Transcript: Tech During Times of Crisis

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April 27, 2020, 9:48 am

Video of this virtual event can be found here.

Kathy Pham:

Welcome to the Under the Hood: Tech in the Time of Crisis session. Thanks for joining us. Today I will give you an overview of what we’re going to talk about, introduce the other panelists who are here, and then open up for Q&A.

Kathy Pham:

So, before we start, think of some of the questions you might be asking. If you don’t want to lose track of them, go ahead and pop them in chat. We won’t answer them right away but we’ll make sure we cue them up. And then after the round of intros, I’ll ask folks to raise their hand and we’ll make this more of a discussion rather than just us talking at you. What else? Oh, and so I’ll go ahead and give you all a little bit of a background and then we’ll go into intros from everyone.

Kathy Pham:

So, a big part of this is that it’s been a really, really big movement. Starting [inaudible 00:01:01] well before healthcare.gov, Some of us here have been involved in healthcare.gov. So, we’ll kind of start there and talk about how that led to USDS, and then now, when we have the US digital response with COVID, this is part of this broader movement as well. And many of these people here are the ones that have done the work behind the scenes, on the ground, often times never even asking for credit. Just some of my own heroes, and biggest public servants in this country. And how important it us for us to cue up so much talent and resources and ideas so that when something like this happened, we were able, and they were able, to pull together this crisis response team in the country. And I [inaudible 00:01:49] some of them. We can talk about how quickly we’ve been able to mobilize people, but I think the number was 1200 people volunteered after the first week or so.

Kathy Pham:

And for those of you who are unfamiliar with healthcare.gov, that was back in 2013, where a big technology failure in this country created risk for derailing one of the sitting president’s largest policy initiative. There’s a team that came out throughout the slew of people. People who knew it called in their friends. There were public servants who were already in government who came out, all hand on deck, to stabilize that website. That later on led to, in addition to a lot of other work that had been done in government to think about ways to bring tech people into government, led to the foundation for what later became the United States Digital Service in 18F, the Presidential Innovation Fellows, and those still all exist. And most recently the US Digital Response Team that spun up very recently with Cory, Ryan, Jen Pahlka, and many others who they have brought along with them. And it’s been really just an incredible movement for me, personally, to watch.

Kathy Pham:

And so when Dan Levy asked a bunch of our faculty members to host a session, this is one of the first things I thought of. And I talked to Cory, who is at the Beeck Center at Georgetown, and so we decided to co-host a session together with the Kennedy school and the Georgetown Beeck Center for social impact innovation, and Cory, hopefully you can talk a little bit about that as well when I turn it over to you.

Kathy Pham:

And before we get started, I wanted to make sure I… Oh, note to self, turn off notifications. Before we get started, I wanted to do a really quick intro for the folks you see on the screen right now, and then I’ll turn it over to them to tell their own stories. And while they tell their own stories, please make sure you think of all the questions you might have for them, because I’m sure there’ll be plenty.

Kathy Pham:

So, we have Cori, one of the co-founders of the US Digital Response. She’s also currently the director of the Digital Service Collaborative at Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Innovation, their Impact + Innovation, and was previously a US deputy CTO. We have Raylene, who is the CEO of the US Digital Response, was a fellow at the Aspen Institute’s tech policy hub, and was most recently engineering and project executive at [inaudible 00:04:27], Stripe, and Facebook. Jennifer Anastasoff, the head of People at the United States Digital Service where she was a founding member, and grew USDS from 5 to 200 in about 2 years. Jennifer, definitely check that if that is incorrect. And is also a [inaudible 00:04:45] Alum and founded Hughes Corp among a number of other things.

Kathy Pham:

And Mina, founder and executive director of the digital service at Health and Human Services here in the United States, leading on a couple different COVID projects, helping with the US digital response, was on the healthcare.gov rescue team. Before that, the vice president over at [inaudible 00:05:07] and also working on robotic arms and prosthetics, which is just… I find so amazing. And then we have Ryan Panchadsaram, who is also the co-founder of US Digital response. He is currently also at Kleiner Perkins doing BC work, and was also a deputy chief technology officer at the US as well. And I know a fun fact for those of you who are on a Mac, he was responsible for the user [inaudible 00:05:33] of design of Outlook for Mac in 2011.

Kathy Pham:

So, with that, they are going to now tell us a little bit more about themselves and I’ve asked them each to say a couple of things. There physical location, their involvement with crisis response related things in their life time, not just for this, an aspect of their background that led them to do this work, and then the simplest thing they brought to a crisis response, that they thought that for them made the biggest difference. And I think that’s really interesting to think about because there’s so much many of you on this call as well. Could bring

[inaudible 00:06:13]

scenarios, that could make such a huge difference in the environment that we’re in. It doesn’t have to be the… Build a whole new big flashy infrastructure thing. It might be something really simple that can turn around a dire situation.

Kathy Pham:

So, with that, I will turn it over to Cori. And I’m going to turn off this light so that Cori is on your screen when you talk. Go ahead, Cori.

Cori Zarek:

Thank you. Thank you so much, Kathy, and to the Harvard Kennedy School team for partnering with us at Georgetown for this event. It’s great to have the gang together to tell some stories today about what we’ve learned and what we’re continuing to learn along the way.

Cori Zarek:

So, I’m Cori Zarek. I am based in San Francisco, although I work with Georgetown, so I have quite along commute in ordinary times. My crisis response involvement at the moment is with the US Digital Response, as you heard, along with some of our colleagues joining us today. I helped to co-found that effort a few weeks ago. And we can talk with you more about it, but the short version is we recognize that governments are, on a good day, under an extraordinary amount of strain to provide services, and especially to use data and technology to provide those services. And so, in a moment of crisis it’s even more important to shore up those data and tech offerings. And so, with US Digital Response, we’ve identified now 3,500 technologists from across the United States who have raised their hands to say that they would like to volunteer their time and energy and skills in their local communities, or working with state and local governments, or governments anywhere across the country; to ensure that our systems keep running, that neighbors can continue to find the information they need on government websites, that people can apply for small business loans or food stamps or any other services they need from governments, and that things just keep working as they should.

Cori Zarek:

Aspects of my background led me into this particular crisis. A couple of things I have found to be true in my work over the years… One is that interconnected networks of people working together can get so much more done than if we were to work on problems and try to solve them individually. And so, taking a very networked approach to work is really how I have approached everything in my career. And I think that having had strong networks and foundations in place through some of the colleagues that are here today, and many, many more, people who bring different skills to the table, whether it’s a tech skill or a policy skill or something else. Having those broad networks of people working together can help get us to the better outcomes that we’re striving for, and that’s what, really, I’ve been bringing to this particular crisis.

Cori Zarek:

The simplest thing I’ve brought to this crisis… I started my career as a newspaper reporter. And especially when you’re in the midst of a crisis with technologists, you need good writers. You need people who can explain hard concepts very [inaudible 00:09:30] and write very quickly on the fly. Those are good skills we should all have, and having had that in my back pocket over the years has been quite useful. When we’re in need of telling a story on the fly.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you so much, Cori. You need good writers everyone. That skill becomes super handy. Raylene, would you like to go next?

Raylene Yung:

Sure. So, I’m also in San Francisco. And fun fact, Cori and I learned, after maybe a week of daily Zoom calls, that we live probably a few blocks from each other really. I don’t know when we’ll get to meet, hopefully someday soon. Similar involvement in crisis response for me is definitely the USDR. As you mentioned, my entire career before this has been in the private sector. I basically spent 10 years at Facebook and Stripe. So, working in government is completely new, unlike everyone else on this call, so I’m in great company.

