U.S. Digital Response: Crisis Tech Response to Keep Government Systems Running
How cities can access free capacity and tech support from a network of experts
Last week, What Works Cities hosted a webinar with U.S. Digital Response (USDR) for cities interested in learning more about the assistance USDR can provide them and how to get access to its network of free volunteer support.
Read below for highlights from the webinar and to learn how your city can add capacity to complete time-sensitive projects critical to your COVID-19 response.
About U.S. Digital Response
USDR is a volunteer-run, non-partisan organization started by former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officers and seasoned tech industry veterans in direct response to the dire need they saw for additional capacity across all levels of government as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The organization aims to connect state, county, and city governments with volunteers to provide collaborative support on a wide range of projects while government staff capacity is stretched to the limit by the demands of the pandemic.
The USDR network has more than 4,000 qualified, experienced professionals, primarily with skills in technology, communications, and operations, who are able to help support cities on long- or short-term projects, depending on the level of need. In just a few weeks since being founded, USDR has already matched expert volunteers with dozens of states and cities, offering specialized support across a range of government projects in direct response to COVID-19.
After cities get matched with volunteers, support can look like anything from getting connected to tools and/or approaches that have worked in peer localities to direct assistance in building open-source systems or platforms. USDR’s pool of experts are also helping support cities with projects such as: tracking of medical facility capacity and PPE needs, building and launching COVID-19-related websites, building COVID-19 self-assessment tools, assessing support for homeless and other vulnerable populations, and supporting public communications efforts.
USDR City Project Examples
Here are a few examples of the kinds of data and technology projects that USDR has been able to assist local governments with, along with details on how your city can get matched.
Coordinating and Mobilizing Volunteers Through Tailored Online Platforms
Many cities and states are looking for ways to leverage local volunteer networks to get groceries delivered and to have check-ins with vulnerable populations. Concord, CA was one of the first cities to work with USDR to expand its existing Meals on Wheels offerings to support this at-risk community.
After an initial discussion between Concord and USDR to understand the city’s specific needs, USDR worked with the city to create a website tool called “Neighbor Express” that matches people who need help with volunteers in their community. The project took 48 hours from the point of initial contact between Concord’s Mayor and the USDR team to Concord launching their new Neighbor Express site. In addition to helping the city expand its Meals on Wheels offerings, through USDR’s support, the city was able to customize the site to accommodate multiple languages.
Developed originally for the City of Concord, Neighbor Express has scaled to other communities. This tool is easy to use because the code is free and open source and can be customized to the specific needs of a city. With help from USDR’s volunteer network, both Walnut Creek, CA and another city in New Jersey have built their own Neighborhood Express portals.
In addition to working with the aforementioned cities, USDR has advised an additional 10 cities who already had volunteer forms built, but needed help finding a technical solution for volunteer matching.
Automating Cities’ Internal Processes and Digitizing Forms
Another way that cities can leverage USDR’s rich volunteer network is on projects related to digitizing forms and automating processes that historically required people to be in person or had to be done manually — a time consuming and unsustainable process given social distancing measures that limits in person interactions.
To get support around digitizing its Human Resources and Finances forms, the City of San Rafael reached out to USDR and was quickly matched with three volunteers. Together they worked to digitize the forms and, in the process, created a new digital workflow while improving the forms by using software that was easily available to the City. This was a multi-step process that involved collaboration between the volunteers and city employees where they analyzed existing essential workflows and created a new system for the city using off-the-shelf software. It took San Rafael approximately two weeks from being matched with USDR volunteers to launching the online forms.
Now hundreds of employees in the city are being trained to use this new workflow, saving time and ensuring that they are adhering to social distancing measures and staying safe.
[Read more about collaborations between USDR and governments here]
How to Access USDR’s Support and How It Works
Interested cities can complete a Request for Help form on the USDR’s website to be matched with support. Within 24 hours of submitting a request, a member of USDR’s Government Partnerships team will be in contact to schedule an intake conversation. Cities are matched with the type of help that is best suited for their situation after discussing their needs with USDR.
If you are uncertain if USDR can help with your particular need or project, please reach out at email@example.com; the organization will work to help connect you to the people and organizations that can.
As city resources everywhere are strained, helping to ease the burden on city employees is more important now more than ever. “Our team is happy to not only lend more firepower, but also be a resource for taking a step back to look at things from a systems perspective versus what employees need to get done right away, that way your team can improve and build features you need rapidly,” shared USDR co-founder Raylene Yung during the webinar.
“There is no project too big or too small,” Yung continued. “We are not afraid of trying to take down big problems and if it turns out that we are not the most well suited to support you, we’ll try to find out if there are other groups already working on it. When in doubt, reach out.”
What Works Cities is a national initiative that empowers cities to tackle pressing community challenges and improve residents’ lives through data-driven decision making. Operating as a partnership between five national organizations, What Works Cities works directly with city leaders and staff by providing coaching and technical assistance, a range of online and in-person learning opportunities, and a growing nationwide professional network.