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COVID-19 Data Challenge: Navigating Life and Work in Border Communities

Data has the power to help us see challenges through different lenses, discover solutions that may not otherwise be evident, and put tools into the hands of those who need them most — empowering communities to work together in new ways. 

In Fall 2020, UC San Diego's Border Solutions Alliance (BSA) piloted the COVID-19 Data Challenge, a groundbreaking project aimed at addressing challenges faced by the U.S.-Mexico border region during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the objective was to use data to formulate evidence-based solutions on how to better understand risk levels in real-time for different situations and communicate them to the public. 

Thirty-three teams composed of industry professionals, academics, high school and university students and community members from both sides of the border competed for more than $10,000 in prizes and stipends. These teams used datasets provided by the West Big Data and Innovation Hub and WIFIRE Lab to devise solutions for challenges in education, commerce, cross-border movement of goods and people, and other sectors of society. The BSA, with support from three dozen faculty members and community partners, organized office hours and lightning talks for the participants to share ideas and provide feedback on their projects.

Thank You to All Who Participated and Supported the COVID-19 Data Challenge!

Watch the Award Ceremony Below


Data Challenge Videos

The Border Solutions Alliance uploaded a series of videos from the Data Challenge to their YouTube page, including the kick-off event, project presentations, lightning talks from subject matter experts and much more!

Watch Videos Here!

About the Challenge


Communities along the U.S.-Mexico border have been hard hit by COVID-19. While researchers race to develop a vaccine, life and work must continue. How can we confidently and transparently decide what is safe? Can we more efficiently mine existing data and/or gather new data for analysis to assess the risks of activities in different spheres of life, and thus more effectively direct resources and interventions? Specifically, how can we better understand risk levels in real-time for different situations and communicate them to the public? 

The teams had to submit a project that met two requirements: 1) support data-driven decision making in border communities and 2) focus on assessing risk-levels related to a particular sphere of life, such as: 

  • Travel
    • Border crossings
    • Public transportation
  • School and work
    • Factories, agriculture, and construction
    • Schools and childcare
    • Offices (and elevators)
  • Congregate settings
    • Assisted living facilities
    • Prisons and detention centers
    • Shelters
  • Leisure
    • Restaurants and bars
    • Community gatherings – e.g. concerts, church, and sports events
    • Outdoor activities – e.g. playgrounds, golf, and beaches
    • Spending time with family and friends
  • Retail and services
    • Essential retail
    • Essential healthcare (not related to COVID-19)
    • Shipping and delivery services
    • Non-essential retail
    • Non-essential healthcare
    • Self-care – e.g. nail salons, hair salons, and gyms

About the Organizers

Border Solutions Alliance

The Border Solutions Alliance is a partnership that includes research universities from the four U.S. states at the border with Mexico.  The coordinating institutions – UC San Diego, the University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, the University of Texas at El Paso, and the University of Texas at San Antonio – have ongoing research projects with Mexican universities and frequently collaborate with community, government, and industry partners. The Alliance works to create a backbone for research grounded in robust public and private sector partnerships by:

  • Fostering collaboration between universities and the public and private sectors to contribute to regional sustainability, health and well-being, and productivity
  • Bringing together the best and brightest researchers from the four states that border Mexico, with Mexican counterparts, to engage in public impact research focused on use-inspired research questions grounded in the daily challenges faced by service providers, practitioners, and policy makers
  • Focusing on data-driven research in science, medicine, and engineering, as well as data science-focused education and workforce development 

West Big Data Innovation Hub

The West Big Data Innovation Hub's mission is to build and strengthen partnerships across industry, academia, nonprofits, and government to address societal and scientific challenges, spur economic development, and foster a national big data ecosystem. The West Hub – coordinated by UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and the University of Washington – serves the thirteen western states from Montana to New Mexico and everything west, including Hawaii and Alaska. The Hub’s projects, events, activities, and initiatives span regional thematic areas as well as cross-cutting topics. Thematic areas include metro/urban data science as well as natural resources and hazards with a particular focus on water. Cross-cutting areas include cloud computing, data challenges and storytelling communities of practice, public policy and ethics, responsible data science, security, and data sharing.

The organizers are supported by the National Science Foundation through awards 1550312, 1550224, 1550328, 1833482, 1916481, 1916573, and 1915774.