Unprecedented: the open data community’s pandemic relief guide

Nicole Edwards

June 02, 2020

In our Unprecedented series, we’re introducing you to public servants and civic tech practitioners whose work is making a real difference for residents during COVID-19. Chime in on Twitter using the #unprecedented hashtag.

Eugene Chen, CTO and Director of Darkhorse Analytics.
Eugene Chen, CTO and Director of Darkhorse Analytics.

As you might expect, there was only one topic of conversation at the April meeting of the Canadian Open Data Society. The true scope and scale of COVID-19 was becoming apparent, and that meant planning for the future took a backseat to taking action.

“One of the things that came up was how there’s just so much noise out there. We thought, could we kind of leverage the network of the open community to try and produce something like a guide —something that’s more signal than noise?” says Eugene Chen, a self-proclaimed data nerd and CTO and Director at Darkhorse Analytics.

Eugene and his open data colleagues rolled up their sleeves and got to work on helpwithcovid.ca. Chen describes the project as a public doc where communities can add COVID-related resources, but he’s being perhaps a bit too humble. The guide covers an impressive range of needs — from pandemic data, dashboards, and visualizations, to local information vital to people’s everyday lives, like food security.

Helpwithcovid.ca was set in motion by around 20 people, but anyone with information is welcome to add it to the guide. In fact, you’re encouraged.

“One thing that we’re hoping is that different groups and individuals will fill in some of the content, especially for the local level information, so we can be sure that it’s relevant,” Eugene says.

“As people fill in the content, it begins this cycle of other people seeing it, finding it useful, wanting to share it, then wanting to collaborate with it further.”

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Eugene hopes that contributing to the guide will help people feel empowered, since it offers an opportunity to do something of value for your community while being stuck inside.

“The hope is that you get this cross collaboration, like sort of inspiration from other jurisdictions, and that helps to spawn further ideas and improve outcomes,” he said.

As governments and communities across the country cautiously pivot to re-opening, the team behind helpwithcovid.ca is thinking about the future of the project.

“Post-pandemic, we think that it’s going to have that staying capacity, Eugene says. “It will still be useful, for example, to have a list of online communities that you could reach out to if you need help with something, especially when other sorts of emergencies or crises happen … The guide is also a good place to look for data, and that will be important moving forward too.”

Like many open source projects, helpwithcovid.ca gets better the more people use it. So, take a moment to see if there’s anything that could help your community, and add resources and information to the guide if you can. You never know who might benefit from your contribution.

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Eugene Chen shares what he learned collaborating on helpwithcovid.ca, and the hopes for the future of the project.

You can check out other entries in our Unprecedented series on our blog, or join the discussion on Twitter using the #unprecedented hashtag. If there’s a story you think we should know about, share it here.