Raylene Yung:

What led me here, though, is lost interest in civic engagement and working with the government. I did a fellowship with the Aspen Institute right after I left Stripe, and that was like a crash course in, how does the government work? What is policy? One thing I’m really grateful for as well, on the team, is there are such great writers, like Cori and many others, because I think something I’ve learned is just how important communication and clarity of communication and thought and process, especially when it comes to working with the government, just how important that really is.

Raylene Yung:

Let’s see. What is a simple tip to help? Okay. So, I’m going to put on my classic, and the people on the US

[inaudible 00:11:04]

will laugh at this. My classic scaling hat. So, I’m a little bit obsessive about just keeping track of information and really streamlining work. And I think one thing that’s helped me and I think helped USDR work better is everyday we really push super hard on, how do we make the processes we were doing yesterday more efficient today? And this can be everything from, everyone has to put all of your information in the same spreadsheet or the same intake form.

Raylene Yung:

One concrete example is the volunteers. I think if we had kind of a more looser structure, like, anyone could apply to greet, volunteer anytime, and we could place them randomly, I think we’d have a lot more work on our hands, but instead we’ve really pushed everything into a single, kind of linear recruiting pipeline, where people apply online. We have a team that vets and looks at people everyday, and then we carefully place them into government relationships, and I think that’s really helped us keep the quality bar high and also helped to move really quickly.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks. Thanks so much, Raylene. And thanks for coming to us from a private sector. Jennifer, would you like to go next?

Jennifer Anastasoff:

Sure. Hey, I’m Jennifer Anastasoff. I’m clearly coming to you from San Francisco, as well. Kathy probably should feel bad about asking about our history in emergency response. When I was 14, I helped with the emergency response in 1989 for the earthquake in San Francisco. I’ve been in pretty much every earthquake in California at the Epicenter. So, wherever I am there may be an earthquake. So, I had actually been involved in very direct emergency response in a past life. But in this case I have been lucky enough to support me colleagues, Cori, Raylene, and Ryan in the US Digital response based on largely… I mean, I’ll go to the parts of life that led up to this, and it actually gets into the simplest way that I can help. Very directly, it’s been through relationships. So, I think the biggest thing that I have brought to this effort both directly with the team that’s on this call and also in the state of California and their response, [inaudible 00:13:32] is over time, I don’t… Unless it’s necessary, I don’t burn bridges, and I invest a lot in relationships with humans.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

And so I share that, both because I think it’s important to realize that when it comes to an emergency, and I think Cori really hit at this with the [inaudible 00:13:49] networks, but when it comes to an emergency, that’s the worst time to start getting to know someone. Right? The best time to start getting to know someone… Even though there are amazing people that I’ve met through the digital response effort… The best time to get to know someone is when you’re working on stuff together prior to that emergency. The second best time might be when you just have to do stuff together. But being able to draw on and understand people, draw on relationships in ways that are going to be helpful to a cause is, I think, the simplest way.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you so much, Jennifer. I had no idea you were involved in past earthquake responses, either. Thanks for sharing that. Mina, would you like to go next?

Mina Hsiang:

Yes. Hello, everyone. My name is Mina Hsiang. I am based in Boston, actually in Somerville, because a lot of you are in Cambridge. Sorry, my prompt went off my phone. So, let’s see. My physical location is here. My crisis response involvement… So, I worked on a lot of [inaudible 00:15:04] crisis response in my life. The earliest one that was sort of government focused, I think, was healthcare.gov, where I got to work with some great folks here including Ryan. Ryan and I spent, like, 700 hours in a row immediately in the same room next to each other. So, we both worked on the healthcare.gov rescue, as is mentioned before, which sort of led me into a large number of government crisis response scenarios.

Mina Hsiang:

I then came back to Massachusetts and helped lead a lot of [inaudible 00:15:36] work on fixing the Massachusetts health care exchanges. And then when I went, as Kathy mentioned, to the US Digital Service, I ended up probably helping to lead about 15 different crisis responses, some of which are easy to talk about and some of which are harder to talk about, but it kind of became a piece of the bread-and-butter of what we ended up working on. And it was a great opportunity to be able to bring teams of technical folks, but with a lot of non-technical expertise into help agencies in scenarios where they need an outside pair of eyes to come and look in, and also just say no, and provide a bunch of perspectives. So, I guess in that vane, I’m happy to answer lots of questions about more of those.

Mina Hsiang:

I think two of the simplest things to bring, I know that’s not what you asked, but capitalizing on what folks here said, one, I can’t emphasize enough, I agree with exactly the synthesis of what Raylene and Cori said, which is documenting very clearly things and then making it repeatable. Right? So, Ryan and I put together a series of one page documents, and if you can make, which were actually two and a half pages, but if you can make a really concise synthesis that you can hand to literally everybody and they will all develop the same understanding, that repeatability and that clarity of communication is exactly what is necessary in a crisis. And then the one other thing I would say is sometimes if you are an outside entity and you [inaudible 00:17:14] you have an ability to say no and say true things that people who have been embroiled in a bureaucracy do not always have the opportunity to say. And we can expand on that later, but those, if you can figure out diplomatically how to do that, that opportunity also can be transformative. And I also have a crisis responder who is making [inaudible 00:17:35]

Kathy Pham:

Hi Jordan.

Mina Hsiang:

It’s her 4 month birthday, so she’ll be joining us on this panel.

Kathy Pham:

Happy birthday, Jordan. Ryan, would you like to go next?

Ryan Panchadsaram:

Of course. Name’s Ryan Panchadsaram. Physical location is, of course, in San Francisco like many folks here in the Dogpatch neighborhood. My level of crisis involvement… I love the question because you ask me [inaudible 00:18:00] prior to all these experiences. I would actually call the time with the Outlook for Mac team our own kind of little crisis, right? You put a name on a product outlook 2011, you’re got a date you need to ship it by. So, for us on the team, it was this incredible scramble to rebuild from scratch on the Mac environment, and a piece of email software that people are really used to using on the PC, and we had to figure ways how to bring that to the Mac, but that was early one. But really, on the crisis side, being part of the healthcare.gov rescue team with Mina and a handful of folks, and taking that from a website that could barely stay up and I think the response rate was 48% percent, which basically means you’re down for most of the day, no one being able to get through, being able to usher through multiple enrollment windows and getting to the end of March, April with 7 million people enrolled was just a world of experiences that I know Mina and I would love to share with you here. So, if you have questions, particularly on that, I’d love to answer them.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

[inaudible 00:19:06].gov is working with the CTO about this on how to engage well with agencies and how to use tech well. And all of those had there little mini crisis’s, and then we’re basically at the moment where we are now with the USDR, Cori, Raylene, and others in helping find volunteers to assist state and local government.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

The question of my background… I was an engineer turned product manager. And at the time of healthcare.gov, proximity was one of the reasons why I got pulled into that crisis. And being able to raise my hand at that moment and say, “Hey, does anyone need any help?” That really put me on that team. And so, for healthcare.gov, I found myself at the center of it. And for this crisis here with the Coronavirus, we’re on the edges. And as an edge as a volunteer, finding ways to help are very different, and so we can dig more into that. And to wrap with the simplest thing, in any crisis, I think it’s being continually curious. Right? I think that’s something that Mina and I always found ourselves doing. Being curious about what the next problem could be and being able to prioritize what those next problems could be, and then making our work truly actionable. And so, I think the simplest thing that anyone here can do in a crisis is being more curious than the next, because in any crisis there’s just another domino that may fall, and so-

Kathy Pham:

Thank you so much.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

Thank you, Kathy.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you. I love hearing all those last pieces so much, and I want to really point out how, among the six of us, there are at least 4 engineers who are engineers by training. And none of those simple things were engineering answers. Right? They were all process and people focused. So, on one hand it’s the digital response, and it’s a lot of bring your tech talent to come do this.

