Jun 08 2021

How a University Helped Connecticut Create a Data-Driven Pandemic Response

University of Connecticut harnessed the power of data to support community health and economic sustainability.

The state of Connecticut took its first step toward containing the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020 by sending people home to work remotely, temporarily closing public schools and businesses after confirmed cases surpassed 1,000 across the country.

Fast forward several months, and the risks associated with COVID-19 remained high. As a result, community leaders relied on Big Data dashboards to improve their understanding of the virus’s impact. These interactive dashboards provided critical information, revealed areas of concern and helped track trends related to the spread of COVID-19.

This is where UConn’s Analytics and Information Management Solutions group stepped in, working with a private company to bring industry best practices to Connecticut’s pandemic response strategy.

UConn AIMS gave the governor’s office the technical ability to ingest, transform and organize various data. We also provided analytics and dashboards for the state’s advisers to explore and interpret the data. In a matter of two weeks, the collaborative team designed, tested and deployed the technology that launched the state’s ReOpenCT dashboards. This level of rapid response was critical not only to supporting public health initiatives but to the stability and health of people across the state.

These dashboards have become the go-to source for data on community and mobile testing results across the state, such as testing sites, dates, demographics and results. These dashboards communicate complex data sets in intuitive and user-friendly ways. Decision-makers can use them to make timely decisions on when to tighten or ease restrictions, as well as where to set up new testing sites or where to ramp up public health education.

SEE HOW: University of Buffalo helped the city’s essential 311 call center transition to remote work.

Maximizing Collaboration and Leveraging Data During Critical Times

Our collaboration to create the COVID-19 dashboards revealed four key guiding principles that can benefit academic institutions, state agencies and data analytics experts everywhere:

  • User input comes first. Understand that your requirements come from the business side. If you design systems without the input of the business user, it’s a “build it and they will come” approach, which will likely meet adoption resistance. This will ultimately be a waste of time and money. In essence, the left hand is technical and the right hand is business. You need both to address the drivers and impacts that enable, not hinder, business.
  • Data is one of your most valuable assets. If you have data, you can apply analytics to generate information that can support decision-making and help you maneuver difficult transitions and challenges. This information allows your team to be flexible and responsive enough to accommodate changing workflows as your organization evolves. Data allows you to learn from continuous iterations.
  • Data drives business decisions. Trusting your gut based on experience is one approach, but big decisions should be supported by data and the information and story that it tells. Understanding even a small percentage of your data can either confirm your instincts or tell you it is better to change course. Maintaining an ongoing understanding of these insights can help your organization develop repeatable process improvements for internal workflows or external user experiences.
  • Innovation is about looking ahead. To stay ahead of needs and to ensure you’re maximizing technology capabilities, don’t think about how you’ve been using technology or about current technological limitations. Consider how you can change things in the future.

Among national experts, there is a consensus that state and national leaders must scale up public health infrastructure to limit the impacts of future pandemics. To achieve this, states need access to data and information to fully understand the impact of outbreaks — and how to proactively prevent them.

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