These are unprecedented times. The high-speed train of modern life has come to a grinding halt, and we’re all trying to grapple with this new reality.

COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we work and live. Most of us are working from home, shifting bigger parts of our lives into the online realm. But the virus has also redrawn the interaction between tech and democracy, the roles of our governments, and the way we exist in this world as citizens.

Every month, we curate a list of interesting articles, reports, and opinion pieces from the fields of Civic Tech, GovTech, and digital democracy. Usually, these must-reads highlight interesting democratic or tech innovations or participation cases. This month, however, COVID-19 dominates the conversation. How are governments across the world facing this new reality? Which new opportunities and/or problems arise? And what comes next? Let’s dive right in.

1. “Faced with a pandemic, good public health requires stronger democracy” by The Hill

“(…) Our ability to withstand the coronavirus is based in large part on the strength of our democracy. I don’t mean voting, political parties, and the other electoral features we associate with democracy: I mean the extent to which our political system helps people to act collectively, support each other, share information, and collaborate with experts and public officials.”

It makes perfect sense that stronger democracies face the pandemic with better ammunition. The ways that governments, non-profit organisations, businesses, grassroots organisations and citizens interact with each other has never been more crucial. But as trust in democracy is at an all-time low across the globe, we’re faced with an inconvenient mismatch in this area.

The silver lining? In times of crisis, “people band together and get past their previous divisions and disagreements to meet the common challenge.” A must-read for everyone who believes democracy is key to battling this crisis.

2. “How to last in Civic Tech (especially now)” by Civic Hall

Civic Tech is a field that is continuously and rapidly evolving. That means that there’s always room for innovation, but it’s also challenging to stay relevant for a long time. Only the lucky few of Civic Tech innovators have been in the field for more than ten years. Civic Hall decided to take a closer look at these evergreens and came up with a few interesting learnings about longevity in Civic Tech.

The main factors for a Civic Tech project that withstands Father Time? A strong and determined team (headed by equally strong and determined founders), a product or service that resonates with a clear audience, and strong relationships with investors. A must-read for any Civic Tech innovator who’s here to stay.

3. “Privacy and the Pandemic: Time for a Digital Bill of Rights” by Foreign Policy

Battling a crisis or pandemic usually entails a quick restriction of citizens’ civil liberties. In these cases, swift and resolute action is not only justified but vital. Digital tools can help governments to contain the pandemic.

But on the other hand, sharing too much can harm citizens’ privacy and safety. In an ideal scenario, crisis restrictions should be lifted as soon as the threat of the crisis wanes, but history shows that this is not always the case. How do we strike a balance between what benefits us all as a society, and what may ultimately harm us as individuals?

This article pleads for the creation of a digital “Bill of Rights” that protects citizens’ online privacy and digital data. “Such a bill could clearly outline how digital rights and privacy should be guaranteed to prevent any lasting infringement post-crisis, and, as any fundamental rights, balanced by other rights and social goods—such as public safety and health.” A must-read for everyone with an opinion on the potential launch of a COVID-app.

4. “Coronavirus Is Inspiring Wave of Gov Tech Volunteerism” by GovTech.com

Another example of people coming together and joining forces to face the pandemic is the U.S. Digital Response. This newly-formed group of nearly 3,500 tech and IT experts offers tech support to the government to facilitate different aspects of our current reality. From setting up VPNs to digitising offline processes, the U.S. Digital Response team has made it its mission to aid government services that threaten to be overwhelmed by the pandemic.

“For all the hardship brought by the coronavirus, the crisis is also fostering the development of new ways for government to work, and the formation of new relationships among public-sector agencies and others who may want to join the ranks of government.” A must-read for tech experts looking for a volunteering opp, or for everyone who enjoys a collab for the sake of the common good.

5. “Virtual Parliaments in Times of Coronavirus: Flattening the Authoritarian Curve?” by Democracy Spot

With strict social distancing measures in place, legislative bodies across the world face disruption of their usual processes. The pandemic delays votes, complicates meetings, and even constrains social movements and protests. To make sure this doesn’t give way to waves of authoritarianism, parliaments across the world need to become as operational as possible in the digital realm. As this article states, they “should be the first line of defense in flattening the authoritarian curve.”

While many legislative bodies struggled with the new reality, Brazil’s House of Representatives took swift action and rapidly paved the way for streamlined online processes. The answer to their success lies partly in their political response and administrative and digital capacities. “Digital transformation does not happen overnight, and the House’s timely response to pandemic-related challenges was in part due to in-house capacity built and honed over the years.” A must-read for legislators looking to go online.

6. “Beyond the crisis: How might local government build a positive legacy after Covid?” by London Office of Technology & Innovation

The COVID-19 crisis has brought about a profound and sudden shift in the way we work, and the IT and digital aspects of this transition have been incredibly valuable. People are working remotely en masse, new tools are being wielded to handle data and organise services, and thus it’s only natural to wonder what this will imply for the post-COVID era. This article dives deeper into the role that certain changes could play in the way we rebuild and restructure society in the future.

Spoiler alert? The reinforcement of local democracy and smarter use of data are only two of the shifts that, according to the London Office of Technology & Innovation, are here to stay. Also, “perhaps the single most important change will be that leaders, national government and local authorities are finally able to take the steps which many digital teams have long been advocating for.” A must-read for anyone who wonders what’s next.


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