What is the potential of mobility data to tackle pandemics?
Posted on 5th of April 2021 by Andrew Zahuranec, Andrew Young, Brennan Lake, Aditi Ramesh, Stefaan Verhulst
Thinking about March 2020 can be a surreal experience. This time last year, people around the world were just entering lockdown — for what many assumed would be a few weeks. Restaurants and hotels shut their doors. Busy squares emptied out. People around the world dramatically altered their movements to avoid spreading the disease to their neighbors and loved ones. For some time, the impact of these changes remained unclear.
To understand the cumulative effects of these shocks on disease spread, researchers and policymakers scrambled to find new ways to understand the impact of these changes on disease spread and public well-being. One approach that emerged centered on the analysis of mobility data, data about the location of a device passively produced through normal activity.
Two weeks ago, the Open Data Institute published a new report from The GovLab and Cuebiq studying this approach, The Use of Mobility Data for Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Extracted from an analysis of 51 uses of mobility data around the world, the report details what mobility data is, the ethical considerations that must be made before it can be used, and lessons it provides for pandemic response. The report’s findings are supplemented by five case studies that look specifically at applications in Canada, the European Union, Chile, United Kingdom, and various other countries. Each of these case studies rely on several interviews with project participants to understand what they accomplished, difficulties they encountered, and lessons they learned from their experiences. Each piece was subject to a peer review process to identify gaps and improve the analysis’s overall quality.
In line with The GovLab’s other work, all the projects identified are data collaboratives, a new form of collaboration, beyond the public-private partnership model, in which participants from different sectors — in particular companies — exchange their data to create public value. The analysis seeks to identify if mobility data can be used responsibly and in a way consistent with local expectations.