Opinions

Citizen co-design: new solutions to meet COVID-19 challenges

Written by: Gerry Power, Associate Director, The ALLIANCE

Published: 14/08/2020

Germany have brought people together to tackle challenges brought about by COVID-19 - can we do the same in Scotland?

Dr Elke Loffler, CEO at Governance International, and a long-time collaborator with the ALLIANCE, recently drew my attention to an initiative which took place in Germany during March 2020 aimed at generating creative ideas in response to the challenges posed by the current coronavirus pandemic.

As reported on the EURACTIV media network (this link will take you away from our website) the German government invited people across the country and internationally to participate in a hackathon to find solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Hackathons, events in which people are given a few hours or days to solve specific challenges (mostly through technological innovation), are not new to Scotland; indeed examples such as that organised by Edinburgh University (this link will take you away from our website) in May have focused specifically on identifying computer based solutions to COVID-19.

The hackathon hosted by the federal government and seven voluntary organisations was however on an international scale with 42,000 participants, involving not just academics and tech and creative industries but crucially socially committed citizens.

The hackathon offered a common framework in which the participants got involved online to develop digital and analogue prototypes and solutions for socially relevant issues with regard to the corona crisis. The event was promoted as a starting point for mutual commitment in which long-term challenges within society are solved by society, and as such had much in common with the principles of co-production and asset-based approaches familiar in Scotland.

Some of the prototypes resulting from the hackathon included solutions to improve health system challenges, such as the management of hospital resources and the digital assessment of new infections however others attempted to address wider community challenges such as food distribution and support for famers during harvest time.

A jury comprised of civil society, tech companies and the German Federal Government prioritised the most promising prototypes to develop a shortlist of 150 projects, from which the 20 top projects were selected. These hackathon winning projects will benefit from support from government and importantly will have access to a network of experts to ensure that the prototypes are tested further so that the innovation can be implemented and disseminated quickly. The hackathons have caught on at state and local levels, as well as internationally to harness the creativity of local communities and other stakeholders in co-designing and co-delivering new solutions in the light of the COVID-19 crisis.

The 42,000 international participants contributed from home, organising themselves into teams to tackled specific challenges, for example coronavirus tracking, test processes, crisis communication as well as the protection of vulnerable groups and addressing mental health in isolation.

One participant commented that it was remarkable that the German government, which is usually known for its slow bureaucracy and a lack of technical affinity, was able to set up a functioning remote event of such a size in such a short time –  4 days!

So, are there opportunities for us in Scotland to do something similar – through our own organisational networks, communities or even nationally?

If anyone has any thoughts on this it would be good to explore it with you further.

Gerry Power, Associate Director
gerry.power@alliance-scotland.org.uk

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