Kathy Pham:

But at the core of it, it’s the writing. It’s the documentation. Those relationships that you can’t build overnight, like Jennifer said, that are so incredibly critical to movements like this. And there are so many others, I mean, on the other panel alone we have a crosscut of law, and writing, and engineering, and policies, and there are so many others who over time, like, [inaudible 00:21:20], and Jen Pahlka, who really set the foundation, because they have the knowledge of how government and systems work, so that when many people came they were able to do the work and hit the ground running in many, many ways.

Kathy Pham:

So, as people cue up your questions. There is a hand raise option if you go to the participants list and you can raise your hand and I’ll call on you. And while some of you figure that out and do that, I’m going to go ahead and cue up a question now for them to answer.

Kathy Pham:

Oh, I also realized, really quickly, I haven’t introduced myself. I teach a class on project management here at the [inaudible 00:22:01] school, and because of all the other work that many people did in the US government, I was able to come join USDS around the same time as Jennifer, to work on some of the projects with Jennifer, and Mina talked about as well.

Kathy Pham:

If there’s an issue… Matt, do you know if we have hand raising off [inaudible 00:22:22] or chat or anything like that? I just haven’t seen a whole lot come through.

Matt:

No, it should be on.

Kathy Pham:

Okay, awesome. Thanks. So, raise your hands. If you were in my class I would stare at some of you, because I know you have questions around this topic. Before, for the folks who… The first question. Some folks have no idea what’s going on with the COVID response, with USDR. Can one of you share just some high level activities, what the volunteers look like, what people are working on, what kind of involvement… Ryan, you mentioned that [inaudible 00:22:59] What does that look like on the ground? Can you share more of just what USDR is doing?

Cori Zarek:

Raylene.

Raylene Yung:

Sure. I’m like, there’s three of us, or four of us. Yeah. I can definitely talk a little bit about maybe, on a high level, kind of the type of work we do. And I can share some highlights on projects.

Raylene Yung:

The short version is, I think Cori, you were on a another call earlier, she put this well. I think in some ways what we’ve been developing is almost like this framework of, you hear from governments what they need. We have a team that tries to internalize what that is, and then we identify the best solutions. So, the general and the specific.

Raylene Yung:

The general is our help looks either like, sometimes we put people on teams. So, we’ve had engineers work with the city, or work with the state of New Jersey innovation team to just develop products side by side. We’ve had data scientists go to the state and just sit with health and human services team to look at their actual live corona case numbers and try to do projections. So, those are just examples where we’ve embedded people. We also have ones where we found a tool that exists in the wild and we almost serve to help as getting feedback or more people to use that tool. So, covidactnow.org is a tool that at this point I think probably most states have already seen and looked at. And that’s one that was completely separately built and then we sort of heard about it and have worked with them closely to kind of get them in front of other people.

Raylene Yung:

And then the last area is that sometimes we build specific things that didn’t exist well. So, a good example of that project is neighborexpress.org. It was actually a fun, interesting story. So, we heard from one city in California and they were like, “We need to find volunteers who can help deliver food to senior citizens who are stuck at home during this time.” So, our team built kind of a scrappy, basic website, basic [inaudible 00:24:54] air table, and shipped it to Concord. And we’re like, “Here you go. Here’s a way you can collect volunteers and do matching.” We then found that basically every city seems to need this, and we didn’t want to be in the business of owning all of these databases and websites for all these different cities. So, we basically opensource the entire stack and are using off the shelf tools. So, now what we do is we actually talk to a city and very, very quickly, within hours to days, will set up their own version of Neighbor Express that they get to own, and they kind of have the data and do all the matching. So, that’s another example.

Raylene Yung:

I would say just to hit on some of the… I don’t want to… I don’t know how to say this… but, kind of like the hot topics, and they’re just super important and real problems. We’re also working on what is around scaling out benefits to kind of everyone all over the country. I think there’s a lot of money coming from [inaudible 00:25:44] and stimulus dollars coming into states, and it really needs to get to people who need the help. And right now there’s a lot of layers in between the money and the people, everything from unemployment benefit websites that are crashing, to very complex flows that you don’t even know if you’re eligible or not, and then of course the government employees themselves who are just overworked and now dealing with orders of magnitude, more applications. So, we have a kind of big project just trying to figure out how we can help on that.

Raylene Yung:

And then another one, I think one of the more just very hairy difficult problems in all of this is how to think about recovery and contact tracing, and testing and tracing. And just whatever the code words are, But the name of kind of like, how do you assess what the spread is like so that you can model it and you can potentially make changes to shelter-in-place and start letting people go back to work. And on that one, similarly very hairy topic. Many, many players in the field, and what we’re doing is trying to be more of a resource where we, when we come across a solution, we’ll vet it, we’ll look at it. We have some amazing engineers looking at the actual apps and the code and trying to see how they work. But we’re also trying to take a step back and provide, almost more like guidance and philosophy around how do you think about privacy? How do you think about data? And how do we work with kind of platforms and more like groups that will advise all of the apps out there, versus making individual contact tracing apps. So, it was a long spiel, but hopefully that give you a flavor of what we are doing.

Kathy Pham:

Super helpful. Thanks. Raylene [inaudible 00:27:19] Does anyone else want to add one more comment? And then we’ll move on to Beatrice’s question about local governments.

Cori Zarek:

I’m going to add one quick comment, which is that, I think you’ve heard from a few of us. We’ve been overwhelmed with the generosity of spirit that Americans have in raising their hands to say they want to use their skills to help with us and with other efforts. And where we are, especially with US Digital Response right now is looking for those government and other problems that we can put these volunteers on to solve. So, where folks can be most helpful to us right now is identifying systems that might not be working as well as they could, or websites that could use some support and additional skills and talent, that perhaps our pool of volunteers could bring. And, if you can, connecting us with government leaders who can actually work with us and our volunteers to get some of these projects in motion. We’ve got a great pool of folks who want to get to work and we’d like to put them to work.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you, Cori. [inaudible 00:28:21] Beatrice, you had a great question, and instead of reading it out, I think it’ll be great for you to introduce yourself and tell us where you are physically, and then ask your question if you’re up for that.

Beatrice:

Hi. Hello. Can you hear me?

Kathy Pham:

Yes, we can hear you.

Beatrice:

Okay. I am currently in Cambridge, but I’m from Brazil. And I was wondering the following. I’m thinking about the developing world, and the fact that many central governments don’t have the capacity or they don’t prioritize a clear digital strategy. So, what are your views on what local governments should do? Should they view there own systems to respond to the crisis even if these are fragile solutions? Or should they wait for a central response from the federal level or the state level?

Kathy Pham:

Go ahead, Mina.

Mina Hsiang:

I’m Mina. I’m happy to talk about it a tiny bit. And thank you, it’s a really great question. I mean, even in countries like here, it can vary, the extent to which the central government is going to take on issues, versus the local government. What has ended up happening here, and I actually also spent a fair amount of time building digital solutions in developing countries. I think what ends up working effectively, especially for a quick response, a thing like an emergency response.

