Need Help With Covid-19 Tech? This Nonprofit Connects Volunteers with Governments

REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock.com

The U.S. Digital Response, a new nonprofit, dispatches tech-sector volunteers to assist governments with coronavirus-related projects.

Responding to the coronavirus pandemic has required state and local governments to marshal all of their public health resources. It has also required an avalanche of tech know-how: the ability to track data, to develop platforms to share and update information and new procedures to field requests for assistance from residents. 

Deploying that type of rapid-fire innovation might be a strain for busy government leaders, thought Cori Zarek, director of the Digital Service Collaborative at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. 

Out of that thought was born the U.S. Digital Response, a nonprofit organization that matches volunteers—coders, project managers, analytics experts, data scientists, computer scientists, lawyers, communications experts—with governments that want to expand their digital services but don’t have the time or resources to do it alone.

“Even in ordinary times and even on its best days, government is not usually equipped with the data and tech talent it might need to fully carry out all its services and mission,” said Zarek, one of the nonprofit’s four cofounders. “Particularly in a crisis, we’re seeing those capabilities stretched really thin. And yet we have in this country an incredible wealth of tech talent and, we’ve now learned, an incredible wealth of service-minded tech talent who are interested in pitching in.”

The organization, started by former federal deputy chief technology officers and tech industry veterans, launched roughly a month ago and already has more than 4,000 volunteers, many of whom offered their services solely through word of mouth. Dozens of governments have already enlisted their help, Zarek said, including the state of New Jersey, which worked with a volunteer to create a screening questionnaire that helps small business owners determine which emergency assistance programs they qualify for.

Other projects include Covid Act Now, a website designed to help elected officials determine the scope of the pandemic in their regions, and Ask a Scientist, another collaboration with New Jersey that allows anyone with questions about the virus can seek an answer from a member of the Federal of American Scientists.

Other popular requests include the digitization of processes traditionally completed on paper applications, including requests for housing or nutrition assistance, and help beefing up existing unemployment insurance systems to make sure they aren’t overwhelmed during times of unprecedented high traffic. But governments don’t need to have a specific project in mind to receive help, Zarek said. They just need to have a need.

“We are very flexible on how we connect with and work with governments,” she said. “We realize in this moment their biggest concern, rightly, is how to keep the government running and continue to serve their constituents. However they need us is how we want to show up for them.”

That could mean a government, like New Jersey, that knows exactly what it wants to build and the personnel it needs to do so, or it could mean an agency with a problem to solve and no idea how to tackle it. 

“You don’t need to have a clear picture of the exact tech system you might like to create or the exact skillset of an engineer you might like to bring on,” Zarek said. “We just need to understand what the goals are.”

Officials request volunteers by filling out a form on the U.S. Digital Response website. Typically, they’ll receive a response within 24 hours, Zarek said, though it may take longer to get matched with a volunteer (or a team of them). The services are completely free, and the organization hopes to make most projects open-source, with the goal of sharing best practices and allowing governments to easily duplicate models that work well.

“Our goal is for our work to be findable and replicable, so anyone anywhere can come across it and use it. And we hope they do,” Zarek said. “We really believe that by doing this openly we can help more people in more places, that’s ultimately the goal here.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.