Digital solutions to revolutionise community empowerment

Article by Alan Marcus: “…The best responses to Covid-19 have harmonised top-down policies and grassroots organisation. In the UK, more than 700,000 volunteers for the National Health Service are being organised through GoodSAM—an app that, like many gig economy platforms, allows individuals to switch on availability for delivering supplies to vulnerable people.

Perhaps the best example is Taiwan, where officials have kept the rate of infection to a fraction of even highly-rated Singapore. Coordinating public and private groups, the country has deployed a range of online services, including a system for mapping and allocating rationed face masks developed by Digital Minister Audrey Tang and members of an online hacktivist chatroom. …

Effective responses to the crisis show the value of inclusive government and hint at more resilient models for managing our communities. So far, governments, businesses and individuals have pooled resources to deliver country-wide responses. However, this model should be pushed further. Digital tools should be provided to communities to organise themselves, develop locally tailored solutions and get involved in the governance of their town or neighbourhood.

This model requires open communication between local people and the organisations responsible for administrating neighbourhoods—be they governments or businesses. … 

The platform provides significant opportunities for optimising crisis response and elevating quality of life. For example, a popular solution for market vendors forced to close by Covid-19 has been offering delivery services. As well as the businesses, this benefits local people, who can bypass overcrowded superstores or overcapacity online grocery deliveries. While grassroots movements are largely left to organise themselves, this is a missed opportunity for collaboration with local administrators.

By communicating with vendors, the administrator can not only establish an online platform to coordinate their services, but also connect them with local people to help deliver the service, such as van owners who can loan their vehicles. Moreover, the administrator can collect feedback on local infrastructure needed to improve services, such as communal cold lockers for receiving groceries when no-one is home.

By integrating this model into the day-to-day governance of our communities, we can unite community action with top-down resources, empowering local people to co-own the evolution of their neighbourhoods and helping administrators prioritise projects that maximise quality of life.

As Solnit wrote: “A disaster is a lot like a revolution when it comes to disruption and improvisation.” Pushed to their limits, countries are pioneering ways of coordinating local and national action. From this wave of innovation, we can empower communities to become more resilient in crises, more inclusive in their governance and more engaged in the determination of their future….(More)”.