Civic Tech Takes on a Pandemic
Words by Lorin Camargo • Aug 15 2021
All about the tools and resources being created and shared by the global civic tech community in response to COVID-19
This article was originally published by Lorin Camargo on April 8, 2020
The civic tech response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been fast, wide-spread and abundant. All over the planet projects are popping up rapidly in an effort to combat this global health crisis.
No matter where you are in the world, we’re facing shared problems such as limited resources for healthcare workers, looming economic repercussions, and the challenge of figuring out how to support the people who don’t have access to the internet in a time when everything has moved online.
As Matt Sawkill states in Code for Australia’s latest monthly update, “A global crisis like this affects everyone in our society, amplifies inequalities that already exist, and puts strains on the systems that support the most vulnerable. It’s a time when the importance of the work we do in Civic Tech is emphasized.”
A lot of us within the civic tech community are tired and overloaded with information, some are feeling burned out, a lot of people are stress cleaning, anxious and unsure. But we’re also aware that many of us are pretty well off in this situation. We’re quite privileged to be people who understand, have access to and work with technology.
We’re aware that we have a lot to be grateful for. And we know this means we must try our hardest to empathize and understand the perspective of those whose realities look much different than ours.
What we’re seeing now within the global civic tech community is an incredible number of people who are using the skills, knowledge, and resources that they have to help make things better for others during this crisis.
So here’s a (rather long) list of projects that are happening within the Code for All network and the greater global civic tech community (aka friends of Code for All) to combat COVID-19.
Ciudadanía Inteligente 🌎
Ciudadanía Inteligente, representing South America, believes that the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be an excuse for governments to rule behind closed doors. They believe that the best way to make decisions during a crisis is through transparency and citizen participation. With this in mind, they’ve launched Abre Alcaldías, which is a project that seeks to train and engage local governments around participatory, open and innovative management.
Civic Tech Sweden 🇸🇪
Code for Africa 🌍
Code for Africa has started working on multiple initiatives, including:
- Partnering with the continent’s leading open source digital archive of African scientific and scholarly research, AfricArXiv, to help surface actionable local data and research to improve the feasibility and effectiveness of local interventions.
- Deploying a multinational team to debunk COVID-19 misinformation in six African countries. They will incrementally expand coverage to another eight countries in coming weeks in partnership with Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Within the realm of misinformation, they’re also helping to build a global open access database of debunked myths and claims with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). To learn more about Code for Africa’s fact-checking initiative, PesaCheck, look here.
- Partnering with political economy analysts at Takwimu to pull together contextual data to help identify the communities, infrastructure and services most at risk from COVID-19. Through this initiative, they plan to release a portal offering data, research and tools to the public.
Code for America 🇺🇸
Code for America is a coalition partner in the US Digital Response effort, which matches tech volunteers with local, state, and federal government needs related to the COVID-19 crisis.
There are also several projects popping up within the organization’s 85 volunteer Brigades, such as:
- Code for San Francisco has created a COVID-19 website group and are collaborating with a member of Code for Japan to collect COVID-19 information and civic data that relates to the crisis.
- Code for Philly is helping epidemiologists provide a web app that displays data of things such as: possible infections given current confirmed cases and number of tests conducted. This web app will potentially help Penn Medicine estimate how many patients will need hospitalization, ICU beds and mechanical ventilation. Read more about it here.
Code for Australia 🇦🇺
Folks at Code for Australia are currently developing a guide that will help Government teams switch and adjust to remote-working. This guide includes tips on how to collaborate, best practices for moving events online, and recommends useful programs and tools for working virtually.
Code for Canada 🇨🇦
Code for Canada are having discussions with folks in government, civic tech groups and open data groups to figure out how everyone can best come together to support efforts related to COVID-19. They believe that, “now is not the time to move fast and break things” and are therefore taking a “do no harm” approach, working with caution to validate their moves before making them.
Code for Germany 🇩🇪
Code for Germany has started working on multiple initiatives, including:
- An online hackathon (called “WirVsVirus”) created in cooperation with with the Federal Government and six other organizations, which took place March 20–22. This online event focused on creating prototypes that can be sustained and can create impact beyond Germany for Europe and the rest of the world. 28,000 participants showed up online and generated over 1,500 ideas for combating the pandemic.
- A platform to connect neighbors, enabling members of local communities to share information, tips, and offer help to one another. There’s no registration necessary and it’s moderated by the community to prevent the spread of misinformation.
- An initiative called “Nerds help” to connect developers with medical professionals or people working to prevent or cure the virus.
