Due to Covid-19 pandemic, the world has faced unprecedented challenge. States try to adopt different measures to address the crisis, specifically, they create platforms, publish databases, establish and use artificial intelligence for efficiently managing the processes.
OGP webpage jointly provides information on online platforms used by the states and civic society, aiming at fighting with pandemic and the problems it causes. It is important to analyse them for gaining the experience.
Chatbot, Mobile Application, Online Portal
There are informative online platforms created by the state or civil society in the OGP Member States, informing society with the information regarding the virus or allowing citizens to assess the risk of infecting based on their symptoms. Such platforms are often only informative; however, several states utilize systems based on artificial intelligence (AI), which interact with the consumers and respond according to the database. Several countries also use mobile applications informing citizens and collecting data through comfortable and simple format.
Argentina (also Buenos Aires separately), Morocco and Ukraine use chatbot, with main functions of providing information regarding Covid-19, responding to questions on symptoms, prophylactics, prevention and civil services.
Significant number of countries ( Estonia (Järva Vald), Italy (Lazio), Singapore, South Korea, Spain(Basque Country), India, Vietnam Panama) have created mobile, web application and/or AI based system. Their main function is informing users on Covid-19. Some applications analyse information regarding the infected persons and their contacts (their movement) and send signal and notifications when approaching areas with an infected person. Some applications may have additional functions. For instance, in Canada, the app does not only provide general information, based on personal risk-factors (based on questions on symptoms and conditions), it provides individual recommendations.
The Government of Croatia has created digital assistant “Andrija” with the help of healthcare representatives and IT companies for ensuring the close collaboration with citizens, the app aims at providing individual health advices. It is also called a “virtual doctor”. Doctors can receive 50 calls during a day, while “Andrija” can process thousands of requests. AI is updated systematically, including based on the ideas and recommendations provided by the citizens.
Canada, USA and Mexico – epidemiologists and software developers at Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital and a group of volunteers from across the technology industry created a portal “Covid near you”. Portal uses crowdsourced data to visualize maps to help citizens and public health agencies identify current and potential hotspots. Webpage relies on voluntary participation from the public, asks to respond the question “are you or your family members sick”. Collected data is analysed and put on the map, so that healthcare professionals are daily updated. This information will help prevent the pandemic further.
Assessment of State Measures/Budget Monitoring
In Argentina, Brazil, Haiti and Ukraine there are several initiatives both from state and civil society, which focus on monitoring state mechanisms on addressing Covid-19, such as human rights restrictions, budget spending and other processes.
For example, an organisation in Argentina Diretorio Legislativo, which aims at creating autonomous, democratic, flexible and independent space for dialogue with representatives of different sectors (public, private, academic and civil), has created an instrument Civic Space Guardian (CSG), which monitors regulations affecting civil space in Latin America and Caribbean. These regulations have impact on freedom of expression and manifestation, right to peaceful assembly and access to public information. Currently governments apply all tools for stopping the virus, including the digital tools for controlling citizens. In such situation abuse of rights is possible. Therefore, the regulations and their execution require control from civil society. Diretorio Legislativo has provided a report “Restricted rights in times of COVID-19: The challenge of safeguarding health and civil liberties”, which states that all measures adopted by the state for combating pandemic and all activities should be transparent for society.
In number of countries governments are trying to proactively inform public and civil society on budgetary expenditures or the use of other resources.
All initiatives, from both state and civil society, aim at increasing the efficiency of crisis resolution and assessment of state productivity.
As it was stated in one online publication of Panama, the government is considering transferring money to the citizens for financial support. The ideas are discussed to use ID cards as debit cards and make money transfer, using state bank services of “electronic pockets” or opening online bank account. These services are required since only 50% of Panamanians have bank account, making financial support to the whole population rather hard.
National Treasury of South Africa created an email, where public can send recommendations on fighting Covid-19. This initiative will support the collaboration with the rest of the government and the citizens.
In the United Kingdom a platform of technical guideline on coronavirus was created, which is a crowdsource library on services and resources linked with Covid-19. Similar platform was established in many other countries too.
The role of the Parliament
Apart from the executive government, the engagement of the legislative government in combating virus is also relevant.
Directorio Legislativo and ParlAmericas, civil society organisations in Argentina have created a publication on Covid-19, COVID-19: “The challenge of adapting and strengthening the role of parliaments: an analysis from an Open Parliament perspective”. The document describes information on the role of the Parliament during the pandemic, how North and South American countries, as well as Caribbean country parliaments operate, and how open parliament recommendations are also analysed.
Over 60 members of the Parliament of France, Senators with different political backgrounds have opened a platform for public consultations on “Day After Tomorrow”, where it is possible to receive citizen opinions/proposals in various ways (consultations, workshops, hackathon) on challenges after Covid-19 is overcome, specifically, what challenges the world will face and how problems in various fields should be addressed.
Topics to be discussed on the Platform are:
- Health is the most important: what kind health system should we have tomorrow?
- Subway, Work, Robot: what kind of employment system do we want?
- Does balanced consumption safeguard society?
- How can we revive solidarity?
- Education and youth: how can we create/develop educated society?
- Human in the face of machine: can we humanise digital technology?
- Towards open democracy: how should we allocate powers?
- The future of the country/territories: what new agreements are needed to strengthen them and sustain variety?
- Our riches are invisible: how can we better evaluate common goods?
- “Necessary Money”: how will financing and property reallocation work?
