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How we approached building Movement Trends with Facebook Data for Good and the Covid-19 Mobility…

Relative mobility change across the United States, derived from Facebook data

When it comes to slowing the relentless march of Covid-19, data is a powerful tool. Data has helped counties and states and countries track cases and deaths, determine the most effective ways to bend the curve, and see in real time whether actions are translating into lives saved. Data has helped people get a handle on the immensity and urgency of this pandemic. And data has also helped us understand how, as individuals, we can make a difference.

Relative mobility change across California

We’re proud to have supported this effort by designing and building the Facebook Data for Good Mobility Dashboard. Launched on April 20, the dashboard is a collaboration between Facebook Data for Good and the Covid-19 Mobility Data Network, a voluntary coalition of researchers and non-profits coordinated by Direct Relief and researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “We formed the Covid-19 Mobility Data Network to make sure that policy makers and public health officials throughout the world have access to essential aggregated mobility data to guide their decision making on physical distancing, while always adhering to the highest standards of privacy, data protection and data responsibility,” according to Andrew Schroeder, Direct Relief’s VP of Research and Analysis. The ultimate goal of this data is to help answer key questions related to the pandemic: How well have physical distancing interventions worked? Where do communities need the most support with their distancing efforts? How and when, and how quickly, should we re-open different cities, states and countries?

“Timely insights and relevant datasets can improve how non-profits do their work, how researchers learn, and how policies are developed,” according to Laura McGorman, Facebook’s Policy Lead for Data for Good. “When data is shared responsibly with the communities that need it, it can improve wellbeing and save lives.”

Stay put percentages in New York State

To build this dashboard, we started with de-personalized, aggregated county-level mobility data — which Facebook’s Data for Good program makes available for humanitarian purposes — and we paired it with census data that painted a fuller picture of the populations of the states and counties. With February 29, 2020 as our baseline, we visualized two different measures of mobility: how often people traveled relative to the day of the week, and the percentage of people who “stayed put” over a 24 hour period. We mapped these trends, county by county, allowing comparison of the trendlines over time, at the state and county level. The stories that emerged are fascinating!

San Francisco’s data in black, and California’s data in blue.

One such story is in California. The Bay Area ordered a shelter-in-place on March 16 for midnight on the 17th, three days before the State of California. You can see this difference in mobility starkly represented in the graph above: San Francisco is the black line, and California is the blue line. This is the kind of difference that saves lives.

People in Puerto Rico listen to the Governor when she says to stay put

In Puerto Rico, above, citizens were remarkably uniform in their adherence to mobility regulations set out by the government. The three lowest points in mobility correspond to the beginning of Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday — logical for a territory that is nearly 70% Roman Catholic.

Mobility surge in southeast Arkansas following the massive storm that hit that part of the State.

In southeast Arkansas, there was a giant surge in mobility on April 13, which corresponds to a large storm in the region. This could be related to people moving around to fix the electrical grid.

This has been a whirlwind of a project, as certain COVID-19 projects require in these times of arming people with prescient data and insights to fight the pandemic. On Sunday, April 5 at around 2pm, I got an email from my old friend and former Stamen partner Michal Migurski, asking about our availability to help Facebook out with this work. Jim and I talked with him at 4pm that same day; by 8:30pm we had the core team put together and confirmed, and we had our first full team production meeting a day later on Tuesday, April 7. Twelve days later, we have a functioning dataviz project that shows mobility across the whole country, thanks to an amazing partnership with Michal and his team at Facebook and a strong commitment from the Direct Relief team. It’s been great working with these capable people, each of whom is committed in their own way to strengthening the public good. A special shoutout is due to the Stamens: Curran Kelleher, Alan McConchie, Kelly Morrison, Alec Burch & Jim Stanley. They managed this project effort ably and with grace.

The project will be updated daily, with improvements to functionality to be announced shortly. Come back!

How does your community look?

Published: 04.27.20
Updated: 05.22.23

About Stamen

Stamen is a globally recognized strategic design partner and one of the most established cartography and data visualization studios in the industry. For over two decades, Stamen has been helping industry giants, universities, and civic-minded organizations alike bring their ideas to life through designing and storytelling with data. We specialize in translating raw data into interactive visuals that inform, inspire and incite action. At the heart of this is our commitment to research and ensuring we understand the challenges we face. We embrace ambiguity, we thrive in data, and we exist to build tools that educate and inspire our audiences to act.