Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Cities Turn Off Health Dashboards as COVID Crisis Fades

Chief data officers are no longer gathering and analyzing vast and divergent data to give executive leadership the information they needed to make quick and essential decisions during a fast-moving public health crisis.

During the COVID-19 pandemic the data dashboard became one of the most popular new gadgets across cities and counties in the United States.

These days, those hastily built tools to offer some sort of window into the pandemic are beginning to go silent and dark as the virus moves from a major heath crisis to a manageable part of American life.

Looking back on those months — and some of the lessons learned — data experts say the dashboard is not always the best solution to understand a crisis and the best response to it.

“Dashboards don’t always have the context,” Justin Elszasz, chief data officer for Baltimore, said flatly at the Bloomberg CityLab conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday. “And they don’t always tell a story. And what chief data officers need to help do is tell a story around the data. Because that’s what motivates people to change. It’s what motivates people to make decisions.

“I also think that’s a key responsibility for chief data officers,” he added.

During the pandemic, CDOs quickly became go-to officials in public decision-making circles, taking lead roles within the senior leadership at the city, county and state levels. They were often asked to gather and analyze vast and divergent data to give executive leadership the information they needed to make quick and essential decisions during a fast-moving public health crisis.

“We knew that containment had failed, and we would have to move to a mitigation strategy. But what did that actually mean? How are we going to make the right decisions?” recalled Grace Simrall, chief of civic innovation and technology in Louisville, Ky., also speaking on the panel.

Moving forward, data leaders questioned how many lessons had really been learned during the pandemic, as funding and other resources for public health slip back to the short shrift public health received before COVID-19.

“As some of our funding sources have dried up, other funding sources will dry up,” Simrall said. “And eventually we will be back to where we started, which is with really nothing, in terms of data.”

Louisville is beginning the process of sunsetting its COVID-19 dashboard, in part because of a mismatch between data on the dashboard and county-level data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We recognize there are other sources of information that continue to help serve as that canary-in-the-coal-mine leading indicator,” said Simrall, calling attention to data gathered from wastewater. Cities across the country regularly look for the COVID-19 virus in wastewater and track its trajectory as a barometer for the level of virus spread in the community.

“The city made a really strong bet that that would help us get ahead of the spread. And sure enough, it did,” said Simrall.

But as far as those dashboards, today they are largely “defunct, or not being used, or both,” said Elszasz.

“What we ought to be asking chief data officers for is decision support,” he added. “Don’t tell us you want a dashboard. Tell us you need help making a decision.”

Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.
From Our Partners