A lack of information sharing has posed major challenges to the international medical and emergency response community in the recent past. The criticisms raised during the Ebola crisis serve to illustrate this point. To address these “deficiencies with existing data-sharing mechanisms,” the World Health Organization (WHO) published a call to researchers in September 2015 emphasizing the urgency for data sharing in the context of the Zika virus epidemic in the Americas.
Following the WHO call, an array of global medical development and research institutions publicly stated their support and commitment to the movement. Currently, more than 30 like-minded organizations have ratified the WHO’s Consensus Statement on data sharing.
With this collaborative spirit in mind, here are five initiatives using open knowledge to power the multilateral and multi-sector response to the Zika crisis and other mosquito-borne diseases. These initiatives are supporting the efforts of those in charge of creating public policies and providing emergency response to the Zika virus by allowing them to make better informed decisions.
1 IDB and the Governance Lab: Zika SmarterCrowdsourcing
Acting in the spirit of the movement, the Division of Social Protection and Health of the Inter-American Development Bank is collaborating with the Governance Lab (GovLab) at New York University (NYU) and government partners from Argentina, Colombia, Panama and local government from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to facilitate a conference series using “Smarter Crowdsourcing“. This is based in a methodology using online open calls to invite experts to share their knowledge with the collaborating government agencies in the region responding to a curated set of problem questions.
The GovLab describes this initiative as a low-cost yet effective way “to mobilize and curate diverse and distributed expertise — both credentialed know-how and experiential wisdom by leveraging the power of the Internet.”
The Zika Smarter Crowdsourcing series is looking for specialists across sectors in order to promote a collaborative and sustainable response to the Zika crisis. Participants will have the opportunity to be part of the brainstorming process and share their strategy with public officials. Later on, this ideas could be translated into public policies.
2 World Health Organization: Zika Open
Zika Open is a space within the World Health Organization’s (WHO) peer-reviewed journal, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, where experts can freely share their data “while meeting their need to retain authorship, achieve precedence, and put their research on public record.”
To date, the Zika Open initiative has resulted in 22 research documents openly shared on the portal as part of the Zika response effort. This information, which otherwise would have been kept under wraps while awaiting publication or limited by license, includes studies on the impact of Zika virus in pregnancy; the risk of microcephaly after having been infected by Zika virus; review of protective measures for preventing Zika virus infection among pregnant women, among other studies.
3 Google and UNICEF: Open Source Data Platform
The top search engine in the world is often responsible for directing the first lines of information into the hands of citizens, especially when it comes to answering questions about personal health. In order to improve the response to people’s emergency-related searches, Google and UNICEF are working to develop an open source dashboard to analyze large quantities of data as well as to visualize and predict potential outbreaks. The dashboard will process wide swaths of data from multiple sources, including Zika search data already available.
4 GitHub + BuzzFeed: zika-data
Open-source datasets related to Zika are reportedly difficult to find. Buzzfeed data journalist Jeremy Singer-Vine took it upon himself to set up this open repository on GitHub, bringing together the most relevant datasets from various and disparate international organizations in one comprehensive list organized by global data and country-specific data.
Members of the GitHub community are welcome to suggest and add datasets as they are found and vetted. The public “commit” history provides a transparent record of what’s been added or changed within the associated sets.
5 Pan American Health Organization: Resource Mobilization Visualization
Looking to maximize the resources dedicated to the Zika virus, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) developed the Strategy for Enhancing National Capacity to Respond to Zika virus Epidemic in the Americas. The initiative aims to close the knowledge gap between those who are prepared to give and those who are in need. Often, this gap prevents an effective distribution of vital resources.
The Strategy document openly details a full spectrum of anticipated epidemic response activities and helped develop the Resource Mobilization Visualization. Using this public visualization, responders at any level can see total budgets available by donor or by activity to conceptualize available funding. They can also identify and respond directly to a topic area that is comparatively underserved in a particular phase.
These five projects and others like them are demonstrating the exponential power of open knowledge in the regional Zika response while testing and strengthening collaborative methodologies that can be applied to many other global challenges related to health and other crisis areas.
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On September 28 the governments in the “Smarter Crowdsourcing” initiative will consult with an audience of experts in order to discuss topics of data governance related to Zika. If you are a high-level professional with experience related to the design, strategy, and implementation of protocols and mechanisms for data collection and/or data sharing, please apply here.
Por Michelle Marshall de la División de Protección Social y Salud del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo