What can we learn from Covid19?

The public sector faces formidable challenges. These have become more prominent as a result of the Corona pandemic. Now we must also use the crisis as an opportunity, writes our author and project manager at www.civicchallenge.chChe Wagner and calls for a workshop for innovative solutions in administration. We humans have undoubtedly become witnesses to numerous important events in recent decades. Historical events such as the oil crisis of the 1970s, the fall of the Berlin Wall in the early 1990s, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 or the financial crisis of 2008 – to name but a few – have burned themselves into our collective memory. Nevertheless, from Switzerland’s admittedly privileged perspective, it can be said that the Corona crisis is the most incisive event of our generation. Not since the Second World War has there been a moment when society as a whole was exposed to such concrete dangers and had to take drastic measures as a consequence. As in other moments of crisis in society, the state, the government and the administration have a prominent role to play in the current Corona crisis. Swiss administrations at all levels – be it federal, cantonal or municipal – have shown that they can perform incredible deeds in a crisis. After all, we all instinctively turn to the administration first when there is a fire. We rely on the institutions that we collectively support and in which we have a high level of trust in Switzerland – and rightly so! Thus, the public sector is the backbone of a society in uncertainty and fear. The weekly updates from the Federal Council have become emblematic of this development since the outbreak of the pandemic. Everyone is watching eagerly to see what the administration has planned to reduce the disaster, to help people and to improve conditions – as best they can – despite the crisis. What is often forgotten is that tens of thousands of employees are behind the measures that have been decided upon in order to implement them. They are nurses in hospitals who treat patients. They are employees in compensation funds who support entrepreneurs and trigger aid payments. But they are also administrative staff in child protection authorities who have to deal with increasing numbers of cases. Journalists from radio and television who provide us with a link to the outside world and give us a lot of practical help. These are only four examples. We are talking about all those who are now doing important and necessary work and at the same time find themselves in the same situation as everyone else. You, too, have families, you, too, are afraid of catching the disease, and yet you stand up for all of us.

Challenges are also opportunities

There is no doubt about it: the corona crisis presents us with huge problems and entails great suffering. At the same time, problems can always be seen as opportunities. Crises like this one ruthlessly expose which areas work well and which not so well. The peculiarity is that the challenge of the corona crisis affects all areas of society at the same time and is constantly changing. In this dynamic situation, innovative approaches are not only desirable but mandatory. In the measures taken in response to the public sector corona crisis, basic values such as open interfaces, a citizen-centred orientation of solutions and measurable qualitative and quantitative effects play an enormously important role. The Corona crisis acts as a gigantic magnifying glass to focus on those things that need our undivided attention in order to improve them with innovative solutions. On the one hand, this attention is drawn to the strengths and weaknesses of our health system. As a society, we are fortunate that in Switzerland everyone, without exception, has basic health care – unlike in other countries. The efforts to draw attention to the course of COVID19 in a transparent manner and to pass on instructions for action to the population were mastered in a remarkable way by the administration. Many challenges are probably in the details: What are the logistical problems that the health crisis is presenting us with? With what precision can the needs of individuals be addressed? On the other hand, the focus is gradually shifting to other important fields of action. At the centre is the question of how the state, as the most important actor, can prevent an economic crisis and reduce the suffering associated with it. At the same time, we are facing major changes and challenges in all areas of society, such as culture, education, transport, families, sustainability, agriculture – to name but a few. This entails innumerable challenges that now have to be mastered under high time pressure and in a solution-oriented manner. In the last few weeks, countless such “challenges” have emerged and just as many ad-hoc teams have emerged to tackle the solution of these problems. Many solutions are dealt with directly by teams within the administration and are implemented directly and, if possible, without further ado. Other problems were dealt with, for example, in the nationwide hackathon #VersusVirus, where over 600 teams formed within 48 hours to meet the most diverse challenges with solutions.

civicChallenge and the Corona Crisis

These examples give hope – they show that even in pressure situations, people are able to respond to social challenges with innovative solutions. The civicChallenge competition was developed and launched before the outbreak of the Corona crisis. The goals of civicChallenge are to be a support for innovative ideas from the administration and to lead them to implementation maturity. In a crisis situation like the one we are currently experiencing, it is therefore important for us to continue – or better: even more! – to be there for interested people from the administration and to support them on the way to their ideas. With the corona crisis, we therefore do not want to diminish our commitment, but on the contrary, strengthen it. civicChallenge would like to call on all those who are willing to take innovative steps and improve administration in the current crisis to submit their ideas. The submission deadline will now be extended to 31 July 2020, so that interested parties from the public sector have enough time to react to current events and draw their conclusions. The competition jury will now not only consider the initial criteria such as citizen-centricity, open source, transparency or sustainability, but will also take into account whether the project is intended as a response to the Corona crisis.

The workshop

What are your ideas to find an adequate way to deal with the corona crisis and to better position the population of Switzerland in relation to COVID19? What innovations do we need to address now in response to Corona – what can we learn from the crisis? In order to provide a platform for submitted projects related to the Corona crisis, we have decided to explicitly award workshop places and project funding to such submitted ideas. In the four-day workshop from 4-8 October 2020, experts will be invited to deepen and refine the submitted ideas together with the submitting individuals and teams. In the final selection, at least one of four Corona-related projects will be awarded funding by the jury.

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AUTHOR: Che Wagner

Che Wagner is responsible at civicLab for the project "civicChallenge", a new type of competition for administrative employees and administration-related innovators from all over Switzerland. He is concerned with the development of government structures and services. He is also co-founder and executive director of "Public Beta", a democracy incubator for civil society and operator of the platform WeCollect.

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