Pandemic-driven development – collaborative innovation in a crisis

Orla Browne, March 27, 2020 2 min read

Unprecedented. It’s a word we’ve been hearing a lot of recently. The Covid-19 pandemic is something the like of which we’ve not seen in living memory. The economic reaction, still not yet fully quantified, is on a scale only ever witnessed a small handful of times in history. The social impact is entirely unique. But the swell of international collaborative innovation has itself also been, unprecedented.

From an open source ventilator project started on a facebook group that created a prototype machine in 7 days, to a symptom-tracking app created by an alliance of The Wellcome Trust, Kings’ College London, the National Institute of Health Research, and a UK Healthtech company that gathered 750k downloads in its first 24 hours, the Coronavirus crisis has instantly dissolved barriers to collaboration. People around the world are using their particular set of skills to contribute in whatever way they can, in a colossal collective effort.

Of course not everyone will be able to give up their time to join unrecompensed innovation projects, but for those people or businesses who can afford to redirect their resources, here are a few things that caught our eye.

Calling coders

Tech for UK, the team behind the Coronavirus Tech Handbook, and the COVID Emergency Response Initiative, to form code4covid. They’re building a community of technologists, designers, user researchers, marketers, and anyone with product delivery skills to identify and build pandemic solutions.

NHSx, the Health Service’s digital transformation arm, and Public have launched TechForce19, a £500,000 competition calling on all innovators who can support the elderly, vulnerable and self-isolating during COVID-19. Applications are open until 12pm 1st April.

IBM’s 2020 Call of Code Global Challenge was initially themed around climate action, but has undergone a swift pivot to tackle COVID-19, with particular focus on crisis communication during an emergency, ways to improve remote learning, and how to inspire cooperative local communities. They’re asking developers to “Commit to the cause. Push for change. Answer the call.”

CoronaHack – AI vs. COVID-19 is a virtual hackathon taking place between 14th and 19th April, bringing together Biomedical and data scientists to accelerate approaches to monitoring, diagnosing and controlling the Covid-19.

A collective including Women-Driven Development and Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK  have mobilised to organise a remote hackathon on 11th/12th April in aid of those impacted by coronavirus and the current lockdown in the UK.

Designers unite

The World Design Organization launched the #COVID19DesignChallenge, urgently calling on all available designers to commit to an initiative that will propose design-led solutions to a number of pressing challenges.

Hardware help

Helpful Engineering is a 3,400+ strong volunteer organisation of engineers, designers, scientists and doctors around the world, with over 12,000 slack members and 35 active projects dedicated to helping the world address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Open Source COVID-19 Medical Supplies facebook group has people designing masks, face shields, ventilators in their homes. If you have experience in using CAD software or have a spare 3D-printer, they’d like to hear from you.

Government request

If you or your company are in a position to support the Government’s Covid-19 effort, they have set up three dedicated emails for you to get in touch:

It has been humbling to see groups and individuals in all parts of society, and in every corner of the globe step up to support one another in these unprecedented exceptional extraordinary new and unfamiliar times. And tech is certainly doing its part.