Code for Japan 🇯🇵
Code for Japan is collaborating with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to create a website where folks can view COVID-19 information and data. The data published is open and the source code is licensed under MIT and published on GitHub, so local governments in other areas can easily replicate it. After the source code was released, more than 15 other prefectures in Japan deployed their own versions of the website, which were developed by local civic tech communities. Also, some governments launched an official website using the source code.
Code for Japan has also created a website where visitors can sort and search for information that the Japanese government provides as open data. This includes information about support and free offers that are available to the public. Many private companies and NPOs had announced this type of information, but before Code for Japan created the website, there was no central place to find it all.
Codeando México 🇲🇽
Codeando México has started working with VerificadoCOVID-19 (México) and frenalacurva.net (Spain) to create two platforms that centralize verified information. The first platform has been released and the second will be released soon.
Code for Netherlands 🇳🇱
Code for Netherlands has started working on multiple initiatives, including:
- Translating staythefuckhome.com into Dutch and sharing it.
- Creating a map of COVID-19 in the Netherlands (coronamap-nl) which displays daily Dutch statistics. They are also generating ideas for self-monitoring apps which would add data to this map.
- Planning to replicate and implement some of the Code for Romania apps locally.
Code for Pakistan 🇵🇰
Code for Pakistan is working with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination and the Digital Pakistan team to develop a dashboard which displays data organized by province, age and gender. The dashboard also includes separate interfaces for:
- The general public, including statistics on the number of people who have tested positive, been admitted to hospital, recovered/discharged, and the number of deaths.
- Government officials, for them to access data and analytics to inform decision-making and help them devise preventative measures.
- Hospitals and testing labs, a form that allows labs to enter data about positive cases.
Code for Poland & ePaństwo Foundation 🇵🇱
- This first displays data on the spread of COVID-19 in Poland and around the world.
- The second is a space for folks to share and document ideas for how to combat the crisis. On the platform, people with ideas can connect with folks who work in tech and who can potentially build the ideas and make them come to life.
Code for Romania 🇹🇩
Code for Romania have worked on 12+ projects so far to combat the pandemic. They have an incredibly large and active volunteer community who have been working around the clock to create new civic innovation tools in the face of COVID-19.
Here’s are a few of the projects they’ve created so far:
- An add-on to combat fake news (essentially this directs you to the official website when it identifies some common expressions). This add-on is now live with over 10,000 users so far. Check out the Chrome add-on here, and the Firefox add-on here.
- A platform for official news from the government. This platform is now live, with over 5 million page views so far. They’re currently working on internationalization, so that others can replicate and redeploy the platform in other locations around the world.
- A platform with decision trees for people to find accurate information more quickly. This platform is now live and has been built with re-usable components so it can be easily replicated. If anyone is interested in redeploying this website, or part of it, everything can be found here.
g0v Taiwan 🇹🇼 + g0v Hong Kong 🇭🇰
g0v contributors in both Taiwan and Hong Kong have worked on a handful of project so far, including:
- Crowdsourcing and visualization of COVID-19 related border controls, organized and displayed by country. This was created using open data from TW CDC combined with information from a crowdsourced google sheet.
- A multilingual site to track COVID-19 statistics, news and resources, also organized and displayed by country. One contributor who worked on this analyzed relevant YouTube videos and grouped them by category. Here is one of the applications on the site. It’s been difficult to understand what’s actually happening in each country, so these videos are meant to offer a more comprehensive view.
- Hosting an online ‘Face Mask Hackathon’ aiming to create tools to help with the growing demand for face masks at this time. With this, they’ve released open-source prototypes of real-time mask data displayed on a map. The development of this took less than 72 hours with at least 25 signed contributors and so far there have been over 35,000 updates which have stimulated numerous applications.
K-Monitor, located in Hungary, is planning to develop a tracker for the most useful websites that regularly release information on COVID-19.
Open Data Kosovo 🇽🇰
They’ve also focused projects within their Techstitution 3.0 workshop around responding to COVID-19. The workshop teaches programming skills and democratic processes to youth in Kosovo, and recently participants have created websites that include COVID-19 data visualizations.
OpenUp, representing South Africa, is currently in talks around using a Wazimap to map data related to COVID-19, which would provide critical information to decision-makers and be a useful story-telling tool for journalists. Using the Wazimap platform will make it easy to plot data on geographical boundaries and allow for point data to be plotted (for example to show health facilities, transport, etc).
They have also supported the national COVID-19 mapping efforts by providing access to data and geographies, and are on call to support them with whatever else they can.