Mina Hsiang:

One thing that’s important to note is that there are lots of times that you assume that there is somebody else in charge that is doing something, and these are the moments when there isn’t enough time to let that play out and assume that that is true. It is often better to start doing the right thing if the right thing is clear. And at the moment when a lot of people are doing a very similar correct thing, then building that network and consolidating can happen, but if everybody just waits for a leader to say something who is not in fact planning on saying something, or doesn’t know the right thing to say, then things won’t move.

Mina Hsiang:

So, I mean, certainly what we used to see in a lot of emerging markets was a more local and distributed solution, and then… Especially because there can sort of be a lack of funding in a lot of bureaucracy at sort of central levels, that allows them to sort of pick up something that’s already working and champion it and say, “Hey, this is already successful, let’s build on this”, instead of sort of trying from the top down to push a solution, because it will take too long and often will be the wrong solution. So, I do tend to say sort of demand driven things.

Mina Hsiang:

I mean, even here in the US, one of the things that I’m working on has been [inaudible 00:30:57] clinical protocols, and actually any of your colleagues in Brazil and friends in Brazil can look at the one that we posted. But this was something where, sort of… I approached both ends of the funnel. I went to some of your senior people and said we’re going to need some protocols that everyone can look at, because hospitals don’t have enough time to read the research and figure out what they need to be doing. And they were sort of like, let’s try to get everyone to agree, and they wrote some very, very vague and broad protocols. At the same time, on Facebook, tens of thousands of clinicians were saying, “Do you guys have protocols?” And so I worked with basically one person who had spent a lot of time writing Ebola protocols in developing countries, and she said to bring them, to lay out very, very detailed protocols, that anyone could pick out. And now we have almost 200,000 people looking at them.

Mina Hsiang:

So, I would say, you try both and you see which one gets traction. And a lot of times the people who actually need the solution do the best job of generating the solution, and then other people can just amplify it once it’s already rolled out.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks so much, Mina. Jennifer, in a slightly different perspective on that same question. Do you have thoughts on the talent that’s required at really different levels of government, and really how to figure that out? It sometimes, I know, can be quite difficult to find talent at different levels.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

Yeah, I mean, I think what’s been really interesting, right, in a time of crisis there’s clearly a critical need that’s highlighted. But I would say that we need folks who understand how to implement digital solutions and how to dive deeply into understanding digital problems at the highest level, right? So, of government all the way down to people who are actually implementing. That’s a broad comment, right? That’s a broad and vague comment. A lot of what we did at the United States Digital Services, as you know and as Mina knows, was basically crisis management for a given agency, or for a given community, at one point in time. As opposed to this which is a much broader solution.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

So, I would say when it comes to now and when it come to this type of pandemic, yes, we need people who understand and who are willing to work at all levels in order to be able to help bring digital solutions, and understand digital problems. But what I would say is the most important thing is that those folks at all levels actually who are helping, actually care deeply about what is needed right now. And I’m going to be specific [inaudible 00:33:42] about that.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

During our crisis, digital solutions are going to look different than when you have years to plan. Right? So, during a crisis is the time, and I say this especially for people who are on the line, who are going to be interested in volunteering. During a crisis you need to find out what the governments need and what that demand is, and you go and you help at the level that they can handle it. And you work with them and you help solve problems and build trust and move forward. When you have a longer opportunity to be able to help an agency, an organization, or a state, or a city, you do the same thing but perhaps you might push a little bit more to institute some really interesting changes or whatever. But during a situation like this is not a time to bring in really great people who are going to make huge changes in everything. It’s the time to bring in people who are here to help.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you so much, Jennifer. We’ll jump over to… Before I just over to Annie’s question and then Jason, you’re next. If you can not find the hand raise or you can’t chat for some reason, feel free to turn on your video and just wave at me, and I’ll come through and try to find you as well. Annie, do you want to ask your question next? We can’t hear you.

Matt:

I think she dialed in. If you press *6 on your phone, it should unmute you.

Annie:

Oh, I’m unmuted now. Can you guys-

Kathy Pham:

Yes.

Annie:

…hear me?

Kathy Pham:

We can hear you very clearly.

Annie:

Okay.

Kathy Pham:

Hooray!

Annie:

Oh, okay. Yay! Okay. So, my question was about the US Digital Response. I clicked on that website and I really appreciate everything that everybody’s been doing with the COVID 19. But I’m particularly interested in coordinating a PPE coalition, and my question is specifically around basically what are we doing with the military? So, I just got out a year ago and I have some friends that are overseas in Europe right now with my old unit, and they’ve been asked to make their own masks. And I was just wondering, how the PPE coalition works and how does that work as a separate arm of the government? And if somebody could speak a little bit more on that, I’d appreciate it.

Kathy Pham:

Yeah. Annie just left the military as a helicopter pilot, and left out that part, which I think is so-

Annie:

[crosstalk 00:36:07] Thank you.

Kathy Pham:

Do one of y’all want to take a

[inaudible 00:36:12]

on the… I actually don’t know who would be the best, so I’ll just leave you to talk amongst yourselves.

Mina Hsiang:

Talk about how it should work and how it is working right now, which are not closely related.

Kathy Pham:

Well, let’s talk about that. How it should work and how it is, and also why that’s the case though. Like, many of the folks here just don’t know why the should doesn’t make it over to that thing that’s supposed to work. Mina, did you want to [crosstalk 00:36:36]

Mina Hsiang:

Ryan, you want to tag team on this? I mean, the how it should work is probably that it should be more centrally coordinated. In ideal world to exactly your point, this is a scenario where not having the states competing with each other would be ideal. Where a bunch of the specific powers of the federal government are established in order to really helpfully… I mean, this is a global crisis, right? And so our ability to bid on global markets, to chase down supply chains to work with other countries, and improve our ability to import PPE and to move it around the globe is something that the federal government has good powers to do. However, in the current environment, our federal government has said we would prefer to defer that to the state’s specific organizations and the military on it’s own. And so, in that context I will observe something that has happened and then Ryan will talk about specific initiatives.

Mina Hsiang:

But basically what happened is a lot of grass roots initiatives sprung up in addition to a lot of states striking out, and hospital systems honestly that I’ve talked to, striking out on their own because they [inaudible 00:37:53]. To my point earlier, we got to solve this problem for ourselves until somebody else comes and solves it for us. But now we’ve seen sort of, just like sort of bubbles, how they fuse over time if you shake it all. They’ve started merging, and so there are some larger coalitions, and we’ve actually called on a few large companies to help consolidate these initiatives. So, I’ll let Ryan talk about some of those. And some are private companies that I think will come out in the next week or so, and probably I won’t help them yet.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

It’s one of those things where someone’s got to take the ownership responsibility of coordinating things, right? And at the federal level, that responsibility was clearly not taken and so it got dropped to the states, and from the states they were overwhelmed with what their needs and ability to coordinate these [inaudible 00:38:41] and so then that trickles down to the communities. And I think what’s happened is just a reaction in response to that. If you rewind back two and a half, almost 3 weeks ago, you have PPE coalition groups like Project N95, Find the Masks. There’s like a front line to [inaudible 00:38:59] Like there’s a handful. Operation Mask as well, too.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

