Why Data Sharing Matters in Times of Crisis

Covid19 Data culture

April 02, 2020

Reading time: 5 min




Let's look at why data sharing is vital during this period of extreme uncertainty.

“The media is blowing things way out of proportion. After all, it’s nothing more than a new kind of flu.” I have to admit, that was still my mindset on March 12...until I stumbled upon this article by Tomas Pueyo. 

Pueyo is not a doctor. He’s not even a journalist. But his article had a huge impact: it was read more than 30 million times, translated into 20 languages, and played a role in the decision-making process of many politicians.* What makes this article different from the dozens of other articles on the coronavirus? It’s chock-full of data! And not just data about the people who are infected by or who have succumbed to the virus (the type of information we are bombarded with all day long), but predictive models, or the data that pushes us to take action. “It wasn’t my job to do research, but to collect data. I put all my analyses in a single article so people would understand the urgency of the situation,”  declared Tomas Pueyo during an interview with French media outlet 20 minutes.

In the days that followed the publication of this article, a number of difficult decisions were made, including closing businesses, cancelling events, and imposing work from home and quarantines. Within a few short days, our perception of the virus had changed. 

For me, it was important to understand how data allows us to manage a crisis like the one we are currently experiencing, and to explore the psychological factors that come into play. 

When theory becomes reality

In Europe, we’ve been hearing about the coronavirus since December. But even just a few weeks ago, no one really believed it would affect us. “China is so far away, the virus is likely to die out before it ever reaches France.” And even when the virus arrived in nearby Italy, we still clung to the hope that it would somehow be contained before crossing our borders. Optimistic by nature, human beings have a hard time making difficult decisions until the very last minute

According to a study conducted by Tali Sharot of University College London and Christoph Korn of the Freie Universität in Berlin, “the brain has difficulty adapting to bad news and incorporating information that leads to less optimistic results. This inability to interpret alarming signals can have significant repercussions for the human race.”

We can’t help but draw a parallel between the coronavirus and global warming: we may realize that many natural disasters are just waiting to happen, but most of us are not yet ready to take action. We have lots of data on global warming, and some of this data is extremely alarming. But in our minds, we can’t imagine climate change actually affecting us any time soon, just like the coronavirus seemed inconceivable a few weeks ago. However, in the article by Tomas Pueyo (from March 12), the urgency of the virus cannot be ignored: “Although there are 126 reported cases in Paris, the actual number is probably in the hundreds or even thousands. In the French region Île-de-France, 630 cases have been reported. But the actual number may already be in the tens of thousands. In France, the coronavirus epidemic is already more serious than in China. We just don’t realize it yet. If your company is located in Paris and has 250+ employees, there’s a 95% chance that at least one of your employees is already infected by the virus. Close your office immediately."

It seems that detailed figures, combined with a sense of urgency, lead us to finally take action.

The importance of predictive models

Data not only serves as information, but also allows experts to perform analyses and create predictive models that help authorities make decisions. Thanks to predictive models like those by Tomas Pueyo, companies can adapt, hospitals can make arrangements, and governments can spring into action.  

This was the case in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region of France: “In an internal document from March 16, hospitals were warned via predictive models that by the beginning of April, up to 300 beds would be required for intensive care throughout the region. This amounts to 50% more than the current capacity. As a result, all the hospitals in the region were forced to make arrangements to accommodate the influx of patients, in particular those in the most serious conditions. It was decided that half of the beds would be used for intensive care and half for life support.”

As for the government, French President Emmanuel Macron set up a scientific committee composed of 10 experts to assist with decisions regarding the population. According to confidential predictive models exposed by Le Monde, the Covid-19 epidemic, in the absence of containment measures, could cause between 300,000 and 500,000 deaths in France. These models allowed the government to adopt measures commensurate with the severity of the situation.

We can only make good decisions by analyzing data. It’s no coincidence that the hospitals of Paris are currently looking for data scientists.

Data for getting a handle on the situation

In today’s world, information is everywhere and we're not used to being in the dark when it comes to a global emergency. The current crisis can therefore leave us feeling dumbfounded: although the media conveys whatever information it can, this pandemic escapes our understanding. Experts lack the necessary experience to provide us with definite answers. What are the exact symptoms? When will a vaccine emerge? How long will the lockdown last? Many questions remain unanswered. In this precarious and stressful situation, data reassures us and allows us to feel slightly more in control.

For data to fulfill this reassuring role, it must be accessible and easy to understand. Many public institutions have therefore launched data sharing initiatives with the pandemic-related information at their disposal.

Here are a few inspiring examples:

Castilla y Leon & its Covid-19 data

Our customer Junta de Castilla y Leon has published a Covid-19 dashboard on its portal. The portal's API is queried approx. 4 million times every day!

Situación epidemiológica del coronavirus en Castilla y León — Análisis de datos abiertos JCyL (1)



Issy-Les-Moulineaux & home deliveries

The city of Issy-les-Moulineaux uses its open data platform to list the local businesses that offer home delivery during the Covid-19 lockdown. Handy information!

 Liste des commerces isséens qui proposent une livraison à domicile durant le COVID-19 — Data Issy (2)


Dunkerque & its local producers

The crisis is making life especially difficult for small producers. The city of Dunkerque decided to lend these producers a hand by listing on its portal all the production sites that are still open to consumers.


Producteurs alimentaires locaux - COVID 19 - CUD — data.dunkerque-agglo.fr


Île-de-France & open pharmacies

During the health crisis, the Île-de-France region has set up a map allowing citizens to find the nearest open pharmacies. 


Découvrez la carte des pharmacies dÎle-de-France


BPCE & its branches

The financial group BPCE provides a list of its branches in Île-de-France with their status during the lockdown (open/closed).

#COVID19 Agences Caisse dEpargne IDF ouvertes_fermées — Opendatasoft


Corsica & its Covid-19 data

Corsica provides dataset with information on the epidemic on what the French refer to as the “Isle of Beauty.” These sheets were created on the basis of data from Santé Publique France.


Données hospitalières relatives à lépidémie de COVID-19 en Corse — Opendatasoft


Today, the saying “sharing is caring” is more relevant than ever. We’ve therefore decided to help you share your Covid-19-related data (free of charge). 

  • If you already have an ODS portal: We created an app just for the health crisis. This app makes it easier for our customers to share their data on the pandemic (see the Junta de Castilla y Leon dashboard).
  • If you do not yet work with ODS yet: We can help you create a concise and easy-to-read dashboard like this one, even if your organization does not have an open data portal.

Feel free to contact us if you need help setting up such a dashboard or any other data sharing project.

Read more from this author


Covid19 Data culture

Subscribe to
Our Newsletters