March 20, 2020
The next few months will be tough. People we love will get sick. Some may get very sick. Coronavirus is spreading in part because humanity has never been more connected. A massive global effort to combat the physiological impact of the virus is already underway. At DIGI, our team harnesses the power of technology to build open source digital platforms for the public sector. We’re leveraging that expertise to address some of the challenges that will confront societies and institutions as the virus spreads:
- Building Trust - One of the paradoxes of this moment is that it requires communities to act with unprecedented coordination and cohesion while demanding that we maintain physical separation. This could lead to social isolation and fragmentation along with the damage from the virus itself. To help get ahead of this challenge, we created a public resource to identify, track, and scale innovative examples of how to build trust in institutions and generate social capital in the face of this crisis (see below). The next version of this library will include examples of open source solutions from around the world to help governments respond to the crisis.
- Exchanging Ideas - It should be obvious by now, but the natural processes that should transfer good ideas between the rest of the world and the United States aren’t working. There’s been a breakdown in how we gather and apply best practices ranging from the use of technology platforms to mitigate health crises to more operational challenges like testing. We’re in the early days of this crisis, but the jurisdictions that have delivered the most effective responses thus far -- Estonia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore -- all rely on world-class digital platforms to power their institutions. We need to learn from these examples. Particularly at a time when in-person interactions with our global colleagues are far more difficult, we need conduits to carry solutions across national borders. We're collaborating with the Community of Democracies, World Bank, and other multilateral organizations to address this urgent need in areas related to our work.
- Rebuilding After the Pandemic - We don’t know when this crisis will end, but it will end. We need to start developing plans for how to redesign our systems and institutions so they'll be stronger and better on the other side of this nightmare. As difficult as it will be to keep eyes on the horizon while those around us are at risk, now is the time to identify what needs to change after the pandemic is over. We are at an inflection point. The coming change will either happen to us, or through us. We want to be on the right side of that equation. Obviously, innovation alone can’t solve all these problems. In some ways, it could make them worse. But it may be able to help bridge the loneliness of distance, rebuild citizens’ fragile confidence in institutions, and enable public servants under strain to operate with greater efficiency, effectiveness, and inclusiveness. It’s our job to realize that potential.
The reason all of us on the DIGI team do what we do is that we are committed to solving public problems. The coronavirus and its attendant social and economic challenges are likely to be the biggest public problem of our lifetimes. We hear that call. We’re ready to answer. We hope you’ll join us in this work.