As you can see, there’s so many names of different groups that have come about and what they’re all trying to do is connect suppliers with demand. And each of these groups have a unique skill, or capabilities I would say. Some of them are tied, people with logistics. Some are tied with manufacturing. Some have government experience. And so what you are seeing is this is a full out scramble by as many people and as many places to source, find, and vet, and deliver masks. And unfortunately it is causing some of the symptoms we’re seeing on the other side, which is prices of masks are going up. Competition for masks means some suppliers don’t have the needs that they need to get. Communities are relying on donations and people to make their own. You’re then ultimately seeing CDC guidance that has said for the longest time that masks don’t help, and us as normal people shouldn’t be wearing them; and then changing now with the reality that you can’t find a mask anywhere, so just make one with the cotton you have.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

With all that said, I think, what I’m hoping happens in these next couple of weeks forward is that all these groups that have been started up, they know what their strengths are, and they do that thing that Mina was talking about earlier, which is they start to consolidate, right? And these efforts start to consolidate around the ones… because for a lot of these folks, they’re volunteer efforts, right? I mean, the consolidation is natural. And so for PPEs we’re going to see that happen.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

I’m also hoping, and you can see this in the language that FEMA’s been using, is that they may take up the baton of being the central place for this. And they are doing it in small ways like saying they’ll vet suppliers, but they also need to do it on the demand side. You see this as kind of an interesting moment, as well too, for companies to step up. And you’ve seen everyone from Apple to I think a local company in the Boston area, [inaudible 00:40:54] saying, “We’re going to make these things for our communities.” And it’s unfortunate that this problem could be so much better solved if someone just said, “I task the air force, I task the United States Postal Service, I task Amazon with receiving every mask that gets made. We set a price, and we’re just going to coordinate where they go.” But unfortunately, we’re not there at this current moment. Mina, anything else to add there- [crosstalk 00:41:18]

Mina Hsiang:

Just to double down on that. As everyone on this call I think that Ryan and I are sort of agreeing, and I’m open to any other thoughts, that the more we can consolidate this initiative, at lease among groups that are willing to sort of play by the optimal allocation as opposed to a hoarding mentality, I think the more that those groups can then be connected with the couple… What I’ll call probably likely coalitions to rule them all, so that we can help speed the consolidation. I think that’s actually a very useful thing for things to do, because otherwise… We just… The more that we can do to [inaudible 00:41:59] that consolidation I think will be productive.

Kathy Pham:

Annie, does that answer your question, especially as it relates to the military as well?

Annie:

Yes, it does. And I guess the only follow up I would have for that is just when we could consolidate, would it make sense to go through the USDR for that? I have people that are actually looking for masks presently that are deployed? Where would the consolidation take place, I guess, would be the only follow up question I had, if that’s a decent question.

Mina Hsiang:

Why don’t… So, what I would propose is if you send… We can have an offline conversation, but I think that there are a couple leading points of consolidation that you should just connect them with. So, to whatever [inaudible 00:42:49] and you guys have sort of a higher level point of contact, or not 14 different bases but to the extent that there’s something like that, I think we should just connect them to some of the centralized responses that we’re aware of.

Kathy Pham:

Awesome. Thank you.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

And I think [inaudible 00:43:05] as well too. From USDR, or right, the US Digital Response, our consolidation has been consolidating around rallying that group of volunteers and being able to place them with projects. Even the formation of USDR as an example of taking desperate efforts and actually just bringing them together because it’s teams of the people that gets things done, not just individuals on their own. And for us it was Cori, Raylene, and Jen, both Jens, Anastasoff and Pahlka, and [inaudible 00:43:35] from federal, state, and local governments, and then us emailing at the same exact time within 24-48 hours, the same mailing list, and then within 24 hours saying, “Hey, shouldn’t we just all do this together?” And then 24 hours later you have something called the US Digital Response, and there you have a place to channel volunteers and effort and it just lets us scale the original desire and need, and in the PPE community that same thing has been happening.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you. And I think you both just hit on another theme that’s in the realm of simple but high impact which, be in the position to just bring all these pieces together without even making your own thing. Your thing is to bring everyone together. Thank you for sharing that. Jason, you’re next. And then Aniyah, you’re cued up after Jason.

Jason:

Hi, can you hear me all right?

Kathy Pham:

Yes, crystal clear.

Jason:

Yeah, so I have quite a quick question, and then one that’s a bit more involved. For some of the people who are on this, part of this conversation who are students or have only spent a little bit of time outside of school. What is exactly are the best ways to keep up to date, stay up to date when these crises do emerge? If they have technical backgrounds, how can we actually stay up to date with some of the opportunities that do arise when these crisis’s strike, so that we can contribute as early as possible when the efforts are most needed?

Jason:

And in addition, the more involved question that I have is, when it comes time for the crises and we do have to, you want to be delivering things as quickly as possible, how exactly do some of you with more experience dealing with previous crises see the trade off between shipping things quickly and also having the necessary security measures; whether it be internet security, or preventing adversarial attacks on some of the systems that you actually create?

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Jason. For the first one, maybe Jennifer and Cori, do you want to start with your people background and digital collaborative type world. Then we can see who else might want to chime in. Jennifer, do you want to start it off?

Jennifer Anastasoff:

Sure. Yeah, the child just woke up. Sorry, as I was looking over in the corner.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

I mean, so in terms of the brief question. I don’t know that it’s a brief question, honestly. Right? Because, right, you’d asked what’s the key way to stay up to date. And I would say I don’t know, aside from going to your alumni group, or going to, right, your alumni group at your college, or going to a place like the back center, who’s going to be plugger in, and just making sure to stay on their list and engaged with them. There may be a place out there, and I wouldn’t be aware, but there may be a place out there that keeps track, but it’s not like it’s USD, like the US Digital Response is going to be plugged in there necessarily.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

And so what I would say is maybe that’s something you should work on. And then the second thing I would say… And you have all the people from your school here. So, I would say that’s number one. And then… Sorry, I was distracted, the second question was?

Kathy Pham:

I think for the first one we’ll have Cori also-

Jennifer Anastasoff:

Okay.

Kathy Pham:

And then maybe, I don’t know if Raylene has perspectives on coming from the private sector, how she found it. But I’ll interject there. There are folks who are now more with the public interest tech movement that have created lists here and there. Tech congress actually has a really comprehensive list that goes beyond just tech congress, where you can follow a bunch of different job boards and email lists that they… So, there are a bunch of lists. They’re not necessarily consolidated, and we can maybe share some of that out with this group as well. Cori, do you want to add any-

Cori Zarek:

Yeah, so that speaks directly to kind of that same networked approach. The time to network and get yourself into networks and build networks as always. And showing up to the local Code for Boston Brigade meetups, get you sort of familiarized and potentially even active on projects in your own community in ordinary times, so that when a crisis strikes, you already have that network of doers who you know are going to be ready to jump in and get to work, and I’m sure they already are. That Code for Boston chapter is always very active.

Cori Zarek:

But thinking about what can you do in your own community. So, you don’t necessarily have to be tapped into these fancy networks of alumni groups and other things, which are great, but you are living and working and surviving wherever you are, whether it’s Cambridge or California or somewhere in between. And are your community’s websites up and running? Do they need support? Like, what skills do you have that you could potentially offer to someone in your own backyard, in your neighborhood. Whether it’s the government or a non-governmental organization that’s working to help neighbors freely give the example of making sure neighbors who can’t get out of their homes can run errands and get groceries, and just make sure they’re being taken care of. Those are things regular people can do. You don’t have to be a part of some sort of grand networked endeavor. Or, if you’d like to be, then start it. Right? If it doesn’t exist.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Cori. Raylene, is there anything you want to add to that? [inaudible 00:49:00]

Raylene Yung:

Oh, I guess, just the one thing is I think… I remember hearing a lot of this advice when I hadn’t worked on any of this, and it just sounded really hard. When you don’t know the people, you don’t know the people. And I guess one thing I’ve learned is it is a small world. I think everybody is like one degree removed. Even in some ways smaller than the tech world, where I come from, right. So, I think if you are really interested, start with finding someone that you either know or someone knows that works in government, and I think you’ll quickly find your way into these different groups and forums that people have mentioned.

