The Role of Open Data in Combating COVID-19

In the Health Affairs Blog, Rockefeller College Associate Professor Erika Martin and colleagues examine the one tool for the COVID-19 response that was not as robust in past pandemics: open data.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 19, 2020) – With the second wave of COVID-19 raging across the U.S., researchers at the University at Albany are examining the role information can play in stemming the pandemic’s tide.

Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy Associate Professor Erika Martin is senior author with current and former doctoral students on two new articles on the coronavirus. In “The Potential Role Of Open Data In Mitigating The COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges And Opportunities,” recently published in the Health Affairs Blog, Martin and colleagues examine the one tool for the COVID-19 response that was not as robust in past pandemics: open data.

For about 15 years, a “quiet open data revolution” has led to the widespread availability of governmental data that are publicly accessible, available in multiple formats, free of charge, and with unlimited use and distribution rights. As the authors write, open data’s value can be found in how diverse users including researchers, practitioners, journalists, application developers, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders will synthesize the data in novel ways to develop new insights and applications.

Associate Professor Erika Martin

Rockefeller College Associate Professor Erika Martin

With co-authors Sunyoung Pyo and Luigi Reggi, Martin and her colleagues document how public tools developed by Johns Hopkins, the New York Times, UNSESCO and others are helping to foster a robust open data ecosystem to ensure that information can be leveraged in both this pandemic and future public health emergencies.  

Pyo, who received her PhD from the Department of Public Administration and Policy at Rockefeller College in 2019, is a senior inspector of the Korean police force as well as an instructor at the Korean National Police University. Reggi has more than 10 years of experience as an open data specialist in the Italian government. He recently defended his PhD dissertation at the Department of Public Administration and Policy and is a former research assistant at the Center for Technology in Government.

Martin is also co-author on a new study published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, which examines how U.S. states adopted “stay at home” orders (SHOs) to limit their residents’ movements away from home and slow the spread of the virus. The study finds that, contrary to media narratives that political factors exclusively drove state decisions on early SHOs, early adopters also had higher outbreak severity and lower hospital capacity, important public health considerations.

The article is co-written by Philip Gigliotti, a PhD candidate in Public Administration and Policy at the Rockefeller College who is completing his dissertation. His research uses causal inference methods to evaluate interventions in public organizations. His dissertation evaluates performance management reforms in local public health departments.

Martin is among several researchers at UAlbany who continue to examine the impact of COVID-19, both within the University community and around the world. Since the spring, Martin, who is also affiliated with the School of Public Health, co-authored numerous thought pieces on protecting the health of vulnerable children and adolescents during K-12 school closures with Rockefeller College Assistant Professor Lucy Sorensen; lessons from Pakistan on the need to maintain momentum on other public health initiatives during the pandemic with PhD alum Hina Khalid; the role of local health departments in the COVID-19 response; and her co-authored editorial on how to rebuild a resilient public health system in the wake of COVID-19. She also coauthored a research article on differences in households’ disaster preparedness with PhD alumn Lucila Zamboni. This work has been featured in JAMA Network Open, JAMA Health Forum, Health Affairs Blog, and The Hill.

More information about UAlbany’s COVID-19 response is available here.

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