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COVIDaction Data Challenge Responsible Data Winners Announced!

Mike Klein
Sep 2 · 5 min read

The COVIDaction Data Challenge isn’t just investing in data tools, we’re investing in a healthy data ecosystem. This means surfacing solutions that ensure data is being used responsibly. Accordingly, and as part of the Responsible Data theme, four organisations will be receiving awards that have developed tools focused on responsible data needs and COVID-19. These organisations bring unique perspectives and approaches to addressing the complex and context-specific needs in the fight against COVID-19.

The applicants that will receive awards under the Data Challenge are:

  1. Edinburgh Innovations and Edinburgh University COVID-19 Governance Mapping Initiative to address the rapidly changing institutional arrangements and legal and civil rights environment in Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).
  2. The Kenyan-based Open Institute and DataReady #RestoreDataRights movement across Africa to address civil rights protections for personal and sensitive data.
  3. The Governance Laboratory at New York University Tandon School of Engineering (The GovLab) COVID-19 Responsible Data Toolkit which helps practitioners in LMICs apply responsible data techniques.
  4. The UN OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data’s Data Responsibility for Humanitarian Organisations in the COVID-19 Response, including a Statistical Disclosure Control tool to review datasets for personally identifiable information.

COVID-19, by many accounts, is the most data-intensive public health response the development and aid community has experienced to date. Governments and regional organisations need real-time, granular, and personal data to stop and respond to the spread; however, this data also needs to be protected against misuse. Balancing the need to protect privacy while also managing transparency and data sharing across borders is also a major challenge. The four applications selected by the Data Challenge offer different approaches and tools to address these multi-faceted and rapidly emerging issues.

The Data Challenge is also applying learning from past real-world impacts of addressing data privacy in the design process, especially for using contract tracing and mobility analysis data (a major focus of data tools identified during the Data Challenge). Contact tracing is both highly valuable as a way to contain and control the pandemic as well as potentially fraught with privacy risks. Looking back to past public health crises, it’s clear that Responsible Data considerations need to be weighed from the outset in order to ensure the development of a health data ecosystem that can deliver information that informs response.

As an example, during the Ebola crisis, mobile network operators (MNOs — the companies that provide mobile phone and data services) were tapped for real-time data for rapid contact tracing and mobility analysis. It was known that these databases contained personal information, including name, movements, regular contacts, etc. that could be used to target locations and communities. However, the data was also protected by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Supplementary Act, as well as in specific country constitutions. As these data privacy protections surfaced, and the use of personally identifiable information became more widespread, many MNOs stopped sharing data entirely. Indeed, as described by the seminal WHO report published on the subject in 2015, “Concern over the confidentiality of data about individuals was the single most consistently cited barrier to data sharing. Participants described the conflict between the need to protect the participants’ privacy, and the need for expediency to benefit the population at large.”

Underscoring the relevance of these COVIDaction investments, Magdalena Banasiak, Senior Innovation Adviser at FCDO, who manages the COVIDaction programme, noted that, “Since much of the programmatic response to COVID-19 is designed around having access to timely data, investing in Responsible Data ensures our response to the pandemic properly balance data use with privacy and security considerations.”

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The COVIDaction Data Challenge isn’t just investing in data tools, we’re investing in a healthy data ecosystem. This means surfacing solutions that ensure data is being used responsibly.

Overview of the Awardees

1. Edinburgh University

Edinburgh University is leading the COVID-19 Governance Mapping Initiative that focuses on open-source datasets on the governance of the responses to COVID-19, including changes in data privacy, targeting LMICs. This application was chosen because of the emerging concerns around data privacy protection in an emergency context. Donors, implementing partners, and civil rights advocates need this information to work with governments to balance the need for data with the protection of civil rights. Through a blend of technical assistance and grant funding, the initial mapping will be extended, increasing the number of countries covered and the breadth of governance issues addressed. The award will also support dashboard functionality and contribute to profile-raising.

For more information visit: http://www.covid19-governance.sps.ed.ac.uk/dashboard/

2. Open Institute, with technical support from UK’s DataReady

The Kenyan based Open Institute, with technical support from UK’s DataReady, is establishing a #RestoreDataRights movement across Africa. This movement seeks to bring a bottom-up perspective from Africa on responsible data use both during the pandemic and in the longer term. Based on past experiences from Ebola and other data-rich responses, the Open Institute is promoting early discussion around the best use of data before the pandemic is over, to help shape expectations and demand restoration of data rights. An award of technical assistance and budget support will aid the launch and impact of the movement and provide practical guidance on data protection policy and management of sensitive data.

For more information visit: https://openinstitute.com/ and www.dataready.org.

3. The Governance Laboratory at New York University

3. The GovLab is working with a variety of stakeholders including the Ghanaian Statistical Services (GSS) and others to produce a COVID-19 Responsible Data Toolkit, building and adapting the existing Data Responsibility Journey Mapping Tool (to be launched September 2020) and Toolkit for data holders and decision-makers working to address COVID-19 issues in LMICs. Combined, they will provide a multi-faceted, field-tested, and user-friendly Data Responsibility for COVID-19 Resource. The resource will be developed to support (private and public) data holders and institutional decision-makers, with the GSS as the initial primary user, but it will be made openly accessible under a Creative Commons license. This application was selected as practical, hands-on kits for specific issues are needed by field practitioners. A blend of technical assistance and funding will be used to assist in the adaptation of the existing toolkits and rolling out implementation of the new tools.

For more information visit: https://medium.com/data-stewards-network and https://rd4c.org/

4. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) Centre for Humanitarian Data

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) Centre for Humanitarian Data is working to increase Data Responsibility for Humanitarian Organisations in the COVID-19 Response by supporting the safe management of survey and needs assessment data (known as ‘microdata’). Such data is essential for providing adequate responses to crisis-affected people, but can also present risks related to the re-identification of individuals and groups. The Centre currently applies Statistical Disclosure Control to any microdata shared on the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX). In addition, the Centre is prototyping the use of the Data Loss Prevention algorithm to detect sensitive data shared on the platform. A blend of technical assistance and funding will enable the Centre to improve documentation and support greater uptake of these methods within its global network of partners. Learn more about how sensitive data is managed on HDX here, and check out UN OCHA’s Guidance Note on Statistical Disclosure Control here. A Frequently Asked Questions page on Data Responsibility in the Covid-19 Response is also available here.

For more information visit: https://centre.humdata.org/data-responsibility/

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Mike Klein

Written by

Michael Klein is a director of IMC USA, focused on promoting the use of technology in development. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kleinmichael/

COVIDaction

COVIDaction, a partnership between UKAid, UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Global Disability Innovation Hub, alongside others, will be working to build a tech and innovation pipeline to support action related to the COVID-19 pandemic across different thematic areas

Mike Klein

Written by

Michael Klein is a director of IMC USA, focused on promoting the use of technology in development. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kleinmichael/

COVIDaction

COVIDaction, a partnership between UKAid, UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Global Disability Innovation Hub, alongside others, will be working to build a tech and innovation pipeline to support action related to the COVID-19 pandemic across different thematic areas

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