Kathy Pham:

And follow the Code for America blogs and writings, it’s a really great [inaudible 00:49:37] this kind of work, as well. And several of the folks here have been quite involved with various initiatives at Code for America too. Can you repeat your second question one more time, Jason?

Jason:

Yeah. My second question was touching upon when these crises do strike and you want to actually release some sort of new technologies to actually help address some of these crises. I understand that there can sometimes be this trade off between launching things and trying to put things out there to actually help, and also some security issues where you might release something with potential flaws that may potentially compromise your system or devalue or depreciate the brand that you actually have for your product itself. And for some of you folks who have dealt with some of these crises in the past, how exactly do you see this trade off, and how exactly do you balance those two competing interests?

Kathy Pham:

That’s a great question about shipping and building new things during times of crisis. Who wants to take that? I know you all have opinions. Ryan.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

I’m actually going to build on your question a little bit, Jason, because I think even more than security, it’s like when you build something that’s trying to help in a crisis, are you and are your team that’s building it going to be around [inaudible 00:50:50] first? Right? Even before the security people [inaudible 00:50:52] right? Like, it’s very easy to spin up really quick apps and widgets and things that could help, but what becomes really helpful is when people start using them. And then once they start using them, you’ve got to find ways to maintain them and keep them alive, and I think that’s something to think about. That doesn’t mean to not try and experiment and start. It means just think about how over the next course of a couple of weeks, this thing truly sustains itself. A great example of that coming together was the group behind covidtracking.com, right? This is the place where you see for the US the most up-to-date test case data, started by two random people, Alexis Madrigal and Jeff Hammerbacher, doing separate efforts that came together, that then had a volunteer effort behind it, and they now know that they are truly responsible for this thing.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

On the security side of the puzzle. The closer you are working with government, like, inside helping them manage sensitive data and things like that, you have to take that world really seriously. And I don’t think they’re going to let a volunteer group in the door without those kind of checkoffs and things like that. Like, some of our groups within the USDR have to sign NDAs and other things that ensure that if sensitive info is being shared, that it is protected. But then there’s also this whole world of things on the outside that can be done that don’t have the same level of security concerns. Right? Because you’re doing it more of in this open data transparent fashion, like that covidprotocol.org example that Mina shared. Right? Like, that stuff there, it’s meant to be public, it’s meant to be shared, versus perhaps a system that’s maybe meant to track patient symptoms or something more sensitive. You’ve got to take those concerns and considerations at hand.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Ryan. Anyone else want to chime in on that as well? Maybe other people who’ve built products, in government and not? You can’t tell, I’m trying to make eye contact with Raylene and Mina.

Raylene Yung:

Oh. Oh, yeah. No, I’m happy to. Yeah. I’m newer to the government side. But I guess one thing… Basically, echo everything Ryan said. I think, though, the thing that’s most interesting to think about is, which is more of a luxury from a private sector is iteration and components, right? So, kind of playing off what Ryan said, I think something I’m learning too is sometimes you don’t know when you set out to do something when its crisis response, you may just not envision what the second, third, or fourth order of effects are. And so being very careful about checking in as you go, reiterating on the model, and even maybe shutting down services that provided a really important need in week one, but in week three you realize has downsides. I think that’s a big part of it too, you have to kind of always be looking at what’s the impact of the work and is it adding value? And if not, don’t be married to it and just kind of shut it down.

Raylene Yung:

I totally agree, there’s so many components to things that are valuable. They’re completely independent tools based purely on public data that have been hugely helpful, and then there are ones that are kind of behind the scenes that are harder to build, but then you have different considerations for those.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Raylene. And one thing I’ll add, just because I’ve been thinking about this as well, is especially if you’re outside of government or even if you’re in government and you’re building something for, let’s say, a group of doctors. When people in crisis are in response mode, the amount of energy to even learn anything new is not really there. An arguably it’s not there even without crisis response, but be aware of any [inaudible 00:54:20] solutions we throw at people to like solve some problem when they may not be able to actually use it because there’s just no time to learn something, [inaudible 00:54:31] totally, totally new.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

One thing to add to that, just real quick is that, it is though the time that you can build trust with those people on the ground by helping them in the way that they need to be helped right then. And then in the future be able to do a little bit more.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you. Aniyah, and then Sahara, you’re after that.

Aniyah:

Hi. Thank you all for your comments. Sort of building on that discussion that Ryan and Mina were having on centralization versus coordination versus decentralization. I’m wondering if you could provide an illustration of what the USDS should be developing for the federal government at a centralized level, and what should be left to be done by private sectors or other sectors?

Kathy Pham:

I’m not sure who. It sounds like Mina would be great to answer that.

Mina Hsiang:

Is this specific to PPE?

Aniyah:

Yeah. I mean, you mentioned PPE, you mentioned filing for unemployment benefits. I guess, any example.

Mina Hsiang:

To a certain extent, I think things can only be built for people who want them. And so, there are certain scenarios where the federal government will have a strong point of view, will get its act together and choose that it wants to enable a certain function, and there will be other times that they will defer it to entities outside the federal government.

Mina Hsiang:

For example, if you even just looked at the Cares Act, we want to say there are an array of programs for small business relief, right? And so, there’s one program, the 7A program, payroll protection program, and administration of that program was delegated to private banks. There’s another program which is Emergency Loans that is still being managed by the SBA, the Small Business Administration. And so, there’s some diversity in approached there. Some of it is pushed into the private sector and some of it is administered by the core federal government. And I think you’ll see sort of that there are many different approaches. Sometimes they will specifically delegate it to the states, sometimes they will not specifically, but choose not to pick it up.

Mina Hsiang:

So, it’s certainly not the case that it… It’s very hard. You can’t build something for the federal government if the federal government doesn’t want you to. It won’t get used, right? So, it’s really… This is sort of all a project, which is, make sure that your customer wants what you’re building before you build it for them, and that is both based on what they say and by their behavior. So, it is really critical to sort of suss that out if you’re going to undertake any project. So, have a sufficient level of engagement with your customer. And I think this is little bit… Raylene mentioned this. Cori mentioned this. I think it’s very helpful to have at least someone on the team who has experience working with the government and the customer to be able to accurately interpret a bunch of signals that are not necessarily indicative to people who are used to building consumer products, for example, to figure out what’s really going to happen when the product shows up.

Kathy Pham:

Anyone else want to add to that?

Mina Hsiang:

[inaudible 00:57:55] when I hard that question, I also got a thought of what do I wish USDS was being called and pulled into, right? So, USDS, not being USDR, right? USDS the team that’s at the White House, and really is for all those things that Mina talked about, right? It’s like, SBA, you need help. Pull in the digital service team. But that point she made was so important. You have to want and have to ask for the help in a lot of ways, especially for these projects to by truly, truly successful. But there are so many tech-ish related problems that are like… An old colleague of ours who passed away, Jake Brewer, would always say that tech isn’t just a piece of the pie, it’s the pan. Right? It’s a small portion of it, but it does hold together our policies and our programs. And so, all of the things and places we want our government to do action, and take action on, tech like plays a component. And so the more that they involve USDS as partners, the more successful I think we’ll be at getting to a good outcome.

