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In this new normal, one thing is becoming increasingly clear

The economies that have responded most effectively to C-19 are those that have relied on data. Information really is power.

So far Singapore is the exemplar of this. Despite their physical and economic proximity to other hot spots of infection, the Singapore government has recorded to date just 96 cases of infection, and perhaps more impressively, very few deaths. C-19 may provide the perfect opportunity for other economies to be asking how they achieved this and if any of the lessons of the Singapore model can be usefully deployed at home? And how might we take those capabilities forward beyond Covid-19 as re-imagined citizen services?

A perfect storm

First – the caveats. The Singapore situation is unique – advanced well-funded healthcare coupled with a very compliant (relatively small) population. However, while this is true, a crucial part of their success is a reliance on getting data and using it to shape their responses.  And they did it quickly. They merged health and travel databases — a seemingly complex task achieved within a day — and then made that information widely available to help identify cases. Then they launched a text and mobile web-based software solution on February 10th through which people placed under home quarantine could report their location and health status to the government. It followed this up by using its early infections to establish an advanced contact tracing system and deploying that data to make crucial decisions about isolation, quarantine and health provision.

Is citizen trust the answer to poor data?

We all know that an algorithm is only as good as the information that goes into it. The Canadian BlueDot was able to track the spread of the was able to detect the outbreak days before initial reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization. BlueDot’s algorithm picked up early warning signals by applying natural language processing and machine learning to data sets including news coverage, global flight patterns, and government reports.

But most systems rely on the data coming out of healthcare systems.  The Singapore example is unique because the population were far more willing to supply personal data for the greater good than most developed economies. With the proliferation of health monitoring devices and applications there should be no shortage of data that governments could draw on to inform their response to this crisis but it feels unlikely that many of us would be happy with any Government that suggested it was going to start isolating individuals based on information gleaned from their mobile device. If we are to match the efficacy of our response to that of Singapore, we may need to overcome that.

At the heart of that is a renewed debate about the balance between data and privacy. Organisations and governments need to do more to demonstrate that they can be responsible with our data. In return individuals could be asked to provide time limited access to personal data – in the pursuit of the greater good.

It’s a cliché but trust is a two way street. If C-19 achieves anything it may be an opportunity to agree at last a common contract around data – that allows us at last to harness the power it has to change outcomes for the better.

Remember Singapore. 96 cases. No deaths.

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