Opendatacovid.kg was created with one main goal in mind – to provide one-stop access to COVID-19 data with the purpose of informing the public and the data-users (journalists and researchers) on the outbreak of the pandemic in Kyrgyzstan.
Our team branched into doing data-based research and collecting data-stories about people’s experience with COVID-19 and the lockdown. In just four months, Opendatacovid.kg had it all – access to open databases, stories based on data, educational resources and much more.
When the pandemic reached Kyrgyzstan, it was clear that the government was not prioritizing open data access which was essential for the public and journalists.
Therefore, using the limited information access we had, we were able to communicate to the public, alongside local media outlets, that we do not have enough data to make a truly data-driven decision on the COVID-19 measures and assess implemented ones.
Then, we pointed our attention to the long-standing pre-pandemic problems that were not fully addressed or researched before. Together with our community, we initiated crowdsourcing of data on the noise levels during and after the lockdown, and this resulted in data stories into urban problems that usually go unaddressed.
After the strict lockdown measures have been lifted, we noticed soaring levels of misinformation due to the novelty of the virus. Our team partnered with local media to create data-driven media products, which were aimed at clearing up some myths that were circulating through channels such as WhatsApp and other messengers, by providing data literacy insights.
In March, schools in Kyrgyzstan shifted to online education. Our team conducted a study and collected data on the impact of distance learning on Kyrgyz schoolchildren and teachers in order to assess the consequences of imposed measures. We identified multiple obstacles they faced, such as a lack of technical and psychological support from the authorities.
Most importantly though, our aim was to facilitate a culture of data-driven decision-making and transparency through open data access and for our public to be informed & have an access to dashboards and analysis that was provided only through our website. We made sure that the data on our website was open, reliable and accessible to all, for which we created a database that could be used by media outlets, researchers, government agencies etc.
Our project was built using various tools ranging from scrapers to web-building platforms. First, we used Python to scrape the data from the press-releases on the website of the Ministry of Health. Then, we arranged the data into Google Sheets, cross-checked it with published data sources, and made the document (our “database”) available to the public. For our interactive dashboards that updated every day at a certain time, we used Tableau and other visualization tools. Data from the dashboards is also open and available for everyone to download in CSV and XLS formats.
We then used a website-building platform where we laid out all our data and findings for easier access. Once we started collecting stories and doing research, we published it on our website and to date, it contains all data-driven stories on COVID-19 in Kyrgyzstan published by various media outlets in the country. In order to inform the public, we created visualizations, animations using Illustrator and other instruments.
Instruments: Tableau, Datawrapper, Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, CSV, Python, Animation, Scraping
What was the hardest part of this project?
The available data was insufficient to understand the full picture of the pandemic and its impact on the country. There was no access to data on key indicators measuring COVID-19 cases in the country, such as the number of hospital workers, the number and characteristics of the infected hospital workers, how many people were tested per day and what kind of tests were used, data on the hospitalized people, such as their age, gender, location etc. In other words, there was not enough data to assess the scale of this crisis in Kyrgyzstan.
Members of the public, the media and the researchers needed more open data from the Ministry of Health and more diligent ways of spotlighting the situation.
Nevertheless, the government authorities were unwilling to cooperate and did not pay attention to calls for more comprehensive data on the situation. Instead, they shut down all access to COVID-19 data mid-July, putting not only the information channels at risk (such as our website and the media channels that used the data for their stories), but actual lives of Kyrgyz people.
Our team took the initiative and wrote an Open Letter addressed to the Ministry of Health pointing their attention to our constitutional rights to have access to information and open data. The letter provided not only a list of key indicators necessary to measure COVID-19 cases in the country, but also an explanation on how this data could be used for the benefit of ordinary citizens and for better handling of the pandemic. The Open Letter was signed by multiple media outlets, academics, and even ordinary people who shared our values.
What can others learn from this project?
Other journalists can learn that at the major crisis it is essential to have an access to data and government have to make it available as it is our first right to make informed decisions. Transparency and openness helps to combat myths circulating around, even if it is the most basic data, like in this situation in Kyrgyzstan. That being brave and standing up to the government officials through writing an Open Letter to the Ministry of Health and the government to call for more data is our responsibility as a part of civil society.