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24 March 2020 #43

👋 Hello friends, we hope you’re staying safe and well.

Today’s newsletter is a celebration of teams in digital government across the world who are doing brilliant coronavirus work under huge pressure. Salute. 🙌

Loads of teams are sharing expertise to get the right message out to the right people in the right way as quickly as possible.


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Teams delivering under pressure

Last week, Tom started putting together a list of coronavirus advice websites by governments across the world in his post Making things open is making things better. The number of sites is ever-growing so please comment/ tweet Public Digital to add anything we’ve missed. 

Here are some stand-out examples of governments delivering good stuff and working in the right way.

🇸🇬 Singapore has launched the TraceTogether app to help reduce the spread of the virus. The app exchanges bluetooth signals between phones to detect nearby TraceTogether users. Encounters are stored locally on users’ phones and – with consent only – can be sent to the Ministry of Health to support tracing efforts. Critically, data older than 21 days will be automatically deleted if a user does not come into close contact with the virus. Singapore has 620,000+ users and the government will be making the software open source so other countries will have the chance to follow suit. 

🇵🇪 Peru moved really quickly to set up its coronavirus information and advice page. And within 36 hours they built a page that allows people to apply for freedom of movement and quarantine exemption

🇹🇼Taiwan is close in proximity to China, but its recognition of and response to coronavirus could not be further away. The authorities’ guiding principles have been mutual respect and cooperation over top-down control. How civic technology can help stop a pandemic includes examples of Taiwan’s history of bottom-up information sharing, public-private partnerships, 'hacktivism' for online public services, and participatory collective action. Joyous! 💪 Consent and transparency have been at the centre of Taiwan’s response to coronavirus. A “culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus.” 

Reuse. Copy. Steal.

🇬🇧The UK government is continuing to make things open. And hence it’s been making things faster. There have been loads of strong reminders on Twitter to use the GOV.UK Design System to reuse patterns, components and code to radically speed up new service delivery. This one from Design System product manager Tim Paul was well-received. And this tweet from @SocialSoup, a service designer at the National Health Service Business Services Authority, praises the Design System in a need-for-speed situation. “SHIP IIIIITT” she says.  

Platforms are superpowers

GOV.UK Notify, government's SMS, email and post platform, is now available for all public sector organisations to use for emergency staff communications and business continuity messaging. “With such high unpredictability around coronavirus and the measures organisations may need to take to protect their staff and the public, it's critical we are prepared to quickly and reliably communicate important messages.” Read the post here.

🇨🇦🇦🇺And we couldn’t be happier that Canada and Australia have rolled out the same open source code to create their own SMS, email and postal notification platforms. These self-service platforms massively reduce the time it takes to deliver new services – for example, this NHS SMS advice service for vulnerable people took just a few days to build on top of Notify.

Communicating clearly

Only publish if it adds value

Sarah Richards, Founder of Content Design London, published Communicating clearly. She covers the importance of publishing responsibly: “Don’t clutter up search results. If someone else is doing it better, point to their site.” 🇺🇸As a Public Digital affiliate, Sarah helped Angie, Mike and a cross-government team in California spin up

‘Coronavirus’, or ‘COVID-19’ ?

Also from Sarah’s post, a reminder to ministers and civil servants to use the same language as your users. Google trends show that ‘coronavirus’ is used much more  than ‘COVID-19’ in general (Canada is a bit of an exception). A caveat: this may change, and you can dig down to see localised trends to see which is more relevant to you.

Trust matters more than ever

✅ Tom tweeted that “trust is the currency to value right now”.

🇦🇺 Transparent, timely and honest communication helps build trust. Australia’s Centrelink’s online services recently went down, just as people who need help during the pandemic were logging on to register for welfare services. Stuart Robert, Australia’s government services minister, said the MyGov website had suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack but later admitted that the system had been overwhelmed when around 90,000 users tried to access the website at the same time.

This is an example of a pre-internet-era “big IT”-style portal failing to scale to meet demand. Scaling your service to make sure it’s always available is the bedrock of trust.

Empowerment is great. Let’s hope it lasts.

Getting value to citizens has been rapid so far but the delivery isn’t done. It’s crucial that teams feel empowered to continuously adapt their service as the situation changes. Watch this space.

Public Digital is helping various governments create clear, accurate content, and deliver usable, accessible services at pace. If you’d like some support, get in touch at  

Stay safe.

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We’re Public Digital. We work for governments and large organisations around the world to help them adapt to the internet era. 

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