Coronavirus Response: Help the Helpers


As the whole world gathers to respond to COVID-19, thousands of projects have blossomed to try and help. From extensive Google Doc guides to hackathon solutions to medically-certified DIY ventilators, a wide range of solutions are being offered. We’re continuing to track the most promising projects on the Civic Tech Field Guide, but we also wanted to open the floor to you, our community. Many of you are helping, or looking to help, either directly or by helping the helpers.

In a sea of efforts and link compilations, we want to try highlighting one specific, concrete challenge at a time. And then we’ll tap this community’s deep well of knowledge to help address it. We’re sharing immediate needs faced by specific people in our community.

Our first challenge was shared by civic technician and local gov booster Mike Bloomberg (not that one). As some of you know, Mike recently moved back to his hometown to help and has immediately been called upon to aid in its coronavirus response.

Mike’s ask was this:

What works for getting people to stay home?

I have recently been made acting emergency manager for my city. Like many other cities and towns we are struggling to keep people from congregating. It’s a dark day when you have to start unscrewing basketball rims and fencing off playgrounds. So I am asking for all your help.

We need to learn what’s effective in getting folks to stay home. Is there a role for game design, or cash rewards? Do hashtags and posts Is there research on what’s effective here? What are other towns and cities and states doing to address this common need?

Any ideas? What is working elsewhere?

We shared this query with our Civic Tech Field Guide community and First Post readers, and got some great responses. Alisa Zomer from MIT GOV/LAB shared Soubhik Barari’s research on social messaging in Italy, and Soubhik chimed in. Julia Kamin pointed to the value of peer messaging.

Mike took time out of his schedule to share back his town’s response to help convince people to stay at home through peer messaging, in case others wanted to replicate the idea:

Holyoke at Home is a user generated content contest calling for 30 second videos of people at home. They can directly upload via the site or use the #HolyokeAtHome hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, or a public Instagram profile. Three winners will receive a $100 gift card to a local business of their choice. Mike asks us to share the contest and borrow or adopt the concept to other localities. You can still write to Mike here.

Next, we heard from Robert, who works in mental health for adolescents and advises a program in that domain. He is concerned about the paucity of coronavirus public health messaging by and for teens, particularly in New York City. Robert has asked our community whether such programs exist, in or outside of New York. He’s also interested in reaching teens through a two-way SMS platform. Though already familiar with the great work done by the team at Crisis Text Line, Robert is looking for a platform that allows more peer-to-peer communication (while still allowing for broad messaging). We’re off and searching for such a platform, but if you have ideas, please let Robert know in the comments on this dedicated Field Guide page.

There’s nothing new about crowdsourcing, or the comments tool we’re using here. But we are hoping that we can work together to help one another do an effective job responding to the coronavirus and the myriad harms it’s causing on society. As volunteers pour their efforts into helping people access to food, healthcare workers access medical supplies, and parents educate their children (to name just three examples), we’ll keep trying to help the helpers. If you have your own query you’d like to ask of this community, whether you’re looking for the right tool, related examples, research, or other resources, please get in touch and let us know. And please, above all else, stay well.