This pandemic has provided a lesson in the interdependence of many aspects of life. And it has also demonstrated brutal asymmetries in the impact of disease and the availability of medical care. It is clear that continued indifference for vulnerable communities will prevent complete recovery for this pandemic and public health issues that are to come. Since infectious diseases that may be considered only a problem for the poor can still be spread through interactions regarding critical infrastructure jobs such as agriculture, constructing, and manufacturing.
Therefore, not only is it ethical to properly represent the barriers vulnerable communities face every day for survival even before COVID-19, but also acknowledging that it is a matter of human security due to the domino effects on food and economic security. In terms of food security, having access to farmworkers, viable food distribution practices, and decreased ability by farmers and ranchers to meet the supply demanded. In terms of economic security, loss of jobs, closure of businesses, as such reduced income to cover living and medical expenses.
Data visualizations about COVID-19 cannot solve the problems surfaced and highlighted by the pandemic in 2020. But they should be designed and consumed with the awareness that these problems exist. Rather than see charts as ways of “counting the sick”, there are opportunities to visualize risks, outcomes, and resources that help audiences achieve a collective understanding of risks, resources, and harm as a set of interdependent issues.
Below, we make a series of recommendations for creators, governments, media, educators, and citizens.
Data Visualization/Dashboard Creators
1. Why was the dashboard/visual created? Who does it benefit? Without a purpose for the development of these dashboards/visuals in mind they will lead people to spend more time deciphering what it is meant to show and less time using it as source of guidance. In the case of COVID-19, proper guidance on when to reopen states, the distribution of resources, and what are the red flag areas that require the greatest attention.
2. Drill down page of demographic aspects. The inclusion of this page when dealing with situations such as COVID-19 helps induce readers to do more research beyond what dashboards are showing to obtain a greater understanding. The drill down page could be a small summary of data regarding employment/unemployment, average income, household size, insured/uninsured, languages spoken, and access to clean water by minority/low-income/tribal nation communities.
3. Color palette used. When designing a dashboard that will be consistently updated and serve as a main source of information for a situation it is important noting how colors can influence receptibility and understanding of data by various audiences. Therefore, the use of cool tones (blues, greens) help inform while traffic light color serves to portray good or bad situations. Doing so allows for red flags to be raised for locations that have greatest urgencies without spiraling into high levels of panic.
4. Data definitions and annotations. The addition of a data definitions page or section is important for readers to be able to understand why a specific set of data is being represented and allow for comparisons to be made. On the other hand, annotations help provide insight for aggregations used, outliers, and data sources.
5. Translation of information. It is imperative that dashboards/visuals are translated to languages that encompass a represented area for people to be knowledgeable of the situation and how they can protect themselves.
6. Readability on smartphone/tablet devices. Not everyone has access to a computer or tv, but most have at least a cellphone which serves as their live source to stay updated. As such it is important that dashboards and other visuals are readable on these smaller devices.
7. Most important data placed on top left corner. The placement of important information is derived from the idea that most people read from left to right.
1. Verify information through interdisciplinary perspectives. National governments should disseminate information that has been vetted by advisors that are experts in fields that will portray the most complete picture of the situation. In the case of COVID-19, having experts in epidemiology, sociology, anthropology, psychology, data science/visualizations and a medical doctor to portray susceptibility of some communities beyond the need of access to medical treatment/care.
2. Regulation on how states collect/portray data. During nationwide public health concerns, the national government should provide guidelines for states to follow in regards to a uniform collection of data which is reliable and a valid representation of real-time situations.
Especially in regards to:
Highlighting communities that have the greatest cases – to raise a red flag of locations that need most urgent support and care
Probable vs. confirmed cases
Viral vs. antibody testing
Specimen (one person counted multiple times for each test taken) vs. people tested (one person counted once regardless of tests taken) report
Local vs. imported cases
Thus, allowing for most transparent and clear communication for those who can take action to disburse resources to those in most need.
3. Collaborate with media outlets to reduce fake news and distrust of the people. Provide media outlets with resources/references (data, point of contact for experts in a subject matter, etc.) that aid in narrating/visualizing and humanizing a chaotic situation nationwide.
1. Enhance communication within state. By enhancing communication efforts between counties, regions, etc. (depending on division below a state level) there can be united efforts to efficiently make use of resources, time, and people available to address communities with greatest vulnerabilities and reduce/contain pockets of higher rates of infection in cases such as COVID-19.
2. Improve safety measures for critical infrastructure jobs. Making sure that there is an emphasis on following safety procedure to reduce the spread of a virus in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and constructing which make it hard to social distance. This could be done by providing needed protective items such as face masks and hand sanitizer, making sure that procedures are written in a language that employees can comprehend, and providing information/locations where they may receive further assistance for themselves and their families.
1. Ethical narration of information which may help or hinder containing a public health problem. News organizations should make sure that publications are made after sufficient research has been done and reviewed to show credibility for media outlet. When it comes to people’s intake of information, today there is an infinite amount of choices which publish untrue information for likes/followers/repost. As such it is up to media outlets to put in the extra effort to make a clear distinction between reputable sources versus those only wanting to increase subscriptions. COVID-19 has been a perfect example of how lack of ethics has led people astray, anxious, fearful of the future and often time non-compliant with safety measures to help contain the virus.
2. Representation of vulnerable communities. During chaotic times such as that which we are living with COVID-19, it is important that those who have a wide network and can reach millions of people don’t forget about emphasizing the narratives of people who have the greatest need. Thereby, aiding in the acquirement of funds and additional resources which may be out of reach for many people.
1. Incorporate graphicacy in school curriculum. With the propagation of maps and charts to share large amounts of information in clear/concise ways it is ever more important that students of all ages have an understanding of how to properly analyze visuals. Is this visual necessary? What is being represented? Is visual portrayed in an adequate manner?
2. Update required university core course curriculum. The modification of a curriculum to include courses such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and ethics would allow for students to have exposure to a world outside their own and gain wisdom which will be helpful regardless of their career path. And will also help shape their minds to understand the diversity within our modern world and reduce the sense of parochialism, which is important for generations to come to reduce inequalities and improve equitability.
1. Empowerment of community leaders to raise the voice of those unheard. Empowerment can happen if knowledge of medical findings, care, and additional resources is shared with the general public in a way that is understood by those who did have the opportunity to receive a higher level of education. Meaning that any research/information/updates should be distributed in a language that is not meant for a scholarly presentation but rather easily applied to communities that would benefit from shared knowledge.