Wiki-Style Handbook Provides Governments With COVID-19 Tech Resources

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to change daily life, both the public and private sectors have stepped up with tech innovations to ease the transition and save lives. The speed of these innovations, however, seemingly outpace our ability to keep up with what new tech is available.

Newspeak House, a residential college in London, has stepped up to compile a handbook of tech resources for all affected by the virus. With 600,000 views, 4,000 projects, and over 130 sections, resident fellow at Newspeak House and Coronavirus Tech Handbook co-founder Nathan Young flags the handbook as the “largest online library of resources around coronavirus” on his resume.

While its managed by Newspeak House, some of its biggest strengths come from the community nature of the document. Anyone can edit, add resources, or start a conversation on WhatsApp about different sub-areas of coronavirus tech. Young said that the power of collaborative knowledge sharing was one of the foundations for the handbook format. By allowing anyone to participate, there is a much higher rate of comments as people visit the site and just start typing and “organizing knowledge organizes your communities,” he said.

Since March, the crowdsourced document has grown rapidly to include helpful information on relevant COVID-19 tech advancements, from tools for adjusting to remote work to helping doctors navigate telemedicine.

In the local government guide, for example, includes a link to the Frontline Guide for Local Decision-Makers with advice from experts and public health officials on suggested key objectives of COVID-19 response. Young said that even if sharing these resources improves government response to the virus by one day, it’s an impactful resource.

“If we can get any response to be one day earlier, that will save lives,” Young said. “So if somebody reading the handbook pulled lockdown in the UK [United Kingdom] forward by even a number of hours, then it was worth doing,” he added.

While these resources are of immediate help to share, there’s also the long-term lessons learned about the importance of open source data sharing that the public sector can take away from the handbook’s success. Young said that Newspeak House has done handbooks in the past and one big takeaway is the power of public feedback.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said that it’s become clear how rapidly government can put out innovative resources. “It’s showing that the government can build tech,” Young said. “The government can build tech in the open, it can be open source, people can error check it.”

The collaborative format of the Coronavirus Tech Handbook, Young continued, could allow for better error checking of government strategies. If there had been any type of handbook or Wikipedia-style resource where the government was posting how it would respond to the virus, the collective public knowledge could’ve quickly picked up on problematic steps, he said.

“The public is a huge resource of knowledge and energy, which is pretty good at coming up with ideas and very good at checking bad ideas and the government could use this resource for free,” Young added.

He said that it was surprising how little data governments had made available for use by data scientists in response to COVID-19. The problem with government is siloing, or that “there is information that somebody holds that not everybody knows about,” Young continued.

To begin to overcome this, Young suggested that “governments would make themselves be much easier to help if they published data in a form that data scientists could easily access it and if they published more data.”

Katie Malone
About Katie Malone
Katie Malone is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.