Since COVID-19’s spread across the world, most aspects of daily life and communication have been impacted. Organizations are still scrambling to compile the latest information and data, and with the rush to get information out, there can be a vulnerability to sharing inaccurate information that’s under- or over-estimating what’s happening with the pandemic. This has contributed to continued uncertainty and confusion about the correct course of action.
Finding credible data sources is something that public health professionals and community health planners have long prioritized to guide appropriate response efforts on public health issues. As more individuals and organizations are using and interpreting data during this ongoing pandemic, the importance of understanding the data and being able to trust the source is underscored.
Where to look for credible data sources
Government agencies have access to data collected by key institutions in a range of settings and can generally provide more reliable and stable estimates. Data and information collected or produced by government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services and local and state agencies have track records of reliability.
- Look for URLs ending in “.gov” or “.edu” indicating they are from governments or educational institutions.
- Beware of websites that end in “.com.co” — which can often have false information.
- While many professional and non-profit organizations have a website ending in “.org,” so do many organizations with a specific agenda providing biased data.
- Additionally, some organizations such as Claritas or Transunion may end in “.com” but are in the business of collecting and presenting reliable data for their customers.
National research organizations such as the National Cancer Institute and National Survey on Drug Use and Health can also be good sources of data. These institutions conduct surveys or collect data from national registries and verifiable sources to ensure they provide reliable and actionable information.
Private market research organizations such as Claritas and Transunion can also provide valuable insights as their business success depends on collecting and presenting reliable data for their customers. Universities are also known as credible sources for data, though the data can be limited to individual studies or specific to local populations.
One of the most important considerations for determining the credibility of data is whether the data itself and research behind it are backed or funded by a party that may have an interest in its outcome. One way to determine this is to read the “About Us” or “Source” section of the report to better determine whether the data was designed with an agenda.
With credible data as their source, visual summaries become reliable resources for sound decision-making and action plans.
Credible data is actionable data
Beyond checking to ensure the source of the data is reputable, there are important questions to ask to ensure you can use it for effective action:
- Is the data reliable? To be actionable, we must be reasonably sure the data is a good representation of the population it is intended to describe. Sample sizes must be adequate for the population being measured and disease prevalence estimates for smaller populations can fluctuate widely with just slight changes in the number of cases that are counted. For example, statistics based on a population of 1,000 people are going to be more stable and statistically significant than a count of 10 or 100 population.
- Can the data show trends? Data is most helpful when it allows us to see trends over time and alerts us to the need for action, or hopefully, celebration. Sources that publish data year after year allow us to see such trends and make reliable estimates.
- Can the data show disparities? In order to effectively act, we must be able to identify individuals or communities that are most at risk or harmed by inequities. Data should help identify disparities and inequities by race, ethnicity, gender, age or neighborhood.
- Are others also using the data for decision-making? National initiatives such as Healthy People 2020 (soon to be Healthy People 2030) help set benchmarks for action. Take note of how often the data is used or sourced by other reputable entities.
When you have credible data as a foundation, you have a solid framework for planning and evaluating actions, demonstrating impact and reaching vulnerable populations.
About Healthy Communities Institute
Conduent Healthy Communities Institute enables health-focused organizations to efficiently and measurably impact the populations they serve. The HCI platform includes more than 150 health, social, and economic indicators. Through HCI’s platform and services, users can swiftly gain insights from data, identify disparities, plan and implement initiatives, and collaborate and communicate to make a difference. The HCI Strategy Tracking Solution combines the expertise and support of public health consultants with the power of the leading strategy-tracking software.
To make localized population health data available to organizations on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus, HCI launched in April 2020: HCI COVID-19 At-Risk Populations.
Contact Conduent Healthy Communities Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.