NIH microsite lauded as open gov success during Ebola outbreak

CDC's open gov success during Ebola outbreak

During the height of the Ebola crisis in late 2014, the National Institutes of Health was pressed to keep the public abreast of developments and curb concerns over the outbreak.  To meet the demands, HHS partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to build a microsite to syndicate information regarding CDC’s response and protocol pertaining to their handling of the infected.

CDC built an application programming interface (API) that let registered users display CDC.gov content on their websites by adding a JavaScript widget that retrieves the CDC content. CDC assigned a unique campaign ID to each user to help it measure not only the traffic generated on sites carrying the syndicated contents, but also all traffic sent back to CDC.gov.

By maintaining one source of information, the syndication widget enabled a unified response from government agencies, while providing automatic updates to user websites.    The microsite was recently acknowledged a FOIA success by the Department of Justice, which hailed its ability to provide the public with up-to-date, substantial, high-quality information about Ebola and for encouraging greater collaboration among health agencies.

The concept for such a platform came about in the 2000s during an outbreak of Salmonella, according to a discussion on a Code for America Google group. During the Salmonella outbreak, the CDC needed a quick way to disseminate information to the public.  The platform they developed in the 2000s – embedded snippets of JavaScript code that automatically updated from syndicated sources to a single site – was modeled for the Ebola crisis. 

HHS also spearheaded the Content Services project, which created an easy way for public health organizations to incorporate content, images, video, data and infographics into other digital media.

It provides information  from the Health and Human Services Syndication Storefront, the CDC Public Health Media Library, the Food and Drug Administration’s Content Syndication Home and NIH Content Syndication.

According to Digitalgov, the benefits of content syndication are clear. It reduces overhead for government agencies by reusing data already available and enables streamlining of content channels; it also improves audience retention with additional content and is available 24/7. And  it works to further the Open Government Initiative, offers transparency and encourages participation and collaboration.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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