Open COVID-19 Data

Launching a collaboration on high-value open data in a pandemic

Open Data Charter
May 25, 2020 · 5 min read
Social distancing in London park

COVID-19 is raising multiple questions, and the world is relying on data to get answers. From feeding predictive models that trigger policy interventions to helping people find testing centres and access to aid, the demand for reliable data and information from the health sector and beyond has never been so urgent.

Previous public health outbreaks are frequently used as examples to explain the consequences of not opening up healthcare and other strategic data, including delays in treatment discovery and disease management. Yet we have also learned that protecting privacy while managing public health emergencies enhances compliance with public health measures.

The current pandemic has brought to light the need to address these twin goals — opening purpose driven data to help tackle COVID-19 together, while making sure the privacy and human rights of individuals and communities are protected.

But how can we ensure that the data being shared and used are accurately and accountably serving the needs and considering ethical implications?

One way is to open the types of data that people need to support collaboration, enable actions, facilitate scrutiny, and build trust to mitigate the impact of this disease on our societies and economies.

The Open Data Charter and the OECD Digital Government and Data Unit have partnered to launch an international collaboration to identify high value open data in a pandemic. Other partners we are collaborating with include Open North, GIFT, CAF, GovLab, Open Data Institute, as well as contributions from the Open Data for Development Network and the governments of: New Zealand’s Stats NZ, Mexico’s Executive Secretariat of the National Anti corruption System (SESNA), and Government of Canada’s Open Government Secretariat.

Learning from how governments and communities are opening data to meet local needs today, we are aiming to develop guidance on the responsible release and consistency of data for equitable recovery, and better preparedness of governments, business and communities around the world for future emerging diseases.

The scope

We are looking to identify the data needed by diverse communities; examples for how that data can be used; existing standards and safeguards on how that data should be collected and structured; and guidance on a range of policy issues that need to be addressed. This work builds on the ODC open up guide methodology for publishing data with purpose. We will explore these aspects across the three phases of a pandemic: readiness, response and recovery.

We have started looking at what open data may be needed across the three phases and mapping the data to GovLab’s COVID-19 Topics. Open North has begun gathering examples on use cases with experiences from the US and Canada’s national and sub-national governments. GIFT held a series of online workshops identifying 15 datasets and time series from emergency spending to macroeconomic impact. These examples, along with the Government of Canada’s ongoing work to identify important Open Information and Data related to COVID-19, are being used to build a participatory Open COVID-19 Data Taxonomy, including technical standards and safeguards for their release.

Gathering your data needs and experiences

In developing this guidance we hope to draw on the needs articulated by people’s experience, learning from use cases in practice, and lessons on the ground across three main themes:

This theme is about what we need to know about the scale of the problem and the resources needed and available to cope.

Transparency and accountability build trust and confidence in government decisions. This theme explores what needs to be communicated through data to ensure that governments are held to account.

The wellbeing of people, communities and businesses are affected not just by the disease, but by the lockdown measures to prevent the spread. This theme explores what we need to know to understand and respond to the social, economic and environmental impacts.

We will engage through various networks and methods to gather ideas and testimonies, including hosting meetups with partners around the world. For example, the government of Mexico has set up the Open COVID Data_Mx, a multi-stakeholder working group to identify and coordinate data releases, including from the private sector.

At the April meeting of the ODC Implementation Working Group we shared initial draft documents about the scope of the project and began the process of gathering input. Building up towards the annual meeting of the OECD Expert Group on Open Government Data in June 2020, which will be focused on COVID-19, we will be drawing from the OECD Digital Government and Data Unit and Govlab’s call for evidence on the release and use of Open Government Data (OGD) in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 is a multifaceted challenge that requires concerted actions, we would like to hear from you about:

  • Open data sets you are using and the actors involved (such as entrepreneurs, media, researchers, CSOs, public sector organisations)
  • Type of questions these data and related products/services are trying to address (such as situation, diagnostic and cause; prediction and impact analysis)
  • Topic or purpose these data seek to address (tracking disease spread, developing disease treatment, identifying availability of supplies, guaranteeing protections for workers etc)
  • Specific phase or dimension of the crisis these questions relate to (readiness, response or recovery)
  • Ethical considerations and safeguards these data require (privacy or human rights risk assessments)

Call to action

We hope the resources developed from this work are useful to you. Whether you are from government, the private sector or from civil society, we would like to connect with you and your networks of data users.

To this end, we have developed: A Guide for Open Data Meetups under COVID-19 to help facilitate virtual meetings in your local area and gather knowledge on data needed across readiness, response and recovery of the pandemic. This step by step guide talks about the value of engaging users to meet local needs, and includes model templates to help run virtual meetups under lockdown.

If you want to join us in hosting these meetups, reach out to us at Or you can also run your own and share back the spreadsheet template with anonymised feedback from your group that we will collate with other findings to help inform global norms, identify policy reforms and highlight good practices. Through practical lessons we aim to build a global reference that brings your voice to the table.


Towards a culture of open and responsible data use by governments and citizens.