Open data, a medicine against the pandemic?

06 2020 August
Mauren esquivel

6th August 2020. We live in the information age, we are flooded with data, in fact, every day 500 million tweets, 294 billion emails, 65 billion WhatsApp messages or 5 billion searches are generated on the internet. This data feeds a digital space that in number of bytes have 40 times more bytes As stars in the observable universe, the unit used at these levels is zettabyte, a number with 21 zeros (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes).

These digital capabilities not only imply quantity, they also mean immediacy and availability; characteristics that during the pandemic have allowed us to monitor the evolution of the disease on a daily basis practically on a case-by-case basis in 188 countries. This availability of data has been achieved with multiple efforts, mainly highlighting that of the John's Hopkins University and its Coronavirus Resource Center.

Around the world, this access and management of data has made it possible to generate tools and initiatives that produce value from statistics to attend to and understand the crisis that the pandemic has generated. For instance: predictive models to visualize and quantify the progress and behavior of the pandemic; analysis of health impacts differentiated by community, raza o gender; measurement of mobility to identify the contagion patterns of the virus; or to generate public private partnerships that allow the adoption of technological solutions in national strategies.

In this sense, and in the context of the pandemic, having statistically robust, credible, relevant, recent data, and in accessible formats goes beyond an instrument of communication and accountability, since these data have the potential to become a strategic input for the generation of tools, actions and collaborations that help countries to improve their response to the global crisis that we face.

However, not all public data has the potential to be tools for impact and collaboration, they have to meet certain characteristics defined globally through the concept of "Open Data"; that is, data that anyone can access, use and share. Open data in general has to comply with basic criteria on the table:

  • Complete: The databases must be available in a complete way, without cuts, calculations, or interpretations, respecting privacy and security regulations.

  • Granular: The data must be linked to the source of origin, with the highest level of granularity possible, not in an added or modified form.

  • Current: The data must be available in its most recent version possible to preserve its value.

  • Accessible: The data should be available to the greatest number of users and for the greatest number of uses. The data is not accessible if it requires web forms, or specific types of browsers, or if access to automated tools is not allowed due to a robot verification file.

  • Automatable: The data must be accessible by automated mechanisms that facilitate access and analysis of these.

  • Inclusive: Anonymous access to public data should be allowed.

  • Free formats: Data is presented in a format in which no entity has exclusive control.

  • No ownership license: The data is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulations. But privacy and security restrictions apply according to national regulations.

If these general criteria are considered to evaluate the performance of the region, it is found that according to the Global Open Data Index published by the Open Knowledge Foundation, it is found that Brazil is the best in Latin America with the eighth position worldwide, Mexico the second in the 11th position, Colombia the third in the 14th place, and the best in Central America is El Salvador in the 49th place, Guatemala in 56th place, Panama in 61st place and Costa Rica in 64th place; Nicaragua and Honduras were not evaluated.

In another initiative to measure the degree of openness of public data, the results are not very different, since using the information from the Open Data Barometer full World Wide Web FoundationIt is found that with a rating from 0 to 100, Costa Rica obtains 31 points, Panama 30 points, and Guatemala 26 points; showing well behind Latin American leaders such as Mexico with 69 points, Colombia with 52 and Brazil with 50 points.  

In general, Central America has a serious lag in the generation of open data, and that is that although the data is produced in most of the relevant topics such as geographic information, property records, census data, budget, government expenditures, legislatures, infrastructure, commerce, health, education, security, environmental, electoral, public contracting, business records, or economic activity; the criteria mentioned above are not fully met.

This lag in data opening during a multidimensional crisis such as the one that triggered the COVID-19 pandemic, makes coordinated work between sectors, institutions and citizens less effective and limited in the use of technological tools or innovative approaches; opposite case of what has happened in other regions and countries. In other words, once again this global situation has exposed the shortcomings of our systems and processes; We still do not understand that public data can be the gold or oil of the XNUMXst century, but with the advantage that it can be used by many people at any time, and does not lose its value, since open data is evaluated according to its ability to be used without limitations.

Finally the pandemic is far from over and social and economic crises that accompany it will continue to be present in the short and medium term. In this sense, there is an opportunity to move to a model in which public data and statistics are no longer seen as closed and isolated products, starting with health data from the pandemic and data on economic and social impacts; Rather, open data platforms are generated that can help generate trust, transparency, information, knowledge, applications, and tools that serve to accelerate the reconstruction and recovery processes. The great crisis of the XNUMXst century requires responses in accordance with the XNUMXst century.