Responding to the COVID-19 challenge

Steven Taylor

Steven Taylor

As COVID-19 spreads across the country, we are very lucky to be in a position where, we can carry on our work at home, as normal. We have also been putting our collective skills into action to help on a range of COVID-19 projects.

Before the pandemic, we had a lovely and productive work from home pattern “Work at home Wednesdays” where, yep you guessed it, every Wednesday the team would work from home. It worked well - it cut down commuting and broke the week up. Well, that’s been flipped on its head and it’s now “Work at home every day”. Thankfully though, it meant that, we could slip into the new ways of working more easily than a lot of companies.

More importantly, however, we have been able to utilise our digital skills and experience to help charities and civic society respond in this destabilising period. Our Tech for Good ethos and open source approach has also meant that we have been able to work with clients and partners to look at innovative ways of reusing our technologies to help during the crisis.

Here are some of the things we have been working on in the past few weeks…

COVID-19 AI Chatbot

We are working at pace with NHS Healthy London Partnership to build a conversational AI-based COVID-19 support assistant. The AI assistant is the brainchild of Matthew Pike (Healthy London) and Paul Davies (Hilltop Labs) and powered by OneReach AI technologies. It will give people access to reliable information and automate access to relevant local support in respect of COVID-19. We have been brought in to spin up a version of the GDS-compliant Directory of Services database that we built for a social prescribing platform in Kingston. The Directory of Services database, which is also being utilised by Leeds Council, is based on open standards, has a powerful elastic search engine, a gov.uk integrated notification engine and light-touch referral system and will play a crucial part in serving and signposting relevant services to uses of the AI.

Collecting COVID-19 experiences from disadvantaged communities

We are excited to be working in collaboration with National Voices to repurpose an open source platform we recently built for the Hearing Voices Network that captures people’s lived experiences. It is is able to collect qualitative data at scale for dissemination, research and opinion sampling. We will be working again with Mark Brown (Social Spider) to adapt the platform to collect experiences of many of those most marginalised in this medical crisis that will generate qualitative insights without commercial impingement or exploitation and with full transparency for those sharing the details of their lives. We’ll be working at pace to get the platform up and running within weeks.

Working together with social tech organisations to help more people

As the crisis started to build momentum, we were honoured to be asked to be part of a collective agreement of social tech agencies who can provide civil society organisations with the urgent digital support they need during the pandemic. Powered by Catalyst, the intention is to offer design, delivery and leadership capacity to the national and international organisations coordinating responses to the crisis. As a collective, we are all willing to deliver immediate services as required and coordinate across our organisations to make change happen quickly.

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FutureDotNow - Tech industry call for donation of devices (DevicesDotNow)

Our first emergency call for help from the social tech agreement (see above) came via Chris Ashworth, who leads the social impact work at Nominet. DevicesDotNow, part of the FutureDotNow coalition, were in urgent need of UX design and front-end development support to help promote their crucial campaign to get digital devices to people that need them. Supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, FutureDotNow is coordinating industry action through the initiative targeting the 1.7 million households who don’t have access to the internet and are digitally excluded as we face a socially distanced world gripped by COVID-19. The campaign is asking businesses to donate tablets, smartphones and laptops, as well as connectivity in the form of sims, dongles and mobile hotspots.

UK Community Foundations

We’ll be working as part of the social tech agreement and in collaboration with the wonderful folk at Outlandish to help UKCF meet their COVID-19 digital challenges. UKCF are partners of National Emergencies Trust, which was set up as a response post-Grenfell and the bombing in Manchester as an organisation that coordinates emergency donations in crisis situations just like this. They have launched an appeal and have already raised £25m to help support people who are impacted by the crisis, going directly to helping frontline voluntary organisations who are supporting people impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Our challenge is how do we enable the 46 community foundations to have the digital skills needed at this time so they can better support the local front-line organisations they are funding during the COVID-19 crisis. We’ll be providing some fast-paced (remote!) user research and service design activities to help meet the challenge head-on.

Like everyone during this time, we are all experiencing highs and lows but, we are pulling together as a team and a community. It is so rewarding for our team to be able to put their skills and experience into work that directly or indirectly helps during this extremely tough time for everyone.

Stay safe everyone :-)

The Ayup team