Data Readiness: Lessons from an Emergency

The DELVE Initiative:  “Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has required rapid decision-making in changing circumstances. Those decisions and their effects on the health and wealth of the nation can be better informed with data. Today, technologies that can acquire data are pervasive. Data is continually produced by devices like mobile phones, payment points and road traffic sensors. This creates opportunities for nowcasting of important metrics such as GDP, population movements and disease prevalence, which can be used to design policy interventions that are targeted to the needs of specific sectors or localities. The data collected as a by-product of daily activities is different to epidemiological or other population research data that might be used to drive the decisions of state. These new forms of data are happenstance, in that they are not originally collected with a particular research or policy question in mind but are created through the normal course of events in our digital lives, and our interactions with digital systems and services.

This happenstance data pertains to individual citizens and their daily activities. To be useful it needs to be anonymized, aggregated and statistically calibrated to provide meaningful metrics for robust decision making while managing concerns about individual privacy or business value. This process necessitates particular technical and domain expertise that is often found in academia, but it must be conducted in partnership with the industries, and public sector organisations, that collect or generate the data and government authorities that take action based on those insights. Such collaborations require governance mechanisms that can respond rapidly to emerging areas of need, a common language between partners about how data is used and how it is being protected, and careful stewardship to ensure appropriate balancing of data subjects’ rights and the benefit of using this data. This is the landscape of data readiness; the availability and quality of the UK nation’s data dictates our ability to respond in an agile manner to evolving events….(More)”.