To help resource-scarce and not-so-digital governments build out their contact-tracing and economic recovery efforts during the COVID-19 crisis, BrightHive, a data management company that works with state and local governments, released a pair of “playbooks” this week that offer tips and best practices for a digital-first pandemic response.
One playbook, designed with help from the Future of Privacy Forum, offers state and local agencies — and third parties that rely on their data — an outline for how to responsibly share COVID-19 data while developing contact-tracing programs, which require multiple organizations learning where individuals were at certain times and who they contacted. The difficulty in developing contact-tracing applications without giving up residents’ private information has slowed government efforts to track the virus.
But after listening to calls from states that had “invested a lot of money into creating these contact-tracing apps” that did not produce the data they expected, Natalie Michelle Evans Harris, a BrightHive founder and former adviser to the Obama administration, said her team saw a need for a “quick-action” playbook for public use.
“With contact tracing, we were getting a lot of inquiries from states around: ‘How do I make my data responsibly accessible to these third-party vendors saying they can build these contact tracing apps?” Harris said.
The playbook offers government leaders a series of steps to take to ease the tension between public health officials and third-party contact-tracing app developers, like establishing an “exit strategy” for after the pandemic ends and minimizing the data collection to only what will help accomplish public health goals. It also details how an agency can support an “opt-in” model for contact tracing and support employers that want to practice internal contact tracing, like seeking an independent ethical review of the data-collection process and allowing residents the ability to request a human review of any automated decision-making that happens during the process.
The goal is to allow agencies to collaborate effectively with the companies that want to help with contact-tracing efforts, Harris said.
“Let’s create a set of plays that are easily digestible and create a start down a path of being able to do this,” she said.
The second playbook is aimed at to helping employment agencies and philanthropic organizations develop job-seeking tools for recently laid-off workers. But, Harris said, it’s also meant to offer support for the workforce after the pandemic recedes. That playbook, Harris said, emphasizes the idea that governments and outside organizations can share data to help people find work more easily than a one-off platform can, and that those platforms should be designed to engage job-seekers above all else.
“Once COVID happened, we started getting a lot of requests from states: ‘How do we handle this? How do we make data accessible to organizations outside of the government that want to be able to help people find jobs?’” Harris said.
Both playbooks are designed to be living documents that government agencies, nonprofits and other civic stakeholders can submit changes to. BrightHive also hosts public Slack channels that allow them to discuss the content of the playbooks.
The playbooks are also a way to encourage more organizations to reach out for help on specific issues, Harris said. Texas, for example, asked BrightHive to create a rapid-response data-trust so that agencies could quickly gather and distribute information on where early-childcare centers are available throughout the state to organizations that then deliver it to at-risk residents, like Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit that helps military families get childcare.
“These are community-based resources. We want others to contribute to building out these playbooks,” Harris said, “because it’s the pandemic today, but we don’t know what’s happening down the road.”