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I was just awarded a small but not insignificant award as part of the Carleton University COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Grants. Below is a description of what I will be up to, along with some great students and expert advisors.  I will share everyone’s names later.  Results of the work will be published here as it becomes available!  Stay tuned. Also, let me know if you want to contribute in any way! Tracey dot Lauriault at Carleton dot CA

Research Summary

There is much official COVID-19 data reporting by federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous Communities. As the pandemic evolves, and more information comes to light, there is a call to add data attributes about Indigenous, Black and Racialized groups and of the affected labour force, and to report where cases predominate. The pandemic also revealed that foundational datasets are missing, such as a national list of elder care homes, maps of local health regions and data about the digital divide. This project will embrace technological citizenship, adopt a critical data studies theoretical framework and a data humanitarian approach to rapidly assess data shortfalls, identify standards, and support the building of infrastructure. This involves training students, conducting rapid response research, developing a network of experts, learning by doing and a transdisciplinary team of peer reviewers to assess results. The knowledge will be mobilized in open access blog posts, infographics, policy briefs and scholarly publications.

Research challenge:

Official COVID-19 public heath reports by Federal, Provincial, and Territorial (F/P/T) and First Nation Communities are uneven and there are calls to improve them ( 1 CBC News, Toronto Star). Asymmetries can be attributed to dynamically evolving challenges associated with the pandemic, such as working while practicing social distancing; jurisdictional divisions of power in terms of health delivery; and responding to a humanitarian crisis, where resources are stretched and infrastructures are splintered (i.e. digital divide, nursing home conditions).

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) developed a rights-based approach to the management of data and technologies during crisis situations which includes the right to: be informed, protection, privacy and security, data agency and rectification and redress (2). These apply to contact tracing (3 ITWorld, Scassa) and to equity groups calling for demographic data (1). Other have conducted rapid response data reporting, for example after the Haiti Earthquake volunteers developed real-time crowdsourcing data collection systems to support humanitarian responders (4 Meier) and WeRobotics mobilizes local drone expertise to objectively assess proposed pandemic response technologies (5 WeRobotics).

This research will apply a critical data studies (CDS) theoretical framework (6 Kitchin & Lauriault), the principles of the HHI and, practice technological citizenship (7 Feenbert) to the study of the Canadian COVID-19 data response. Lauriault will leverage her expertise and Canadian and international network of open data, open government, civic technology experts in government, civil society, and Indigenous Communities (see CV) as seen in the policy briefs published on DataLibre.ca (8) to rapidly assess and support COVID-19 data management and reporting.

The objective is to carry out the following activities:

  1. Compare official COVID-19 public health data reports to identify gaps and best practices (9 Lauriault & Shields).
  2. Identify and support the building of framework datasets to standardize reporting (10 Lauriault).
  3. Analyze data standards and protocols to support data management, interoperability and cross-jurisdictional reporting (11 GeoConnections).
  4. Publish case-studies, resources, an archives of official reporting, and a glossary and
  5. Rapidly conduct expert analysis, peer review, knowledge mobilization and provide evidence-based recommendations to improve data reporting.

The rationale for this research is as follows:

  1. Official COVID-19 public health data are inconsistently reported, impeding comparability, and the ability to assess impact and target actions. Also, predictions missed seniors’ homes, precarious labour, and Indigenous communities and social determinants (12 Global News, NCCDH), resulting in an increase in cases and deaths. Currently job classifications and Indigenous, Black, and Racialized people classifications (13 CTV News) remain absent. This research will create a corpus of F/P/T and Indigenous Communities’ official reports, compare results, identify gaps.
  2. Framework data are standard information infrastructures upon which other analysis can consistently be done (14 Toronto Star). When this is lacking analysis is impeded, for example there is no national reporting by health region since no national framework dataset exists (15 Lauriault), and mitigating the digital divide is thwarted with a lack of broadband maps (16 Potter & Lauriault et al.). Other missing national datasets include senior care facilities, homeless shelters, precarious labour, and Indigenous Communities (17 Gaetz et al.). Needed framework datasets will be identified and if necessary coordinate their building (18 SPCOStatCan LODE), advocacy for the opening of public datasets such as corporate registries may be carried out (19 Fed. Registry,  Open Corporate, Open Contracting), and experts from public health , social planning, and Indigenous Communities will help identify localized frameworks.
  3. Consistent COVID-19 reporting requires an interoperable infrastructure which builds upon standards developed through consensus processes (20 CIHI, PHAC). Current uneven reporting may be attributed to a lack of standards adoption and formalization in terms of data flows. This research will develop a repository of standards and protocols and share these with decision-makers to improve interoperability (i.e. Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism (21 ON Govt) and FNIGC OCAP Principles (22 FNIGC)).
  4. Rapidly mobilizing knowledge is important to improve reporting and manage data, and to build a crisis data reporting infrastructure for the future. This project will compile, and archive information, rapidly assess and peer review results with experts and report results on DataLibre.ca and other websites, will produce infographics and policy briefs, deliver online webinars, and help administrators and Indigenous Communities improve their data and technology policies.

A CDS framework recognizes that data have social and material shaping qualities and that they are never politically neutral while also being inseparable from the people and institutions who create them including practices, techniques, and infrastructures. This involves a team of data, technology, legal, social and health, and Indigenous experts to rapidly assess official COVID-19 data assemblages and to act as technological citizens by applying knowledge in real time and mobilize results to mitigate the data shortfalls witnessed during this crisis and support decision makers to respond with a data humanitarian and rights-based approach for now and to better respond in the future.

Expected Impact:

The target audience for this rapid response data and technology reporting is F/P/T public officials and Indigenous Community Leaders who manage public health, socio-economic, statistical and official record data flows; and civil society actors and the public involved in open data, open government and open contracting, transparency and accountability. This includes C-class executives, chief technology, information data, and digital officers.

The outcome of this research is to standardize and improve humanitarian crisis data management and data reporting in the short term to ensure consistent reporting, and in the long term establish standardized data workflows and operationalize data infrastructures for this pandemic in preparation for the next.

The timing to compile, inventory and build an open access archives of official data reporting is now as the fractures in the system have become apparent in real-time and have had negative consequences. It is important to monitor the response as it evolves so as to be able to improve it while our collective institutional memory is fresh and to have the evidence available as a reminder for if and when we forget, but also to build more robust systems.

The results of this research will be continuously reported and made openly accessible as it becomes available and will lead to the formation of a new research team.

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