Kathy Pham:

Thank, Ryan. Anyone else want to… Thoughts on that question? I’ll [inaudible 00:59:12] it over to Sahar. Sahar?

Sahar:

Hi, everyone. Thank you for this. It’s evident that you’re trying to tackle some pretty urgent matters the government and effected communities are facing. I was just curious how you think ahead about sort of, some of the second and third order effects of this pandemic? Are there projects that are in the pipeline that are sort of in ideation stage? And sort of, one example is sort of the theory… I mean, lots of things are uncertain today, but sort of the impact on the workforce, and sort of income inequalities, and all the sort of economic and employment related kind of issues that the government’s going to be facing, hopefully once the vaccine is invented. So, I was just curious how you think about not just building frameworks and projects to meet actual needs right now, but also thinking ahead more long term?

Kathy Pham:

I forgot to ask the others. Sahar, where are you physically located? Where are you calling from?

Sahar:

I’m calling from Dubai. It’s 10 PM.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks for joining us. That was a little bit of a lead in question, because I kind of knew that. Who wants to-

Cori Zarek:

I can jump on this to start us off, Kathy. So, that’s a great question Sahar, and I think we are all wired to think about not just today or the tomorrow or next week, but the long, long term in the way that we work, especially most of us having spent a lot of time in government. Governments work very far out. And so, if we want to think about how to solve not just for today but for the long term, we can make use of the situation we are in. As some like to say, never let a crisis go to waste. And solve for the urgent needs to make sure that people who need, again, food stamps, or small business loans, or unemployment benefits, or some of these things that are critical systems day in and day out, and are especially critical in this moment when you’re experiencing, as Jennifer said, the worst days of your life right now. We can work to solve for meeting those needs right now and to setting up the infrastructure that we really should have had all along perhaps, so that these systems can work better in the future. And knowing the strain that we’re in in this moment allows us to make the case for the additional resourcing and the longer term vision with our colleagues who may not have been in a position to prioritize some of these efforts before.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Cori. Any other thoughts on second, third order issues, effects on economy and equality, etc?

Jennifer Anastasoff:

Yeah. This is Jennifer. So, I think it’s, to Cori’s point… So, where I’ve been focused has been on with many of the folks who are in this call in terms of thinking about 6 months from now, 12 months from not, 18 months from now. How do we ensure that we have people who are in critical leadership positions who understand technology, and who understand, I guess, that pan and the role that the pan plays, so that folks who understand technology can come to the table because in many of the cases and a lot of the ways the Cori had mentioned, when you talk about food stamps, when you talk about healthcare, when you talk about unemployment benefits, when you talk about all of these things, the policies are often made exclusive of any input from folks who understand both the constraints and the opportunities inherent in the existing technical systems. And both of those are a problem, right? Because it we’re no longer in a stage when it comes to the scale at which our federal government is, where people can sort of come up with policies and toss it over to some nameless face, those people who will just make it happen.

Jennifer Anastasoff:

That’s actually what’s led to a lot of challenges that folks are facing right now. And when we look at the current situation where the systems are busting and breaking and causing very human issues such as, if you read the New York Times this weekend, someone having to look for a fax machine in the middle of a pandemic in order the be able to get their unemployment insurance. That kind of stuff is stuff that has been an issue for a long time, but to Cori’s point, it’s now top of mind for folks in a much larger way than it used to be. And we have to focus and invest on getting the people in who can help make decisions at the right times and to understand that there are many more leader-

Jennifer Anastasoff:

Folks, it’s very difficult to look beyond right now. It is very difficult to look beyond right now for those folks who are in process and who are trying to respond. I would actually say for the folks on this call and others, to the extent that anyone can start thinking three months in advance and getting folks together to think three months in advance, we’ll all be in a better place, even if it’s just for a moment, so that we can start planning ahead. Some of us are thinking further, but three months is probably going to be a good place to start working.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Jennifer. Anyone else want to chime in on that question? For folks who haven’t been able to raise their hand or put anything into chat, I want to just leave this time to just unmute yourself and ask a question, since I know sometimes raising your hand or putting stuff in chat just might not be that simple. I’ll give folks a few seconds. If you want to just take yourself off of mute and just go ahead and ask your question, if you have a dying questions. Anyone? I saw someone.

[inaudible 01:04:56]

, I saw you unmute. Anyone else? I’m scrolling through all these feeds.

Kathy Pham:

Okay, we have about 15 minutes before I ask [inaudible 01:05:15]. I’m going to ask a question, a more serious question to everyone, and then let’s wrap up with once all this is over, what’s the one thing, what’s the first thing you’ll do first that you can’t do right now? But, before we get to that… You’ve talked about so many different things, both things that are immediate to COVID now, and there’s also this movement as a whole with tech, and [inaudible 01:05:45] tech and government. What is something that feels really big right now that you’re thinking about, where you just don’t really know the solution yet, but you’re hoping that we can think through in the next upcoming months? What is something that is still a big problem or issue space, that kind of keeps you up at night, or just that you’re really, really concentrated, focused on, or really thinking about that we really don’t have a solution to yet necessarily, but you just want to throw it out there as a thing? That even with all the brilliant minds that we have around us, is still just a really difficult thing that we don’t know which direction to take yet?

Kathy Pham:

I’ll give you a few minutes to think about. I know that’s kind of a big question that I hadn’t really prepared anyone for, but what is something, especially since we have so many other people here, they can think about it as well, something that feels kind of really big or a problem space that you’re just thinking about right now?

Cori Zarek:

I can jump in-

Kathy Pham:

Cori!

Cori Zarek:

…while others are thinking. So, this came up a little bit through different threads we’ve been pulling at in this conversation, and one of the things that always feels true in a moment when we’re all trying to solve something as a community together, but even when we’re off doing our own things, is we sometimes forget that someone somewhere has probably solved whatever problem we have before. There’s probably some solution out there. We may not know who they. We may have never heard of the solution. We may not know how to find them or even where to look, but it’s probably there. And the smartest thing we can do when we’re in a moment of crisis or any other time is to step back and think about who those other solvers and doers might be, and to find them and work with them. It is so much… We can work and move so much faster and smarter and stronger together than we can on our own. And lifting up others who have been working in a space much longer than we have is going to get us there much faster.

Cori Zarek:

I think sometimes we forget that, and sometimes our community of technologists forgets that, because we are really excited about this thing we can build and ship and provide to the world. And I’m using a “we” here when I maybe shouldn’t, because I come at this work as a policy maker and a lawyer, and so not as an engineer or some others who might actually be doing more of that traditional build. But taking that step back and ensuring that we’re really doing a scan to find people who aren’t being seen and recognized for the work they’ve been doing, which can often be individuals from communities that are overlooked, who’ve been underestimated or marginalized, or otherwise under resourced over time. Finding those voices and those solvers and those doers, and partnering with them, supporting them, lifting them up. Or just getting out of the way and moving on to a different problem, because there’s plenty of work to do. But that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. How can we use this as a learning moment to remember that whatever problem we’re trying to solve, someone’s probably solved it before.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you so much, Cori. I’m just going to go down the list that we had earlier. Raylene, do you have some thoughts?

Raylene Yung:

Yeah. Wait, one part was supposed to be fun, right? What we’re going to do- [crosstalk 01:08:52]

Kathy Pham:

Yes. We’ll do the fun part later.

