Why Hawaii Must Transform Its Approach To Data - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Nick Redding

Nick Redding Ph.D. is executive director of the Hawaii Data Collaborative. He is a member of the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group, a voluntary brain trust to help confront the challenges of COVID-19 via the use of data and models.


Recently, insufficient COVID-19 data in Hawaii has gained urgent attention from the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, the State Auditor, disaster management experts, and veteran journalists.

There is no need to rehash all that has been said about the lack of solid COVID-19 data, and there is little point in joining the chorus of criticism of the Department of Health. Instead, let me simply say that the situation we find ourselves in today was arguably inevitable.

As a community, we have come to accept from our institutions the practice of providing limited or no data to other concerned entities or to the general public. We do not take seriously the need for open data to tackle our most pressing challenges. The current health crisis is simply a manifestation of that.

In the most recent House Select Committee meeting, it was said that the current COVID-19 situation was not caused by decisions made by the DOH director and others — “it goes deeper than that.” The committee believes that there is a need to shift the culture of leadership to an action orientation grounded in accountability and transparency.

Pile of computer keyboards in an empty Hawaii Convention Center ballroom next to a operational Department of Health contact tracing ballroom with staff. Governor Ige earlier held a press conference in this room.

Computer keyboards at a Hawaii Convention Center ballroom for Department of Health contact tracing. The media and public have struggled to get more data from state officials.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I agree, and would add that a strong culture of data is also needed to enable and elevate strong leadership during the current crisis, and the many challenges we face from the long-term impact of the pandemic. Moreover, data provides us a way to assess what we discover when we have accountability and transparency.

How would a strong culture of data enable and elevate effective leadership?

Promoting action based on data. Sound, effective strategies are always grounded in reliable data. However, at the onset of many crisis situations, there is precious little data available. That was the case in March 2020 and, unfortunately, still is today.

In March, an effective COVID strategy would have resulted in data-driven actions to respond to immediate crisis points. More importantly, it would have also included a strategy for developing more robust data resources that would have continually reduced uncertainty going forward. Instead, today, our leaders are again left without the data they need to take urgent action.

Broadening our definition of accountability. A fundamental axiom of management is: If you are not measuring it, you are not managing it. Accountability is often rightfully focused on our leaders. But that is only one component of accountability.

The truth is, in a crisis we all need to be held accountable and our data needs to reflect that shared responsibility: individual mask wearing, group social distancing behaviors, businesses compliance with safe operating guidelines, effective allocation of federal relief funds, agencies’ performance on core COVID-19 responsibilities, and overall state and county performance in managing the impact of the virus.

Imagine if the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard was designed to serve as a core accountability platform for the entire community. Imagine how that data would expand our definition of accountability and, more importantly, provide clear guidelines for all of our roles and responsibilities.

Expecting transparency. As cases began to rise at the end of July, questions about the state’s contact tracing capacities shifted to concerns. We were repeatedly told that the state was effectively expanding capacity to conduct timely testing, contact tracing and isolation of infections. Awareness that our capacities were nowhere near adequate came far too late.

Why didn’t we know that we had insufficient contact tracing capacity to begin with? We were left in the dark because there was no transparency in the state’s data collection. If that data had been open, we would have known about our deficiencies in June, and our leaders and/or the community would have been able to elevate concerns before it was too late.

Let’s start taking data seriously.

There is much more to a responsive data culture, but enabling effective action, holding our leaders and each other accountable, and demanding transparency from core institutions are fundamental starting points.

Today, we face rising cases, ICU admissions and fatalities from COVID-19. In the months ahead, we will also face a broad range of other serious challenges related to health, our economy and the deep impact the crisis has had on our communities and families.

Let’s start taking data seriously, by building on this moment to transform how we use data to navigate through our most pressing challenges.

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About the Author

Nick Redding

Nick Redding Ph.D. is executive director of the Hawaii Data Collaborative. He is a member of the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group, a voluntary brain trust to help confront the challenges of COVID-19 via the use of data and models.


Latest Comments (0)

A gigantic task ahead is to check and adjust every service that is performed for the citizens of Hawaii, Prioritized of course and start with what is essential.  Then  based upon realistic expectations we can create new standards for operation.  It is then that with the data we collect plus the information we have gained by doing, we may continually improve everyone's daily lives.  I know this is simply stated, and easier said than done.  However, there is a burning platform beneath our feet and the opportunity has presented itself for these necessary steps.  We have the desire and the talent to make this happen.

jledesma · 2 weeks ago

A case fatality rate (CFR) is the proportion of deaths from a disease compared to the total number of people diagnosed. An infection fatality rate (IFR) is the proportion of deaths among all infected individuals, in other words the true fatality rate.In This epidemic, no one knows what the infection fatality rate is because so many people who are infected are asymptomatic, untested and unknown. It can be assumed the IFR is much lower than the CFR.

DaLong · 3 weeks ago

Sorry, i don't agree with this data-centric view.  It is a nearsighted and  fundamentally wrong approach to social viral management.  We are their hosts, and viruses that we can't treat or cure will do what they do.  They will spread until they run low of susceptible hosts, at which point the virus die out or become endemic -- just like the other dozen or so rhino and corona virus stains we live with.  Many hosts get sick and some die, typically the elderly and physically infirm.  One day perhaps a super-virus will come along and kill off a large chunk of humanity.  But until that time, we need to go forward with boldness living our lives (i.e. land of the free, home of the brave).  The idea that throwing data -- or group-think, or compelled behavior, etc. -- over viruses can stop them from doing what they will do, is part of a worldwide remission of common sense which is, unfortunately, sinking a generation of Hawaii's best.

gbopdx · 3 weeks ago

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