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An Open Response to COVID-19

Lessons from the Open Cities Network


The Open Cities Network brings together open data practitioners from around the world who are working to support local governments and cities on open approaches to the use of data and technology. This post provides updates from Open & Agile Smart Cities, Open Contracting Partnership, Sunlight Foundation, Open Data Charter, and Reboot.

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March and the initiation of a global lockdown, public attention has been increasingly focused on data related to the outbreak. “Humanity’s first data-driven pandemic” has witnessed the mushrooming of numerous trackers and dashboards that are collecting and sharing statistics on new cases, deaths, and recoveries, along with emerging debates on issues such as privacy and demographic data collection.

Key issues of data collection and sharing are even more visible as the relative data and coordination capacities of different jurisdictions come to the surface during this pandemic. As the COVID-19 outbreak has unfolded, members of the Open Cities Network have engaged in various ways, producing resources and sharing insights with different stakeholders. We have collated some highlights here for you to identify useful tools and lessons that you may consider using in your local response.

Open & Agile Smart Cities

Lea Hemetsberger, Brussels

The novel coronavirus pandemic demonstrates that data governance and data interoperability with trust and enabled by open standards are crucial to respond quickly and proactively: In times when data-based and proactive policy-making is most needed, the inability to share, integrate and analyse data sources across cities, regions and nation-states is measured in the loss of human lives.

Because cities and local governments are key in solving short as well as long-term challenges caused by COVID-19, Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC) is now collecting operational solutions based on the minimal interoperability approach that can scale easily and quickly to other cities and regions in the world.

The solutions will be showcased in the brand-new OASC Catalogue where cities & communities can discover and reuse them. Submit a solution now:

Among the solutions already submitted is a real-time data-driven decision support system used by 10,000 doctors and the regional task forces of Veneto and Lombardia: The DE4Bios platform applies open standards and APIs to connect to any legacy systems, integrate and analyse data to support evidence-based decision making. It can easily link to any legacy platform and ongoing local, national and international initiatives. Another solution is the volunteer management platform ImpactDays. ImpactDays is already used in Brussels and close to 300 other cities, mostly in Belgium, where OASC has its headquarters.

Open Contracting Partnership

Kaye Sklar, Washington, D.C.

Rapid and efficient procurement of life-saving goods and services is essential in the fight against the Coronavirus. Governments will likely need to resort to emergency procedures and negotiated arrangements. How they manage that emergency procurement will play a major role in how they contain COVID-19 and how many lives can be saved. Moving forward, procurement will also play an essential role in the recovery phase to revive the hard-hit small and medium enterprises sector and ensure that major procurement projects deliver the greatest value possible to communities.

It is public procurement’s moment in the spotlight. It needs to be fast, smart and open if it’s going to shine. We have recommendations to help you make this happen.

Already, we at Open Contracting Partnership have begun supporting our partners around the world:

  • In Moldova, we are supporting the collaboration between the medical procurement authority and civil society to improve coordination in planning the COVID-19 response procurement and monitoring its implementation.

  • In Colombia, we supported the national public procurement agency to populate their item catalogs for COVID-19 response framework agreements by inviting suppliers to a pre-market engagement process.

  • In Paraguay, we worked with the national public procurement agency to publish a searchable dataset of their COVID-19 response procurement.

Check out our full list of resources and get in touch with us today.

Sunlight Foundation

Becca Warner, Washington, D.C.

As cities adapt to the necessity of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, community engagement practices must be maintained to ensure open, democratic governance. Sunlight’s work aims to configure an inclusive, and participatory infrastructure of openness in partnership with everyone who has a stake in cities: residents, community organizations, businesses, and government alike. In response to COVID-19, we’re developing a suite of resources intended to guide local government officials in efficient & impactful virtual community engagement.

Accompanying the development of these new resources, Sunlight will publish a series of blog posts offering insight and strategies to cities operating in a time of social distance and remote governance. We hope to surface new ideas and collaborative approaches with partners as cities adapt to a changing, digital world.

Open Data Charter

Natalia Carfi, Buenos Aires

There is an urgent need for data about COVID-19 – whether it’s to track the spread of the disease, identify the availability of supplies, or monitor fast-tracked emergency procurement. Yet governments are struggling to share consistent, up-to-date information during a time of crisis. What are essential types of data that governments can open up to help inform actions and improve collaboration across the readiness, response, and recovery stages of a pandemic?

Starting with a draft taxonomy that builds on the data that is currently being shared and used to tackle COVID-19, the Open Data Charter, OECD, Open North, and other partners are exploring what critical data should be made publicly available in reliable and safe ways. For example, Open North’s Applied Research Lab investigators Megan Wylie and Steve Coutts have collected information and completed real-life examples (primarily from Canada). A shared draft document is open for contributions here. If you want to help shape this collective resource please reach out to us at


Panthea Lee, New York City & Adam Talsma, Abuja

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the deep injustices and failures of our dominant ideologies, systems, and institutions. Many of us are asking ourselves: What is our role now in immediate response? Looking ahead, how do we build a more just and resilient future?

To support the work of radical transformation, we’ve been working at the intersection of diverse actors. We’re working with governments and international agencies to strengthen social safety nets in collaboration with grassroots responders (including an upcoming summit in Asia); with civil society groups and independent media to ensure institutional responses center equity and justice (including with our 70+ network in Nigeria); and with tech platforms to build out new tools to support mutual aid efforts, with a focus on vulnerable states.

Some resources and reflections:

We’re also exploring the possibility of creating a new space for incubating the radical cross-sectoral collaborations that this moment demands of us. We’re hungry for input and open to partnership, so please get in touch.

Open North

Jean-Noe Landry & Nabeel Ahmed, Montreal

At Open North, we have been exploring multiple avenues to support government and non-government actors in data capacity and collaboration. One of the key areas we’ve focused on is data information and visualization, which have been critical to managing and containing the COVID-19 outbreak.

Appropriate presentation of data and statistics are not merely public relations exercises; they require an appreciation of data collection, processing, and analysis methods. Issues of scale, aggregation, time, and appropriate units of analysis are still an issue when representing infections in maps, while the communication of modelled outputs is an ongoing challenge in science communication (Bucchi & Trench, 2008).

Open North is providing input to the Canadian government as part of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Open Government, including reinforcing the importance of core privacy principles as the government implements surveillance methods for contact tracing. At the Community Solutions Network (for which Open North is the technical lead), local examples of resilience are being documented. Our discussions at the Canadian Data Governance Standardization Collaborative (part of the Standards Council of Canada) co-chaired by Statistics Canada and Element AI are now including health data use cases for data governance. We are also looking at approaches to supporting data collection and structuring efforts from key organisations, such as the Canadian Urban Institute’s monitoring of Canadian municipal-level crisis responses, through collaboration between governments, non-profits, and technology firms.

As this is a global effort, Open North is engaging the global Open Cities Network to share crisis responses of different entities and cities around the world (summarised above). We are also contributing to a blog post with the International Open Data Charter to help identify key datasets that can be opened to assist national policymakers and inform coordinated responses globally. Data sharing and interoperability are crucial to fighting this pandemic and it is now that the global community of data advocates, researchers, and implementers are ever more important.

If your organization is working on open cities initiatives, please contact us at

*Sources: Bucchi, M., & Trench, B. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of public communication of science and technology. Routledge.

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