On 2 April, a new Joinup collection was launched. It contains a large (and still growing) database of digital solutions, resources, and projects that help tackle the coronavirus crisis. We have talked to Monika Sowinska, Project Officer from DG DIGIT’s Interoperability Unit, who has been coordinating this new initiative.
The Digital Response to COVID-19 collection is a timely initiative. What were the reasons that led the Commission’s Directorate General for Informatics to put it in place?
It started as a totally bottom-up initiative. In this unprecedented crisis, almost everybody feels an urge to act, to contribute, to do something to combat the coronavirus and help others work and survive in this exceptional period. A natural reaction is to get together and respond to the crisis. However, we can do it mainly through digital means when people in so many countries around the world have to work from home and practise social distancing.
During the e-meetings that DIGIT has held with colleagues from different Commission services over the last couple of weeks, we have learnt about many projects initiated by the European Institutions, governments, municipalities, industry, open source developers, and citizens, all aiming at the same thing: fighting back against the crisis. There is also a plethora of information about such projects scattered around the Internet. New initiatives have literally mushroomed. So the idea was to create a single go-to place to learn about these initiatives – a kind of one-stop shop for projects, resources, solutions, and e-events that have one common denominator – a digital response to COVID-19.
Several colleagues from our Interoperability Unit and other Commission services supported by enthusiastic team members from OSOR, NIFO, and Joinup collected the initial data and set up the repository in 3 days. Hosting it on the Joinup collaborative platform was a natural choice.
So why exactly was Joinup selected as the platform to host this specific initiative? What were the motivations behind this decision?
As you know, Joinup serves as a common platform that allows different stakeholders – public administrations, businesses, and citizens – to share and reuse IT solutions and to publish their stories and good practices. It is meant to assist in communication and collaboration on IT projects across Europe and beyond. So this is exactly what our initiative is about! The scope is just broader than that of a usual collection on Joinup – we don’t only focus on typical IT projects but also include the information about different websites, initiatives, and resources aiming at the fight against the crisis.
Besides, it is our programme’s philosophy – to always use and reuse existing tools and solutions, if they serve the purpose, instead of creating new ones. So again – Joinup was a natural choice for us.
The collection’s aim is quite ambitious in gathering all this information in a single location. Could you describe, in a nutshell, the main resources available right now as well as the areas they cover?
At the start, we focused on open source solutions, open databases and datasets, APIs, and hackathons. This has been complemented with links to resources and information about various COVID-19-related initiatives lead by national and local governments, NGOs, and industry or driven by communities. One section of the new collection is devoted to the well-established interoperable solutions that are already on Joinup, ready for reuse, and can support governments and citizens in the current circumstances and in the post-crisis era.
Our resource database currently covers areas ranging from public health, research, education, productivity, e-events, and updates on the outbreak to collaborative and volunteering opportunities. As the collection is constantly growing and its content will also depend on user contributions, both the type of resources and the areas they cover will gradually expand.
Given the numerous groups of people and organisations affected by the COVID-19 crisis, what would be the collection’s intended target group(s) that could benefit the most?
While creating this collection, we had in mind open sources communities, public servants at all levels, researchers, students, and citizens – pretty much anybody that either needs or wants to share a solution or information. The only prerequisite is an Internet connection. It remains to be seen which user group will benefit most in the end as this is an ongoing initiative.
I’m sure many of our readers are wondering right now how they could contribute to this effort. Does the collection offer any ways for interested parties to get in touch with you?
Yes, we are in fact counting on community contributions! The simplest way to do it is to send us a link to the new solution, initiative, event, or idea via a short online form or email. Both the form link and the email address are at the top of each page of the collection. We also invite everybody to become a member of the collection and post their stories by using the option “add news”. We would like them to share how they came up with a given initiative or how they benefit from one they found in the collection. Like with every collection on Joinup, it is also possible to start discussions so we can exchange our experience in a more interactive way.
As you mentioned earlier, the “Digital Response to COVID-19” collection is a living entity, constantly evolving and dependent on user contributions. Would you like to add any last minute thoughts that could stimulate people into action?
All I want to say is we have to work together to overcome the challenges we are facing. Luckily, there are tremendous digital technologies to support us in this fight. Let’s share the knowledge and information. Every contribution counts!