A Thousand Views of the Cathedral: The Law, Politics, and Statistics of Pandemic Dashboards

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This Article explores the law, politics, and statistics of communicating data through the thousands of state, county, school district, and higher-education dashboards created in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Using a nationally distributed questionnaire and series of interviews with dashboard managers and stakeholders, we offer a wide-ranging view of data visualization practice in response to COVID-19. We pair this evidence with a survey of almost 3,000 entities responsible for public health communication, which resulted in collection of over 1,100 COVID-19 dashboards from a spectrum of government actors and private parties. We evaluate how legal issues were perceived and acted on, how data were politicized, and what technical challenges dashboard creators faced. We examine factors that led to creation of dashboards along with theory that explores the cognitive perception of dashboard elements. We explore the role of resources, and how those interplayed with specific software choices. We also examine the effect of local characteristics on dashboard creation, such as the presence of a county dashboard on data communication from local schools, the role of broadband access, technical occupations in the area, and so on. We conclude by suggesting a series of policies and practices that can be implemented to prepare for future data-based communication in a future public health crisis. These include practices to prepare for data visualization, enhanced resources devoted to public health communication, and the management of legal and political issues surrounding publicizing health information.

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