The COVID-19 epidemic has brought us a lot to worry about. It is not just the fact that a very fast spreading virus has changed our lives: big lockdowns everywhere, strict hygiene measures and social distancing that none of us has encountered before. The virus has brought us a lot of information that we have to deal with in our everyday lives as well. But what is right and what is wrong. What sources can be trusted? The answers are not always based on research studies, and even when they are, there is usually no transparent reference to the source. In addition to that, there is a lot of contradictory information that is very hard to filter. Our team got inspired to create a reliable, transparent and innovative solution that would meet the needs of the society for a fact-checked, research based information source for getting an answer to coronavirus related questions. As we all perfectly know that the lack of knowledge is the main driver for panic.
What it does
DECOVIT is a web page that provides a single point of contact for end users who are searching for various pieces of information regarding the coronavirus and the current situation with regard to everyday life. We are a bridge between the researchers, laboratories and the society in order to bring reliable answers to the end users.
There are three channels for us to gather questions that may arise: • web-scraping to find new, unanswered questions from the public; • receiving questions with our chatbot; • receiving questions directly from users through our website. Next step is a comparison of scraped content with the existing knowledge base on our website and identification of the gaps. Whenever any gaps are identified, questions are placed in a pool for our panel of experts who would be in a close collaboration with scientific laboratories. We would like to collaborate with the European Commission dedicated to research studies in order to validate the answers we are providing. Also, we would like to collaborate with more platforms that are scientific and reliable like for instance WHO and the European Cluster Collaboration Platform.
Our aim is to publish information that is fact-checked, reliable and can be linked to respectable sources. Our mission is to support the society to behave responsibly by providing trustworthy information.
How we built it
We chose WordPress as the basis for the website, as it seemed to be the fastest way to set up a fully functional pilot with a rather small team in just two days, in addition to flexible customisation options. Additionally, we implemented a few features that could be extremely helpful for our users: • we implemented a chatbot, powered by IBM Watson Assistant, that can answer potential questions of a user in a conversational manner; • we developed code that performs text mining, generates tags and searches through our knowledge-base for matching content • we developed a web-scraping tool to enable our pool of subject matter experts to receive a short-list of up to date questions that are not yet answered in our platform; • we offer our users the option to send their questions which can be then prioritised for further processing by our subject matter experts.
Challenges we ran into
The situation being very new for the society, there is a number of contradictory information around. Therefore, it is difficult to judge which source or piece of information is reliable and confirmed by research institutions. Secondly, connecting to the panel of experts is a challenging task as there needs to be collaboration from all parties: society, experts, research institutions and content publishers. Furthermore, the situation is dynamic and the questions are evolving constantly due to changes in legislation, new research conducted and new ways of working for a lot of businesses. As a result, our team and the panel of experts need to be inquisitive about the current situation, aware of various issues that society may encounter and open to explore sources for reliable information.
Collaboration Regarding the EUvsVirus hackathon itself, we encountered challenges like divergence of opinion between the members, agreeing on a topic, time management and fast pace of the event. We had to show respect towards each other’s ideas while meeting our deliverable milestones, learn to be more humble as sometimes the ideas of the other members were better and we needed to start listening to each other in order to produce a product able to be, at least partially ready, for submission.
Accomplishments that we’re proud of
Product DECOVIT increases social awareness of the current situation providing only reliable information. It reduces the risk of spreading fake information, creating panic and misleading people in terms of precautions during their everyday activities. It bridges the gap between the broad public and the researchers. We are proud of the impact it can have in the society as being well-informed can help all of us stay safe.
Collaboration Furthermore, we are all proud of our team as we gathered together just on Friday without knowing each other very well. We are a group of people with diverse personalities and plenty of ideas that had to be cooled down in order to manage a project within 2 days. We are satisfied with the final outcome, especially when considering the lack of common ground regarding what we wanted to accomplish.
What we learned
Team building Our team has undergone a few challenges like gathering people together (we faced a last minute drop-out!) as well as generating an idea that could be innovative but at the same time feasible, meaningful and helpful. As a team we learnt a lot about time management, collaboration and trust which are inseparable for completing a project. Moreover, we learnt how to rely on others and how to delegate tasks so that everybody can be useful based on their skills and preferences, if possible. As in our team there are both business and technology oriented members, it was incredibly challenging but enlightening at the same time to understand each other and follow the ideas. We believe we all gained some new experience out of this cooperation.
Business idea formulation We learnt that there are many details that make a project possible. The high-level idea may be great but it always needs a lot of brushing. Consequently, there is a necessity to question everything in order to find the best solution. It was instrumental to get buy-in from all members about the usefulness of our solution, so that everyone is eager to contribute in their own way. Furthermore, looking at the idea, solutions and various concepts from different perspectives can open a way to innovative and functional results.
What's next for DECOVIT
Outreach DECOVIT was created in English, as a pilot, but our intention is to turn this into a multilingual platform that can serve the citizens of the European Union. One challenge would be to find practical and reliable ways to translate the content in order to offer the information in all languages used in the EU.
Quality Furthermore, our next step is to build a close collaboration with at least three experts who would play a crucial role in our peer-review validation system in order to validate the information by subject matter experts in the respective fields.
Information and Automation Currently we scrape the first 10 pages of questions related to Coronavirus from Quora.com saving the question as well as the tags and the number of answers. In case the tags are too general (e.g. COVID-19), we are planning to build a python script to automatically suggest relevant tags for these questions based on the most relevant and frequent words used. The automatic tagging of the questions is also applied to the questions submitted by a user through our "Ask a question" section. Additionally we also plan to look at Google trends to see the most searched keywords related to coronavirus and formulate relevant questions that our experts can answer. We would also like to be in a position to present personalised content to the users, by using a recommender system that would take into account their browsing habits and propose content that might be more relevant to them.