The data is dead. Long live the data! Helping where I can in a global pandemic.

Just over a month ago – the 18th March 2020 to be precise – I got a call from my good friend and colleague, Rob Wray. As is almost always the case when we speak, we exchanged what would conventionally be called ‘pleasantries’, although Rob and I have been through enough together that these involved some light-hearted mickey taking that rather defy that particular tag.

The bon mot over, my mind drifted to what insight, idea or opportunity Rob might be about to share with me. Rob and I think very differently, and he is one of a handful people who from time-to-time confounds me by seeing connections I have not.

That day was to be one of those days.

Rob began to outline something that at first I couldn’t find a natural home for in my neurological wiring. It was – to me – part problem statement, part opportunity, part call to action, part plea for help.

The discussion was, perhaps inevitably, about the SARS-CoV-2 virus – more commonly called the coronavirus – that leads to the disease Covid-19. We discovered that we had shared the experience of people turning to us in this time with questions. People who were faced with commonplace, everyday decisions that were made unfamiliar by the context.

These questions were coming from non-healthcare key service providers: educators, logistics and distribution, social housing, care charities.

They were operational decisions that should have been routine but suddenly were not: how can I schedule my staff without putting them – or our customers or service users – at risk? What does the government statement mean in practice for referrals to hospital?

While Rob and I are different in many ways, we share something that was in fact the reason our paths crossed in the first place: an appreciation of the place and importance of data in decision making.

We quickly realized that the informal help we had each individually been providing was to meet a potentially important and genuine need. But more importantly, individually we each brought just a piece of the jigsaw. What if we could bring together a team who could cover more bases, bring more diverse thinking, and do more than just provide ad-hoc help to people who happened to know us? And what if we could start to combat both the ill-intended and the inadvertent disinformation spreading tsunami-like across social media – and occasionally mainstream media – with something evidence based?

And so the Covid-19 Response for Key Service Providers was born.

Between Rob and I, we assembled our own band of super-heroes (or as Rob prefers, the ‘Data Dirty Dozen’): Prof. David Wray (our medical expert), Dr Frances Harkin (qualitative research/social housing), Marija Antanavičiūtė (policy research), Dr William Fawcett (architect/building function), and Zeiniz Virani (board level portfolio advisor).

We established two principle objectives:

  • immediately support leaders and managers in key service sectors in making evidence-based decisions; and
  • longer-term support policy makers and industry sector influencers in establishing research- and evidence-based strategy for the future.

The 18th March was a Wednesday. By the following Monday, the UK was in lockdown, and the need heightened.

It goes without saying that it has been and remains a privilege to work alongside these great people – great in terms of intellect; great in terms of experience; and great in terms of their willingness to give their time freely for the greater good.

I hope we can help more people too: if you are facing a decision or dilemma in your key service, or if you know someone who is, please get in touch, or go register here on our website and ask your question in our Q&A section. And if you are starting to wonder what the longer-term picture looks like, and how to formulate policy beyond the pandemic, we would love to hear from you too.

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