Monday, October 07, 2013

Flu Near You

The effects of the government shutdown are not just short-term. Things not getting done this week may matter months, and years, from now. One government function not being met in the short term that we know will matter over time is tracking the spread of the influenza virus.

Usually the purview of the Centers for Disease Control flu tracking is critical to health care in the immediate term. It also matters for long term planning, particularly for developing vaccines for next year's flu strains.

This is where a hospital, a public health association, and a funder have stepped in. Healthmap of Boston Children’s Hospital, the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund have created FluNearYou - an interactive map of flu reports (it also has information on vaccine availability). Video below.

The partners say it's their intention to "demonstrate ... utility for multiple sectors who must work together for pandemic preparedness if data is openly shared. The information on the site will be available to public health officials, researchers, disaster planning organizations and anyone else who may find this information useful."

This is essentially crowdsourcing information on behalf of public health. We're also seeing citizen crowdfund for city services that aren't available through tax revenue - see this story on security in Oakland. What we need to ensure is that these types of actions work with government and each extends the other. If we get to the point where we are relying on crowds to fund core public services, our democracy will be in even more trouble than it is now. But if we can use the crowd platforms to engage people, to partner with the public sector, to expand and complement civic responsibility than we'll be that much the better for it. Understanding these forms of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing as political acts - and designing them for maximum public benefit - is a big opportunity.

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