Data-driven solutions have been central across the spectrum of pandemic responses in the UK. OMDDAC’s research has examined a broad range of responses, focusing on three areas of interest: data-driven public policy; tech-driven approaches to public health; and policing and public safety. OMDDAC has produced Snapshot Reports on case studies in each of these areas.
Despite the diversity of approaches examined, our research has identified the following common issues, from which lessons can be learned:
- There is a need for greater transparency and proactivity in publishing data plus additional rationale behind key decisions;
- Data quality and interoperability issues between systems have presented significant challenges, particularly when local and national responses intersect;
- Ongoing user-centric monitoring and evaluation of data-driven tools are fundamental to their success.
Snapshot Report 1: Data-Driven Public Policy
Snapshot Report 1 examines the valuable opportunities for innovation which have been presented by the pandemic in relation to the sharing, linking and analysis of public sector data to serve the public good. It also highlights important gaps to be addressed, to ensure that lessons are learned from the experiences of stakeholders who have been involved in the data-driven pandemic response:
- Investment is required to address poor data quality and improve interoperability across health and non-health public sector data sets;
- Greater resources and training should be directed to the areas of data literacy and information governance; and
- To ensure transparency, central and local government should, where possible, make the data used in reaching a decision publicly available. This should be accompanied by an explanation which makes clear how the data has been interpreted, notes additional factors and values taken into account, and highlights any limitations, uncertainties and assumptions involved in reaching the decision.
Snapshot Report 2: Tech-Driven Approaches to Public Health
Snapshot Report 2 examines technological solutions designed and implemented to provide data to help public health decisionmakers understand and contain the virus. Through the NHS Covid-19 App, QCovid algorithm, and Covid-status certification, the UK has pursued an ambitious tech-driven approach to managing the pandemic. However, whilst significant successes were achieved, there are some core lessons for any future deployment:
- Attention should be paid to a longer-term evaluation of the consequences of a decentralised approach to public health aims, and the safeguards and governance frameworks that would be needed to generate trust in a centralised model;
- Public health emergencies may justify the deployment of an algorithm that makes (false positive) errors owing to a precautionary approach. However, attention must be paid to the monitoring and evaluation of the consequences of such an approach; and
- Digital Covid-status certification schemes face significant implementation challenges. Stakeholders raised concerns around the timeliness and purpose of certification, the right to privacy, and security risks that could arise. The probabilistic and contextual nature of certification is not well known or understood.
Snapshot Report 3: Policing and Public Safety
Snapshot Report 3 focuses on data-driven solutions to policing and public safety during the pandemic, exploring the police use of public health data, the monitoring of police resourcing and wellbeing, and the monitoring of crime and enforcement trends during the pandemic. Key findings and lessons learned include:
- Whilst there has been an increased ‘thirst for information’ regarding the police response to the pandemic, this has often been experienced as an ‘overload of information’ for frontline officers;
- The sharing of NHS Test and Trace data with the police may have been less effective than originally anticipated due to tensions between the desire for appropriate enforcement, the need to maintain legitimacy across communities, and the difficulty of retrospectively proving self-isolation offences; and
- The pandemic has resulted in new ways of monitoring crime and enforcement trends giving indications of where and when disproportionate levels of policing may be occurring.