How Indonesia’s ‘data worms’ are helping with covid-19
A civilian team of “data worms” in Indonesia that finds and publishes data around coronavirus has become a trusted source of information about the pandemic.
It’s become a form of community data collection that illustrates how to harness data for good. The role this volunteer-led site is playing was discussed in a recent AIC In Conversation webinar.
KawalCovid19.id collects all publicly available information and continuously updates the figures for covid-19 cases and deaths in a country that lacks a uniform data collection process.
“We go to the government, to the national task force website every single day and see the updated numbers. That’s our first point of reference. Then every province has a website to basically present the data from their own province. Sometimes that data goes granular enough at city level. That’s where we get more information than what is presented nationally,” said co-founder Elina Ciptadi.
The team of volunteers also watches press conferences put online, and takes screen-shots of images from Instagram to get as true a picture as possible using publicly available data.
According to Elina Ciptadi, this approach has also shown ordinary people the power of good data and their right to access it.
“We started small and with KawalCovid, we start by presenting the data in sizable chunks that are easy enough for people to understand. So, improving data literacy, essentially. As more and more people are becoming data literate they understand that they have a right to get this information from the government.”
"We felt that we had to step in, because there's a lack of information leadership from the government," says Elina Ciptadi, who as co-founder of @KawalCOVID19 helps Indonesians make sense of pandemic data.
— The Australia-Indonesia Centre (@AusIndCentre) August 11, 2020
A still-developing communications infrastructure means that there are gaps in the information. As well as a drop in the number of provinces providing reports on their situation, from 30 (of 34) to 20.
This is the challenge facing the UN Global Pulse Lab in Jakarta which has been tracking local government reporting of the coronavirus alongside other data sets such as mobility and access to medical facilities.
Lab Head Petra Karetji says combining such information in a transparent way helps make a stronger case for action to deal with the virus.
“We feel it is very important to build public trust in what the government is doing. When there are new policies, citizens are more likely to adhere to the regulations,” he said.
But as the UN Lab’s work has shown, it is not just about physical infrastructure.
“A lot of protocols or agreements really need to be in place before an issue happens. An example is, if we had protocols around mobile data [before the pandemic] so that operators would share certain mobile data, anonymised of course, to help around tracking of issues and just tracking of population mobility, that would be incredibly valuable.”
Deciphering large amounts of data also raises the question of how it is used, and according to Dr Campbell Wilson from Monash University, the pandemic shows that data scientists can do more than put out numbers.
“I think data scientists have a huge responsibility in this. Because just as I said, you can make information from data, of course, [and] you can make misinformation from data. It’s nothing new that statistics can be used to present certain agendas by governments, politicians, everyone in public life, potentially,” he said.
"You can make information from data, of course, [and] you can make misinformation from data," Dr @campbellwilson of @MonashUni said in our latest #InConversation webinar. "It's nothing new that statistics can be used to present certain agendas."
— The Australia-Indonesia Centre (@AusIndCentre) August 13, 2020
“I would, again, echo that the key is probably as much transparency as possible and open sourcing the health data as much as possible, particularly now.”
“Ultimately,” said Dr Wilson, Associate Dean (International) at Monash’s Faculty of Information Technology, “fighting COVID-19, it really is one of the greatest human collaboration efforts that we’ve ever seen. We need everyone to work together; governments’, communities’, everyone’s interest is in getting this over as soon as possible. Again, I think transparency is key to maintaining that trust.”
The webinar is part of The Australia-Indonesia Centre’s commitment to finding areas of common interest between the two nations and working with researchers to learn more and collaborate.