U.S. Digital Response Weekly Dispatch (May 22)
State and local government teams are facing unprecedented pressure to make decisions, operate effectively, and plan for the future in the midst of continued uncertainty. That’s why U.S. Digital Response publishes Weekly Dispatch, an update on effective resources, a forecast on what’s next, and an overview of how USDR volunteers are working with governments. Subscribe to receive these weekly updates in your inbox.
At A Glance
Recently completed projects that other state and local governments may benefit from by replicating or remixing.
Quickly Answering Constituents’ Questions
“Our USDR volunteer was a valuable extension of our Office of Technology and Innovation team, making it possible to quickly launch a chatbot on our website. The volunteer’s commitment helped make it possible to provide streamlined aid to residents in mere weeks.”
- Apoorva Pasricha, Technology and Innovation Advisor, City of San Jose
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of San Jose, CA, launched a website and initiative called Silicon Valley Strong that shares updates to keep the community informed, provides opportunities for help and support, and calls on volunteers to donate time or resources. The San Jose Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation connected with USDR to add a chatbot feature to the website in an effort to quickly answer questions related to COVID-19, from testing locations to economic assistance. After contractors built the technical parts of the chatbot, a USDR volunteer joined the San Jose team in daily stand-ups and provided guidance and insights around data, content, user-testing, and digital equity. Within three weeks, the chatbot was live on the Silicon Valley Strong site, with options for communicating in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Governments can partner with USDR to enhance their COVID-19 websites and streamline communications to their constituencies by completing a request form.
Guidance and Assistance for Small Business Owners
“USDR has been an invaluable source of talent, helping our office move at the “speed of need” on COVID-19 response efforts. Their volunteers are diverse, capable, and enthusiastic. I would recommend any agency consider partnering with them to add team capacity and leverage unique skill sets in these trying times.”
- Ross Dakin, Office of Innovation, New Jersey
Many small business owners are in need of financial assistance, particularly as states begin to reopen with new guidelines and restrictions for business operations. As a result, government support systems are being flooded with questions about businesses’ qualifications for federal, state, and other relief programs. USDR volunteers created an online tool, currently in use by New Jersey and California, that helps small business owners understand their eligibility for federal stimulus funds. In New Jersey, the Loan Eligibility Wizard helped 50,000 borrowers within one week of its launch. The tool is a 10-minute eligibility quiz that prompts users one question at a time to easily determine which programs they qualify for and how they can access assistance. It’s available in English, Spanish and Mandarin. States can add this tool to their sites to help reduce the volume of requests coming through their local agencies.
This Week’s Outlook — Robin Carnahan
Robin Carnahan is the former Missouri Secretary of State and formerly led 18F’s state and local practice within the General Services Administration. She is a fellow at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and is also leading Government Partnerships for USDR.
Governments are seeking shared resources and insights around exposure notifications. Data integration and contact tracing go hand-in-hand as governments consider how to pilot exposure notification practices in their communities. Last week we introduced USDR’s playbook for contact tracing, which serves as a resource for governments and shares best practices. (Resolve to Save Lives, led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has incorporated aspects of USDR’s contact tracing playbook into the technology solutions section of its own version.) In addition to shared insights regarding contact tracing, governments are seeking ways to increase tracer capacity using technology. USDR is continuing to use its playbook to help governments connect the dots and navigate the contact tracing landscape.
Preparedness and privacy are top priorities as governments reopen their communities. Economic recovery is a top priority for many government leaders, but health and safety concerns continue to be at the forefront. Cities throughout the country are evaluating policies for reopening and providing “reopening checklists” to businesses to give guidance for how to safely operate and recover. Beyond protecting and supporting businesses, leaders are also considering how to protect their community members’ privacy as contact tracing ramps up. Government teams are working with USDR to review privacy-preserving contact tracing solutions to ensure that the information people are willing to provide to governments is secure.
Getting ahead of the curve
Here are a few topics USDR teams are investigating in preparation for potential requests:
- Refining automated data dashboards to track progress through reopening. Sound, data-driven decision-making is at the forefront as government leaders navigate the complexities of reopening society. With phased approaches to reopening in many communities, governments are keeping a close eye on the spread of COVID-19 and the rate of death and hospitalization, along with availability of hospital beds, PPE, etc. We’ve worked with government teams in Pennsylvania and New York City to track this information and are eager to connect other governments to similar dashboards and automated resources. These metrics will continue to be essential as states and counties determine to what extent they’re able to continue reopening.
- Prioritizing aid to vulnerable communities. Homelessness, food security, racial disparity and providing assistance to the elderly or homebound are familiar concerns for local governments, but the scale of need has magnified due to COVID-19. In previous weeks, we’ve shared information on Neighbor Express and Built for Zero, examples of efforts taking place nationwide to serve vulnerable communities. Similar initiatives and other partnerships with nonprofits or volunteer-driven efforts will help governments reach at-risk communities as the COVID-19 crisis continues and evolves.
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