#OpenDataSavesLives - Coronavirus Dashboards

By Tazmin Chiles, Data & Innovation Consultant/Delivery Manager, Open Innovations

On 9th February 2022, we had another fantastic session with 51 attendees across research, healthcare and the private sector, who heard about how the UK Coronavirus Dashboard was designed, delivered and continues to pull together and publish crucial Covid-19 statistics on a daily basis.

Joining us this time were Clare Griffiths, Head of UK COVID-19 Dashboard and Pouria Hadjibagheri, Honorary Technical Lead at the UK Health Security Agency. They shared some fascinating insights into their work over the last two years, and prompted some great discussion around the benefits and challenges of working with data out in the open.

We will summarise some of the key points below, however if you would like to watch or revisit the session, then head over to the Coronavirus Dashboards event page where you can view the transcript, recording and slide deck.

Key points from our speakers:

Clare Griffiths started by giving us an overview of the dashboard and highlighted the impact and scale of the process and collaboration required to deliver the service to millions of users every day. She talked us through some of the early iterations of the dashboard, from early days of the pandemic in which there was limited data available, and how the service has evolved as regional infection and vaccination data became available and processes for feeding data back to the centre have improved. With 20-45 million daily users, the platform must deal with high traffic and a deadline of 4pm each day means that robust QA is essential. Working out in the open, mistakes and delays can have large consequences, which the team have done an impeccable job of identifying and addressing with openness and transparency.

Covid-19 Dashboard usage statistics.
The service in figures - highlighting the scale and impact of the Covid-19 Dashboard.
Credit: UK Health Security Agency

Talking about the role of open data, Pouria highlighted some of its benefits. Trust in the platform has improved over the months and years since the start of the pandemic and he believes this results from having open communication with users and the public. Code is published to promote public engagement and so that people can help improve the security and robustness of the service. Pouria pointed out that one team cannot do it all – calling upon the skills and expertise of the user-base allows other people to contribute and make further progress than one team could do alone.

“[…] someone sitting at home in Newcastle sees the latest trends and graphs for the first time at 4pm, the same moment as Boris Johnson in his office in Downing Street does.” The i – weekend, 13 February 2021.

The pros and cons of highly publicised data and rapid identification of mistakes.
Rapid identification of mistakes can be a blessing and a curse. There can be two types of people that report mistakes however all users are equally valid.
Credit: UK Health Security Agency

Working with this degree of transparency means that mistakes are quickly identified, which can also bring its challenges when data is highly publicised. Pouria provided some great insight into the value that can be gained from people who are critical of errors, reframing negativity to help foster greater trust.

An example Twitter thread that was prompted the discussion on openness and transparency.
We had some great discussion around open data and transparency, which also prompted a flurry of responses over on Twitter.
Credit: UK Health Security Agency

Clare and Pouria were asked about future directions for the dashboard, along with the systems of collaboration that have been built along with it, and how they could see the knowledge being applied elsewhere. Not only will the dashboard form an essential part of how epidemiology data is shared for other infectious diseases, but the foundations are already being applied to other important issues such as climate change.

As far as the infrastructure for collecting, sharing and collaborating with data at scale, Pouria explained that he is hoping to share more on this in the future in a white paper that documents the process. It is easy to forget how little data was available at the start of the pandemic and the uncertainty that it caused. The Covid-19 Dashboard demonstrates a great example of non-hierarchical collaboration; there is a lot to be learned from the data infrastructure that has developed over the last two years in response to the pandemic.

We can’t wait to see how their incredible work evolves over the upcoming months and years - we look forward to reading the upcoming white paper. If you would like to learn more about Covid-19 Dashboards, or any of the topics we’ve discussed, then get in touch with us via hello@open-innovations.org. Otherwise, watch this space for more blog posts on this topic, make sure to sign up to our new mailing list and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn so you don’t miss out.

Our next event will be on the 20th April and we’ll be talking about data and cancer, the session is free and open to all.

A huge thank you to NHS SCW and TPP for sponsoring this event series, along with the fantastic support of The Health Foundation.