As with other great crises throughout history, the COVID-19 pandemic itself did not break the global economy, healthcare or emergency response capabilities. Instead, it revealed systems that were already broken. Tightly integrated global supply chains failed as the pandemic forced factory closures and transportation disturbances. Many basic systems at the core of government, such as voting and public benefits platforms, struggled, damaging public trust in institutions.
Virtually every democratic government that has provided an effective response to the pandemic uses world-class digital systems for channeling information, resources and people to meet critical needs.
Societies that want to build back better — to quote the Biden transition motto — will need to make smarter use of digital technology.
The Importance of Modern, Digital Government Services
Deployed responsibly, high-quality digital platforms can help power a more resilient public sector. As governments prepare to meet future crises, they should seek out digital solutions that provide citizens with choices, rely on user-centered design and also harness the power of open-source technology.
Digital platforms can give people options and reduce risks when analog systems fail.
For instance, decentralized digital networks and payment systems could help the IRS move beyond its reliance on decades-old databases and paper checks to deliver emergency financial assistance.
New Ways to Serve the Public via Technology
Secure, trusted systems for exchanging data would allow medical labs to submit coronavirus test results digitally instead of via fax, as they do now.
Technologists and government agencies are finding new ways to serve the public by building digital solutions with user-centered design principles and open-source solutions.
Government technology solutions need to be accessible and address the challenges faced by the people they serve. User-centered design can draw expertise from communities that rely on digital tools and bring them into the design, testing and deployment process.
Public technologists can engage marginalized groups as part of their development efforts to help ensure that the end results meet their needs.
Relying on open-source technology can help communities continually adapt, evolve, and scale solutions to meet changing needs.
New America recently compiled a library of open-source solutions that governments around the world are utilizing to respond to the pandemic. Leveraging these freely available innovations allowed many communities to modernize their systems in months rather than years.
How to Provide Solutions at Scale
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we need a national resilience strategy. Just as well-designed roads and runways help connect our communities in times of crisis, user-centered platforms could enhance national preparedness for future crises by giving citizens a wider selection of trusted digital options for connecting with government.
Like other investments in critical infrastructure, these solutions will not only provide greater resilience, but also deliver more efficient, equitable outcomes in normal times.