In December 2013, a little-known viral hemorrhagic fever in West Africa was detected in a forest region of Guinea. It was soon confirmed to be Ebola Virus Disease, an illness previously seen primarily in Central Africa. Within months, Ebola would become a global outbreak. To contain the disease, national and international actors needed access to timely, accurate, and precise data. Yet as the disease spread across Guinea and into the neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, critical outbreak data often were missing, unclear, or contradictory. Unexplained peaks and valleys in Ebola case counts, for example, and dramatically differing forecasts of the disease’s potential spread complicated the relief effort and raised important questions about why it was so difficult to track the disease.

This report details key findings from research focused on the collection, management, analysis, and use of paper-based and digital data and information comprising the Ebola outbreak response. It reveals common sources of the confusing data picture, particularly in the early days of the response, and examines the use of digital technologies to support data and information flows, considering both common barriers and insights from what worked.