Raylene Yung:

Later, okay.

Kathy Pham:

This is the big thing that you’re still thinking about every day.

Raylene Yung:

Yeah. So, something I’ve been thinking about, I think it’s in the back of my mind is… It’s very abstract, but things are going to be very different after all of this. People who are out of jobs who really can’t find new jobs. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what does the new wave of recovery look like? Just as a personal note, I spent a lot of time working and thinking about climate change before all this happened, so part of me has been thinking, what does it look like after this? Do we kind of invest in a more green economy? And is this king of a reset to think about renewable resources and green energy, and like all of the jobs that are needed to get that change. And so, that’s a very, very, very optimistic view that I… It’s more like it’s a dream, but obviously it comes on the back of a lot of hardship too. So, that’s what I think about.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Raylene. Mina, go ahead.

Mina Hsiang:

I do enjoy how she emerged from the mist around the Golden Gate Bridge. Yeah. I mean, I work and spend most of my time in healthcare, and so this has very… This crisis in the immediate term has a lot of major implications and is sort of changing a lot of perspectives across healthcare. But I think the thing I want to allocate on my

[inaudible 01:10:13]

too is, okay, what does this mean for healthcare longer term in the United States? Which was already what I was working on, but this is a very different shock to the system that will open up some new opportunities, also get rid of some opportunities.

Mina Hsiang:

Right before this, I was going to make a TV series comparing healthcare in a bunch of different countries from the perspective of a user. And obviously, the desire to travel to a bunch of different countries and observe their healthcare system would look completely different, right? You couldn’t do that right now. So, some conversations are going to be different. On the other hand, this really is changing the stodginess and staidness of certain aspects of healthcare.

Mina Hsiang:

Every major academic medical system right now is setting up ICU beds in operating theaters, and trying to figure out, just like everybody else is trying to figure out, how to convert their capacity, how to change things quickly. They’re not going through all of their multi year view processes to figure out what protocol is most effective. And so, there are just a ton of things across the board that are being upended. And whenever you shake the Boggle ball, and the question is, how much can you influence where the pieces fall back down afterward? Right? When everything has been disrupted. And so, I spend my time with a few other colleagues really thinking about, okay, so what are the things about this that we want to influence how it settles longer term. Not to be opportunistic, but really just to make sure that we continue moving forward as a country and a healthcare system that I think a lot of people were already somewhat dissatisfied with. This just created an opportunity for some transformation that might be needed.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you so much, Mina. Ryan?

Ryan Panchadsaram:

I take that question as being like, the one thing that keeps me up at night, or the thing that I keep worrying about. And it’s like, for all of the effort and the energy that we’re spending, are we just fixing the symptoms of a true root source problem cause? Well, one of the things that Mina and I would spend a lot of time with during the healthcare.gov days, would be listening to bug reports and issues that people had, and downstream you them but the real root causes are something broken up here that’s causing all of this stuff that’s taking place downstream.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

In the case for COVID, we have to and can and need to do everything we can to support our front line healthcare workers, doctors, and PPEs, and ventilators. But when someone’s on a ventilator, it means we failed something upstream. And so, what are the things we can do upstream to reduce the spread of the coronavirus? How can we encourage and make sure people know that they need to stay at home?

Ryan Panchadsaram:

And by the way, most of these interventions aren’t technological or clinical. They’re human behavior, and I think that’s something that I think everybody in this group and on this call, we can influence. Right? How do we encourage people to stay home? How do we encourage people to wear masks? How do we really change our behaviors? Because I would say for most of us on this call, we are in places or in communities where we’re like, no duh, that’s the thing we have to do. But we still have a portion of our country that has heard something else different and are catching up. And unfortunately because this is an exponential crisis and problem, every day wasted means we need more PPEs and ventilators and so forth. And so, I just keep thinking, how can we work on problems upstream to truly slow the spread? Because, as not a doctor myself, those feel like areas that I can probably try to help with.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you so much, Ryan. And I come from a family of service workers, and similar to Raylene, I think a lot about what things are going to look like after this and what some of the fall out will be as well. So, I think to end, and I’ll thank everyone in a minute, but to end let’s wrap up with, what is the thing that you can’t do right now but are really looking forward to doing the moment all of this is behind us, and we’re in a different kind of new world, whatever that looks like? Cori, would you like to kick us off?

Cori Zarek:

Sure. So, I didn’t say much about the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown, but we’re this experiential learning center on campus that draws students from all of the different academic colleges, so we have data scientists and policy makers and folks who have backgrounds in law, and just all of the things working together in one space. And like all of you, we’re all practice first where we live, and unable to get together, and kind of missing that cross collaborative work space that we’re all used to, but making the best of it. So, once we’re through this and we’re all able to get back on our campuses, I will really look forward to bringing together this nice, cross-pollinated group of folks who have been pitching in on this work, and the students who are dropping everything to find ways to be helpful and useful back home in their communities, where they’ve come from, and learning from each other as we get back into the swing of things on campus again someday.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Cori.

Cori Zarek:

And celebrating graduation.

Kathy Pham:

[crosstalk 01:15:32]

Cori Zarek:

We’ll have to do it sometime.

Kathy Pham:

Thank you. Raylene, what are you looking forward to most?

Raylene Yung:

I didn’t appreciate how much I liked being outside and just walking around, in or out of crowds, but just like enjoying outdoors and camping and all that stuff. So, I’m really looking forward to doing that again.

Kathy Pham:

Me too. Jennifer?

Jennifer Anastasoff:

I would like to go to Hawaii and work remotely. [crosstalk 01:16:05] But the looking forward to getting on a plane and meeting with all the awesome people that we need to get together with over the next however many months it is afterwards to really work on recovery. So, I’m excited about that. But in between, Hawaii.

Kathy Pham:

Thanks, Jennifer. Mina?

Mina Hsiang:

Yeah, I would agree. I think travel. I mean… And I encourage you, Raylene, to go outside. I was going to say the respite has been, if you get into the woods, there is really much less risk of COVID. [crosstalk 01:16:41] But I definitely miss travel to go see family and friends and new places.

Kathy Pham:

Yeah. Ryan?

Ryan Panchadsaram:

[inaudible 01:16:52] This whole crisis has made you just really treasure and value all the simple things, right? Like, going to a restaurant, just being able to walk outside. I think the thing that I miss a lot is just playgroups for [inaudible 01:17:03] on this call before it went live, but it’s like, he’s just kind of solo right now. And so I can’t wait for a little playgroup to happen again and not have to worry that they will be spreading things between them and then to us. But, yeah, playgroups and time with family, because they haven’t seen him either in awhile too.

Kathy Pham:

Yeah. Yeah.

Ryan Panchadsaram:

Minus FaceTime. So, the silver lining in all of this is also weird. I don’t think we’ve ever spent as much time with our family than we have now on FaceTime, so, like, it’s… Anyway.

Kathy Pham:

Yeah, or just time with our families in general, right? I feel like I see my kids usually 3 hours a day, and now I see them a lot more. Thank you all so, so, so much for taking time out of your day. Cori, thank you for partnering with this with the Beeck Center, and just sharing so much of your deep experience across your lifetime, across any crises you’ve been a part of, across design and product and engineering and government and private sector, and to shed some like on some of the work that’s going on right now with tech, and COVID, and crisis response. So, thank you so much and thank you to everyone for joining us. I’m going to go ahead and pause the software recording now.