and ethnic breakdown so that people trapped due to travel restrictions can be better supported. As travel restrictions start being lifted, users have also raised awareness about the need to increase data transparency about the local state of border control measurements. Transparent data that measures the local capacity of border control, hotels available for quarantine, testing at border, travel requirements, and monitoring of isolation compliance can help travelers make informed decisions.
Holding governments accountable
For governments to play their role during public health outbreaks, transparency and accountability are crucial for the public to trust their decisions. Governments must demonstrate accountability and fairness by sharing what data is being shared and collected, how it is being used, and what segments of the population are benefiting from it.
During the IWG’s meetup, participants raised their concerns regarding how budgets are being spent, where is aid coming from and who is it being paid to — and what segments of the population are benefiting from emergency funds. To inform this, the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) has been working on a Guide for Emergency Response for Covid-19, and has put together some budget-related data cards, identifying particular data that should be prioritized when releasing data by governments.
In order to understand government actions, it is important to be clear about what policies are being implemented, how long they will be valid for, and who was taken into account when creating them. Future actions should focus on helping governments adopt open practices to increase public trust and confidence.
Increased data demand
COVID-19 has pushed governments to accelerate the uptake of digital data sharing solutions, forcing them to shift to an online publication model. The World Economic Forum has reported that the number of countries using digital communication channels to provide information has doubled in less than a month, providing evidence that more countries are now open to exploring an open government approach.
The increase of data availability has motivated people to strengthen their data literacy skills to stay up to date with the latest discoveries, and measure how the pandemic affects them and their communities. Early lessons have taught us that in order for people to understand the information released, governments need to maintain good communication and promote public trust. If governments experience the benefits of adopting these practices in the long-term, the possibilities of them being open to formally incorporating them is expected to increase.
The government of Catalonia has managed to respond to the growing data demand caused by the pandemic by increasing their dataset publication by 125%. The increase in data availability caught the attention of the general public, who not only visited the government’s portal to download COVID-19 related datasets, but also to explore other data resources not related to the pandemic. From October 2017 to April 2020, Catalonia recorded an average of 21 visits a day to their portal. Since April 2020, their portal has recorded an average of 1,524 visits per day. These numbers represent a 655% user increase since the beginning of the pandemic.
These extraordinary circumstances pose an opportunity for those dedicated to helping governments adopt open practices to increase their reach and form new partnerships.
3. Recovery: Identifying the impact of Covid-19 on our communities
As we slowly enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, it is important to measure how COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions implemented to contain its spread have, directly and indirectly, affected the social, economical, and environmental well-being of our communities.
Open data can be used to identify the sectors under the most stress and support the creation of policies to speed up their recovery. It can also help measure the effects of lockdown as well as the environmental impact of the pandemic, and assist cities in adjusting to the new normal.
In the case of New Zealand, the frequent release of economic indicators data has been appreciated, and has helped local authorities identify which indicators work best in this specific situation. In Canada, releasing data with demographic variables and on mobility, housing and employment were the four main challenges raised during the exchange.
Data related to the quality of education, access to basic services, as well as racial and gender-disaggregated data can assist in identifying the segments of populations that have been affected the most by the pandemic, and help prioritize them during future responses.
4. Informing governance Reforms: Building the Open Covid-19 Data Taxonomy
In our efforts to support governments in the process of opening up, sharing, and analyzing data for pandemic response and recovery, we are capturing these lessons to develop thematic oriented data sharing methodologies to practice to build an Open COVID-19 Data Taxonomy. This work is being built with the support of Luminate and CAF, and in collaboration with the Global Data Barometer, Open North, the OECD, GIFT, the government of New Zealand and Mexico, and OD4D Hubs in LAC, Asia and Africa.
The research study is being led by our partners at the Center for Sustainable Development from Paraguay, who have spent the last months investigating and understanding how over 25 countries share data relevant to the readiness, response, and recovery phases of the pandemic. This includes a detailed analysis of the types of data they are sharing, how they are sharing it, and how prepared these countries are to serve their local data needs. During the first stage of this work, we analyzed epidemiological and response capacity data to figure out what needs to be published, using the purpose-driven approach developed by the Open Data Charter.
The COVID-19 data meetups have served as a space to understand the public’s concerns, demands and needs related not only to public health related data, but more broadly to support vulnerable communities, understand and monitor government decisions and help the economic and social recovery. These meetups have brought to light the main challenges users continue to face, and have helped us support our ongoing research efforts.
During the next months, we expect to continue listening to the people’s needs to create specific recommendations for data reforms to support a purpose-driven data sharing approach, and assist governments and organizations in the process of shifting towards a just and resilient open data sharing ecosystem.
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