By Tanya Filer & Riley Kaminer
From literature to manufacturing, crisis and creativity have often gone hand-in-hand.
Lauded inventions, such as radar technologies and the Turing machine used to decipher secret codes, emerged from the collective existential threat of World War II. In recent years, we have seen existing technologies innovatively repurposed to tackle major public crises. When
miners were trapped underground in Chile in 2010, a US-based company provided the vast drilling system used to dig a 28-inch rescue hole. The drill, typically used for boring holes for wells, had not before been used in a mine rescue operation.
The novel Coronoavirus is proving no different in spurring innovative public-purpose responses. The term ‘CovTech’ has even been coined to describe emergent creative solutions engaged and created by governments to tackle and manage the disease. Countries including Singapore, Israel and South Korea have quickly developed customised apps and websites to keep citizens informed and to manage quarantined citizens. Their cheap, tailored digital tools may prove successful in generating public trust in the capacity of government to manage a pandemic.
These examples are instructive, but many governments lack the inhouse resources, including technical capacity, to build digital tools overnight. Fortunately, there is a broader ecosystem of public-purpose digital expertise on which they can draw. Over the past few years a plethora of young companies and civic technology organisations has emerged to tackle exactly the kinds of challenges that governments face today as they develop Covid-19 responsiveness strategies. They range from communications platforms to productivity software that could aid with civil service home-working. Some of these resources were created directly for the public-sector market. Others could usefully and quickly be repurposed, at low cost, to meet pressing public needs relating to Covid-19.
The best prepared cities and countries may have an emergency framework agreement in place through which to procure Covid-19 related products and services at a quicker pace than normal procurement processes allow. General procurement may also allow for emergency provisions. Now may also be the moment to engage alternative, little used contracting vehicles (providing quality is maintained). As many of these digital tools are inexpensive, they may come under the threshold at which bidding is required, allowing for quicker take-up (some are even free). Engaging in atypical but useful procurement processes over the coming weeks may also contribute to acculturating public sector purchasers towards using more innovative technology procurement methods in the longer term.
Below we list 9 digital tools from innovative start-ups and civic tech organisations that could help government entities manage various dimensions of their Covid-19 response. Some may already be involved in this process. Introducing new people, processes and technology at once could carry risks, including to cybersecurity. Yet, with careful mitigation, innovation has a role to play. Beyond considering use of the products that we include, the list can also be engaged as a source of inspiration, offering understanding of the types of digital tools, from engagement to data visualisation platforms, currently available.
There are many more needs that are not currently being addressed (see the ‘ideas’ section here—including technology to help mitigate stockpiling). We encourage creative teams to get to work on them!
If you work in any public sector globally and would like help with engaging digital tools to manage Covid-19, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bang the Table
Description: Bang the Table is a comprehensive platform for governments to listen to and inform citizens, measure their engagement success, and build communities. Strategic advisors from their EngagementHQ team can offer tips and share good practice developed from working with a variety of public sector organisations over the last decade.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Governments can set up a Coronavirus-specific platform offering information about issues related to the virus. They can also solicit input from citizens via a range of dialogue tools, including through surveys, ideation, Q&As and more, to inform policy making. Governments new to online platforms can engage the EngagementHQ team to get off the ground as quickly as possible and derive maximum benefit from citizens’ input. https://www.bangthetable.com/
Description: Citibeats offers AI-driven data analysis, helping governments interpret public opinion on a given subject in real time.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Citibeats can search social media sources for discussions about Coronavirus that are happening in a particular location. Their AI tools do much of the data analysis, providing government officials with important information necessary to make decisions and assign resources in real time. https://citibeats.net/
Description: Used by 30 countries with over 90 million citizens, CONSUL is an open-source, customisable platform for community engagement. Constituents can create and vote on proposals, get involved in participatory budgeting, and legislate in collaboration with elected officials.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Governments could use CONSUL to gauge public opinion surrounding their efforts to combat the Coronavirus. Citizens could open proposals, suggesting ways in which the government can respond to the Coronavirus to meet the needs of the community. Governments can respond through the platform both directly to individual citizens as well as more generally to a particular proposal or debate. http://consulproject.org/en/
Description: DataPress creates open-source websites for hosting open data, handling all of the infrastructure for publishing data to the cloud.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Opening data ‘can provide exceptional clarity and increase trust and confidence for a population dealing with a pandemic.’ Governments could work with DataPress to build open data resources, helping to keep citizens informed with accurate data. https://datapress.com/
Description: Datawheel builds data integration, distribution, and visualisation platforms. The company has plentiful experience working with public sector organisations (including in the health sector), from Africa to Latin America.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Governments could work with Datawheel to integrate, visualise and distribute Covid-19-related data on an accessible and well designed platform. https://www.datawheel.us/
Description: Insights.US allows for governments to ask the public questions, which are then analysed by their algorithms — ideal for quickly analysing large amounts of data. Governments can also follow up with participants through the platform.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: This platform would be a good solution for governments that want answers from citizens to specific questions regarding Coronavirus. The platform is particularly useful for government agencies anticipating a high number of participants because its algorithms undertake many basic analytical tasks such as finding trends in the data, saving officials’ time. Insights can be used to generate actionable insights that might help governments design regulations & policies to stop the spread of the virus. https://www.insights.us/
Description: Makeree is a software platform that enables the creation and management of engaging and interactive instruction guides using a mixture of images, video and text. The technology is used across multiple industries including education and medical devices.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Governments and healthcare professionals could use Makeree to provide clear, visual demonstrations for self-care, from hand-washing to taking medicine, and ask questions of users to verify understanding and reinforce adherence. Citizens with mild systems may increasingly be asked to recuperate at home, to ease pressure on healthcare systems. It will be critical to ensure that they can quickly access information on how to look after themselves, without risk of misinterpreting written instructions alone. Makeree guides can be embedded onto any site as an Iframe, or downloaded as an app. https://www.makeree.com/
Description: MeetingSphere is a platform that allows for collaborative meetings online, made for large groups of 20 or more. The software has various ‘meeting spaces’, which facilitate brainstorming, discussing, presenting, and rating ideas. Event hosts can instantly export reports in Word or Excel once a meeting is finished.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Government entities may want to host events in which citizens can come together and discuss official business without risking the spread of COVID-19 by gathering in person. MeetingSphere is specifically designed for large groups, making it possible to engage with citizens in a virtual town hall. Public sector organisations could also use the platform to host internal meetings if home-working kicks in. https://www.meetingsphere.com/meetingsphere-collaborative-meeting-solutions
Description: Collect, analyse, and understand data from residents about issues in their cities and counties. Zencity aggregates an array of data sources (ex. social media, Google analytics, local news) and organises this information to be digested at a glance.
Application during Covid-19 outbreak: Using Zencity, governments can get a clearer sense of what their citizens are saying regarding the Coronavirus. This service allows users to track what is trending on social media within a geographic area, which can lead to a better-informed government response. Zencity both aggregates and organises this information, making it easier for government officials to gauge public opinion at a glance whilst also having the capability for governments to dig deeper into particular issues that may be of concern. https://zencity.io/
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