From infectious disease surveillance (e.g. Ebola, Zika and malaria) to disaster response (e.g. the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2015 Nepal earthquake), government and industry responses have brought public attention to a range of challenges in designing and deploying technologies in crises.
However, the potential for technology to improve people’s lives in both acute and protracted crises is hampered by techno-solutionist approaches, invasive data-collection practices affecting vulnerable communities, individual and collective privacy concerns, the acceleration of existing inequalities (including gender, race and ethnicity) and missing mechanisms for transparency and accountability.
Civil society experts on the ground are critically important for identifying contextual concerns and local risk models across technological interventions. This strategic intelligence from civil society can be highly context-specific, hard to find and unstructured, making it difficult for decision-makers, particularly in the private sector, to receive and apply this knowledge in ongoing or future crises. What is missing are the mechanisms that would enable decision-makers to activate this critical intelligence for the sake of minimizing risks and harms, as well as maximizing any positive outcomes.
Co-authored by Dr. Mark Latonero and Dr. Urvashi Aneja, this paper explores the concept of co-design in partnership with civil society, beginning with COVID-19 technology interventions. It focuses on the role played by civil society in developing such technologies in collaboration with the private and public sectors. While not a panacea, co-design is a practice that emphasizes how core values such as trust and empowerment can serve as a common language for meaningful collaboration. Co-design methods have the potential to be a first step towards building equitable relationships among civil society and the private and public sectors and can help address the power imbalances inherent in such collaborations.