On these issues, citizens through consultations publicly post/send their proposals/opinions, which can be discussed and responded on the platform. Le Jour après team organises online meetings twice a week, where through video-conferences ideas/opinions are shared. These meetings are streamed live and later re-streamed again. The meeting is announced in advance on the webpage and public can participate. Additional way of sharing ideas is hackathon, where organisers invite anyone, who has thought on topics under discussion.
In the era of Covid-19 combating disinformation is becoming crucial, which is why various states, as well as civil society tries to fight the dissemination of false information in innovative ways. In some instances this happens through monitoring and gathering the information (for instance, in Mexico, Romania, Pakistan and Nepal), in some cases through educational projects.
Canada is a noteworthy example of educational program. Capilano University in Canada has created an educational webpage with a game, which aims at combating disinformation. During the game you can earn various badgesand a “Master” Degree. The goal of the game is to allow to differentiate the disinformation from credible information through spreading fake tweets. Another Canadian webpage is involved in fighting the false information with usingdifferent educational resources and programs on digital and media-literacy since 1996. One direction of the webpage is #Breakthefake. This webpage supports youth to develop critical thinking and become active and informed members of the digital world through various programs, quizzes and other resources.
Another project can be underlined, which was created in Belgium and is a flagship project of European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force. The core objective of the project is to increase public awareness and understanding of the Kremlin’s disinformation operations, and to help citizens in Europe and beyond develop resistance to digital information and media manipulation. Webpage also aims at monitoring Covid-19 specific disinformation tracking and hindering its dissemination.
Other Measures for Informing Public
This chapter collects information on webpages and other online information sources, which are used by governments and civil society for sharing information with the public. At a glance they might seem similar to discussed examples, but still different.
For example, in Bulgaria and Croatia Viber channels are used for sharing information, through which citizens receive information on Covid-19. While Singapore provides 24-hour information through WhatsApp on pandemic and responds to citizens questions.
The Office of Comptroller General (CGU) of Brazil has created exclusive information channel, where apart from receiving information on state actions about fighting Covid-19, it is also possible to make positive or negative feedback.
In Azerbaijanand Italy there are webpages, which accumulate information not only about the virus, but also on issues relevant to such issues as “education”, “medicine”, “delivery service”, “transportation”, “online shopping”, etc. While in Slovakia,Ministry of Education has created a special webpage, which is dedicated to different resources on education.
Health Ministry of South Koreaupdates information regarding the available rooms for respiratory patients, while Health Department in Spain, Basque Country publishes reports, including hotspot map, confirmed cases and other information on Covid-19 evolution.
A good example of “digital government” is the government United Arab Emirates, which has ensured to collect all necessary services on one webpage, so that citizens don’t have to make physical visit.
The Government of Scotland published a document “A Framework for Decision Making”, which describes every step of the government, necessary for combating Covid-19. The main values given in this document are kindness, compassion, openness and transparency.
Georgia engaged in fighting Covid-19 pandemic early on, which was demonstrated in measures taken by state, as well as civil/private sector. There are several online platforms which are in various ways similar to above mentioned examples.
- With the initiative from private sector, an online platform was created for supporting vulnerable groups (finances, food, human resources and other), where it is possible to make a donation or register as a volunteer. There is also information regarding organizations with high social responsibility. Platform also has blogs on Covid-19 around the world and Georgia.
- For prevention of the spread of the virus and for informing public regarding distance services, digital solidarity platform was created with civil society support - https://prevencia.ge. It fights fake news spread and checks the correctness of information about the pandemic. It is possible to receive information on distance services and covid-19 fake news.
- Companies created a platform to support small and medium businesses, where you can send information about your business problems and receive recommendations.
- Telemedicine hub in Georgia has additional Covid-19 division, where you can check your symptoms and find out if you are infected. However, these results are informative only.
- An Application, has been activated, where user can find out, if he/she was in contact with Covid-19 infected individual. The principle of the app is following: application collects data on phone location with GPS, while with using Bluetooth it collects information on contact with other phones. For these purposes the application needs to find other phone, which also has this application activated. All collected data are saved on the phone and are sent to the server only if the user allows it and informs the application that he or she has virus. After this, a notification is sent to all people, to whom this phone was close for 15 minutes or more minutes during the past 2 weeks. Only those people that have the application receive notification. Notification does not include personal information and only indicates that a person was in contact with infected person. Application has two problems: first, its efficiency depends on the amount of people using it, second – it depends on good will of the user to warn others about the infection.
- On a webportal created by the Government, various recommendations are collected, answers to frequently asked questions, information on distance services, myths about coronavirus and correct definitions, information regarding the pharmacies and hotlines and other relevant data.
Based on international experience, it is important to:
- Create the online consultation platform in Georgia, where it is possible to have discussions with the participation of government, as well as civil society and general public. These platforms would allow us to achieve consensus in the public on the measures against pandemic, and also will increase awareness about the action plan for preventing the results of pandemic. In this regard an example from the Parliament of France is relevant, where citizens and government representatives discuss together the activities planned in various sectors and public life;
- Strengthen the fight against disinformation;
- Promote individual initiatives from state bodies, together with centralized approaches, which would support fight against pandemic and inform public better;
- Ensure that, as discussed examples demonstrate, governments establish services based on AI and use electronic methods, which saves funds and also supports safeguarding public health.
Online platforms in Georgia are not directed at evaluating steps taken by the government. Although government uses all possible measures, it is important to ensure informing citizens and be accountable and transparent, while civil sector makes control over the mechanisms to stop pandemic.
This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.
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