Hong Kong 🇭🇰 + Japan 🇯🇵 + Korea 🇰🇷 + Taiwan 🇹🇼
Through an on-going collaboration called Facing the Ocean (FtO), civic technologists from Hong Kong (g0v and others), Japan (Code for Japan and others), Korea (Parti, Slowalk, Nullfull and others) and Taiwan (g0v) are in contact and sharing their projects and observations relating to COVID-19. They are seeing datasets, apps, and services popping up all over the region.
Here are a few examples of how they’ve worked together so far:
- After Taiwanese hackers launched a mask information platform in Taiwan, Japanese hackers developed their own COVID-19 platform, and Korean hackers used g0v’s experiences as a template to push Korean government for opening data.
- On March 14th, g0v jothon (g0v Hackathon Organizers team) held the g0v Hackath38n, and Code for Japan held a Social Hack Day at the same time. Both events were held online, so folks from Taiwan and Japan were able to enter each other’s meeting rooms to communicate and discuss different topics. On that day, there were 150 participants from Taiwan and 50 participants from Japan.
- On March 27th, FtO hosted an online community hangout titled “Civic Hacking for Public Health” to gather community contributors and government officials from TW, HK, JP, and KR to share their experiences and form strategies for moving forward.
Friends of Code for All
Along with these updates on how our member organizations are responding around the world, we’ve received updates from civic tech organizations who are (not yet) an official part of Code for All, but who share our values and are doing incredible projects within the same realm. Here are some updates from these organizations:
Civic Hall 🗽
Civic Hall, based in New York, is working on multiple initiatives in response to COVID-19, including:
- Indexing funding opportunities, online events, and coronavirus response projects in their Civic Tech Field Guide.
- Launching a community page to help folks who are looking for immediate, specific advice on a coronavirus response projects. This community page is open to contributors and to those seeking help or guidance on active projects.
Česko.Digital (Czechia) 🇨🇿
Česko.Digital (aka Code for Czechia) is working on a few different projects so far, including:
- Creating a special webpage about COVID-19 for the Ministry of Health.
- Coordination around DIY masks.
- Helping with initiatives for online schooling.
Code for Slovakia 🇸🇰
Code for Slovakia has begun working on a chatbot, posters and call-center help.
Code for Sri Lanka 🇱🇰
Code for Sri Lanka (in collaboration with various government departments and organizations in Sri Lanka) are working on a web app to assist government and medical professionals and a separate mobile app to help citizens and residents. Here are a few examples of what the apps will include:
- Recording the pre-screening outcomes of travelers before they board flights
- Contact tracing (tracing the whereabouts of individuals infected with COVID-19 so that citizens and users can see where they are with respect to high exposure areas)
- Using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to predict hotspots
Covid19cz (Czechia) 🇨🇿
Covid19cz is an informal group of around 1000 people mainly from an IT background.
They’ve worked on several initiatives in response to the pandemic so far, including:
- Dashboard for the Ministry of Health
- “Czechia is making masks” — discussion for DIY masks (everybody is making masks now)
- Psychological help matching website (connecting those who need help with those who are providing it)
EnPremiereLigne.fr (“on the frontline”) is a French online open-source solidarity platform that was created on March 15th in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The website connected mobilized healthcare professionals and isolated people with volunteers for basic support in their daily tasks (e.g. babysitting, grocery shopping, etc).
The IO Foundation 🇲🇾
The IO Foundation is working on a global lockdown mapping, that would include basic information for each of the countries for this first version. Proof of concept can be found here.
They also have a petition going to recognize medical front-liners. You can sign it here.
LA Helping Hands 🇺🇸
LA Helping Hands is helping to match at-risk folks with low-risk volunteers to help deliver groceries and other essentials.
Participation Factory 🇨🇿
Participatory Factory is working on pilot newsletters both in Czech as well as in English. The aim here is to assist local governments and public institutions in coping with the COVID-19 crisis. Their goal is to make it easier to search for and access quality information and good practices from elsewhere. They would like their newsletter to become a tool through which folks can draw attention to solutions and processes that can be applicable in municipalities across the globe.
In addition to that they are offering capacity building training online on crisis communication (stakeholder mapping and assessment, facilitation methods, comms and social media 101, civic tech) to cities and towns.
Thank you everyone!
I want to give a big thank you to everyone who contributed to our crowdsourced document on COVID-19 projects, which is where we’ve gathered the information reported above. Folks from civic tech organizations all around the world have added updates about what they’ve been working on in response to the pandemic, and we are incredibly grateful for the time and energy that has gone into the document. We wouldn’t be able to share this if it weren’t for the work you’re all doing and the time you’ve taken to share that work with us.