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Mapping the Information Genome for COVID-19

6 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar
WHO have decided to do a deep analysis of what sort of information truly matters to the public and professionals when it comes to COVID-19.

It’s never been more important for people to have speedy access to the right information. Until we have a vaccine, information is our vaccine. Until we have a vaccine, testing is our vaccine. Even when we have a vaccine, we will still need to provide lots of quality information. We will always have to address fake news, anti-vaxers, and those dark state actors waging misinformation wars.

The web is a powerful way to quickly deliver information to a large audience. Yet the web’s strengths are also its weaknesses. The web makes it easy and fast to publish, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy and fast to find and understand. The web has created a culture of speed publishing, where the imperative is to get as much as possible published as quickly as possible.

Organization, structure, editorial decision making, often basic editing are neglected. The format, the tool, the latest gizmo dominates thinking and decision making. In much web management it is more important to launch an app or dashboard, website, video or podcast, than to ask why, what and how. Why do we need this? What is it going to do? How is it going to be organized in a way that is usable? Basic questions. Rarely asked.

In 25 years working on websites, one problem dominates year in, year out. A problem nearly nobody wants to address, except in the most trivial of ways. Why? Because it’s not seen as cool, as innovative. Because there’s no bonuses for doing it well, no career progression because of it. It’s a thankless, really hard job. It’s a vital job.

Confusing menus and links cause untold problems to people trying to use websites. Yet, in nine out of 10 web projects I work on, the menus and links are thrown together in a haphazard and wholly unprofessional manner. It’s sad how bad we are at organizing content. It’s sad how little management cares about information structure, about classification, about metadata. The web suffers — we all suffer — because of it.

WHO have decided to do a deep analysis of what sort of information truly matters to the public and professionals when it comes to COVID-19. A multidisciplinary, cross-national effort was set in train involving collaboration from health agencies and experts in Ireland, Norway, Canada, UK, Belgium and New Zealand. We gathered data on searches, supports calls, requests, feedback. With representatives from these agencies and individual experts from other countries, we sifted through this research using the Top Tasks method.

Learning Opportunities

Hundreds of people were involved. It was a continuous improvement, rapid, iterative refinement effort. We never lost sight of the people who need this information and the language that they use.

Below you will find our coronavirus tasklist / checklist, our attempt at mapping the information genome for COVID-19. We will now go out to the public and professionals and ask them to help prioritize this list. We will then work with them to co-design a structure, an information architecture (IA) for COVID-19. We will test, test, test our way to a great IA. The plan is to create an IA pandemic template that will work for COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Everything will be made freely available. Every step in the process will be transparent and open. The public and professionals will be core participants in the design process. We will define “easy” based on evidence of ease-of-use, not on someone’s opinion.

Feel free to use what we have done so far. And if you’d like to be part of the process, get in touch.

About WHO (mission, members, funding, donors)
Animals and virus (get it from, give it to, walking)
At-risk, vulnerable (age, pre-existing conditions, disabilities, ethnic minorities)
Avoiding physical contact (social / physical distancing, self-isolation)
Business participation, new products, ideas
Caring for a vulnerable, at risk person
Caring for someone with virus at home, yourself with virus
Cleaning, disinfecting, waste disposal (hands, deliveries, home, workplace)
Community-based support groups, local networks
Compare statistics (country, local, tests, cases, recoveries, deaths, demographics)
Compare symptoms with cold, flu, allergies
Confined living, dealing with being inside (activities, entertainment)
Confirmed cases, deaths, recoveries (daily, total)
Contact WHO (media, experts)
Deliveries, online shopping, post
Diet, food, nutrition, supplements
Digital democracy (participation, feedback, policy development, reform)
Domestic, sexual abuse, violence
Drugs (preventative, treatment, development, approved)
Dying alone, funeral rites, mourning, grief
Emergency contacts (ambulance, medical)
End date, new normal, safe again
Essential services, key / critical workers
Explaining pandemic to children (guides, resources, advice)
Explaining pandemic to those with learning difficulties (guides, resources, advice)
Financial support, assistance, benefits (eligibility, availability)
Food, medicines, essential products (stocks, hoarding, availability, disruptions)
Government guidance, regulations (national, local)
Government roles, responsibilities, who’s in charge of what?
Government strategy (long-term control, lockdown exit, transition, economy reboot)
Health services unrelated to pandemic (appointments, prescriptions, treatments)
High risk transmission environments, (care homes, restaurants, supermarkets)
Home schooling, remote teaching, learning (tips, how-to, advice)
Immunity, antibody testing (criteria, availability, accuracy)
Incubation period, time from infection to symptoms
Industry / sector specific advice (airlines, funeral homes, supermarkets)
Infection hotspots, clusters, exposures (near me, identifying, tracking)
Infectiousness (when most infectious, super spreader, symptom-free but infectious)
Latest news, latest research (alerts, directives, updates)
Likely course of illness, outcomes, prognosis
Mental health, wellbeing
Modelling, forecasting, trends (flattening curve, economic impact)
Money issues, personal finances, savings, pensions
Movements, interactions of infected people (tracking, contact tracing)
Myths, fake news, misinformation, out of date information
New outbreak, second wave (response, containment)
No longer infectious (criteria, time required in self-isolation)
Number of tests (tests performed, individuals tested)
Original outbreak source, patient zero (global, national)
Personal protective equipment (PPE: masks, shields, gowns)
Physical wellbeing, exercise, breathing exercises
Post recovery complications (neurological, cardiac, respiratory)
Pregnancy, birth, infants (precautions, advice, breast feeding)
Privacy rights, data protection, anonymity (apps, personal health data)
Professional medical training, courses
Public health campaign material, posters, communications, educational resources
Raw data, open data, datasets, metadata
Relationships (family, friends, colleagues)
Research ideas, submissions, funding, grants
Research papers, studies
Scams, cybersecurity threats
Sexual, reproductive health, rights
Symptoms, signs
Technology support for less experienced, vulnerable, reduced income
Testing for live / active virus infection (eligibility criteria, availability, accuracy)
Transmission, spread, epidemiology
Travel restrictions (quarantine, lockdown)
Treatment lessons learned, emerging best practice, failed treatments
Vaccine (development, availability, safety)
Ventilators (availability, approved, impact on recovery, decision to use)
Virus family, definition, names, acronyms
Virus mutation, new strains
Virus survival / viability / persistence on surfaces, in air
Volunteering opportunities
WHO guidelines, standards, decisions
WHO’s position, opinion, response to
Working from home (guidelines, tips, advice)
Workplaces (preventing spread, rights, reopening criteria, guidance)

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.