COVID-19 has caused huge disruptions to the way we live our lives. However, everything will eventually get to some normality again. But it will be a new norm.
Data detail during COVID-19
I’ll be posting these insights regularly with the first shown below. Data is pivotal in all of the lessons presented. They are brief and personal views. Feel free to comment and contribute. I am expecting differences of opinion. Some of the topics are somewhat controversial. Some lessons learnt are however plainly obvious.
- Anyone having to lead and manage an outbreak like Covid 19 is faced with an enormous challenge.
- Most governments and leaders today err on the side of limiting how much information is shared rather than being completely transparent. However, is this the right way forward?
- Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendon Murphy said "The only numbers I have total faith in are the Australian numbers, frankly". Sadly, this is a problem. Of course this is no different to any other business/organisation outside of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Waiting for, wading through, and deciphering copious amounts of data is hard enough. Making sense of data and acting on it is another thing.
- Performing with time limitations and knowing there are dire consequences on viral spread, health, commerce and life as we know it, depends on getting this bit right.
- But the question is, how much of this information (assuming it is accurate) on hand can be published? Through which channels? What if the data is not entirely accurate or complete, must it be published but with an asterix (*)? Who determines if the source of the information reliable?
I was watching an episode of Q&A Monday 16th March 2020, an Australia open forum program that includes a panel of guests and members of the public to debate topics. This episode centred on the coronavirus and what appeared to be easy shots at the government by panel members and the public for not being transparent.
I’m not always a fan of Government (I think they are too big and clunky to be efficient, effective, flexible and nimble) but I have enormous respect for front line public service professional who do their best representing and servicing the nation. Governments are not perfect, ministers don’t know it all and pandemics don’t happen every day (thankfully).
What data should be shared?
People/organisations in power have at their disposal information that is not freely available to everyone. What gets shared is at the discretion of those in possession of the information. Some might choose to retain data for commercial reasons, yet others elect to abstain from sharing for reasons that relate primarily to control, security, health or even safety. Yet transparency of information becomes vital because the pandemic places pressure on every facet of society. Not only on our health system and health professionals who risk their own safety for the greater good of humankind, but also the extensive impact on our very way of life.
The effect on our economy, resources, employment, social order, human psychology, finances, trade, lifestyle etc. is so enormous, the availability of and ability to share good, accurate data becomes paramount.
The flow on effect
Delivering one message without understanding the impact this message has on other facets of society is risky. Hypothetically, what would be the flow on effect, if government was to say that we only have enough Covid-19 diagnostic test kits for 5% of the population, yet at the same time announce that half the Australia population are at risk of being infected with the disease? Will this not imply a lack of planning? Is the Australian government in control? Will this instil public fear? Is this an outcome we all want? Conversely, what is the impact of not being transparent?
I’m a believer in complete transparency and data democracy.
As succinctly explained in The Age /Sydney Morning Herald on April 2, 20202 “Conspiracy theories are born out of the murky feeling that not all is being revealed to us, that the truth is still in shadow, and someone else is pulling the strings.” In other words, if you are not completely transparent, people will form their own and different opinions (right or wrong) given the lack of information. Sharing what you have, but being transparent about what data you don’t have is just as important. It buys time and avoids reactions likely to resemble panic and anxiety, promoting conspiracy theories and rumours.
Whilst I recognise that In the case of Covid-19, the delivery of information needs to be “managed”, it must only be managed from the perspective of what is accurate, what is being verified and what is to date unknown.
There are always going to be polarising views when it comes to information sharing – whatever that information might be. However, when it comes to transparency it must only be open, frank, complete (warts and all) exposure. When it comes to a pandemic, everything available and qualified as accurate must be shared with the community. The conventional wisdom of giving leaders everything and assuming they are doing all of the right things is fraught with danger. Giving many people information to help fix problems is better than giving the responsibility to few people. The lesson here is share it all.
The challenge to consider is, once data is made public, what is the forum for sharing this information? Is it social media? I think not.
Not a social solution
Public forums (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) have time and again proven to lack the rigour and the control necessary for people to access true and accurate data from which to openly debate something as important as a pandemic. The key point is once we have agreed a forum, how do we gather input and contributions from the collective and who takes the ideas and executes them to actions to benefit our people and society? Get all the data, form your own opinion.