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Coronavirus: Platform Matches Tech Talent with Gov in Need

Organizers say that the project has already fielded inquiries from more than 1,000 volunteer technologists who are interested in helping local, state and county governments respond to the crisis.

picture of the CDC website on a laptop
Tada Images/Shutterstock
A new online platform seeks to connect volunteer technology experts with state, county and local governments in need of technology help during the coronavirus crisis.

The new platform — dubbed the U.S. Digital Response for COVID-19 — is the work of several prominent figures in the public interest tech world, including three deputy U.S. chief technology officers. The idea behind the platform is a relatively simple one: Governments can request help with a form, and the platform will ultimately pair them with a volunteer technologist, who can apply to offer their services via a different form.

In a press release announcing the public launch of the platform Monday, organizers described it as “a volunteer-led clearinghouse for data and digital leaders looking to volunteer, and for government officials in need of help.” They also noted that more than 1000 volunteers had already offered their services and been subsequently assigned to projects.

The three former deputy U.S. chief technology officers who helped to create the site are Cori Zarek, currently with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University; Jennifer Pahlka, who went on to found and lead Code for America; and Ryan Panchadsaram. They are, of course, joined in this work by others, too.

“We’re overwhelmed with incredible support from volunteers,” Zarek said Monday in a phone conversation with Government Technology, “and they are ready to get to work. We’re eager to identify these high-impact projects in cities and states and counties where we can deploy people.” 

The volunteers are located across the country in many different time zones, and they are all working at home, with many offering to contribute time around other obligations. Zarek also noted that the volunteers generally have previous government experience needed to know how to navigate working in a space that can sometimes be difficult for those who are new to it.

Moving forward, the hope is that the work and projects these volunteers do for governments will be scalable and easily applied to challenges being faces by cities, counties and states the nation over as the coronavirus pandemic crisis wears on. The group has created a projects page that already has examples of some early work, and organizers plan to add more to it as time and project maturity allow.

While everything about this project and the crisis that inspired it is developed, Zarek also said that relationships formed during this time may last past the emergency. Although government collaboration has experienced some growing momentum in recent years, there remains quite a bit of room for building better relationships between public agencies that facilitates more learning from one another.

“I think our ability to come in here in truly a moment of crisis to provide some of that connectivity is going to be useful not only in this period of time,” Zarek said, “but it will also be useful to have those strong ties in the future.”

At the moment, government at all levels is certainly in need of help, and governmental use of technology is no exception. Government leaders continue to roll out resource sites that did not exist as recently as two weeks ago, which in government technology is an unheard of timeframe for conceiving, completing and launching a project.

A comprehensive list of resources both for and by government can be found here.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine