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Book Club: Digital Transformation at Scale

Private sector innovations in information technologies are transforming virtually every industry, and the rate of change seems to be accelerating.

The mindblowing rate of innovation taking place in the private sector is a stark contrast to the glacial pace of innovation in government bureaucracies. Indeed, to many people in the private and public sectors, government agencies appear, at best, frozen in time, and at worst, actually deteriorating before our very eyes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Government agencies can leverage new tools, techniques and technologies to improve their effectiveness and even delight their users, but doing so requires more than simply signing a fat contract with a vendor of high-tech wares. It requires government adopting the values of the “open source way”: open exchange, participation, rapid prototyping, meritocracy, and community building.

Doing so will change government agencies in significant ways: new roles, new skills, new trainings, new people, and new organizational structures.

But this “digital transformation” won’t come without a fight. Fortunately, it isn’t an “all or nothing” proposition.

Piecemeal reform is taking place within government, and patterns are emerging that show how small teams within government that deliver “digital services” to other government units and agencies – things like websites, mapping systems, workflow management solutions and other high-tech products and services – are driving change.

The origins of the “digital service” concept can be traced back to 2010 when the government of the United Kingdom began a website redesign project that turned into something much more: a rethinking of the very nature of government. Mike Bracken, co-founder of the U.K.’s Government Digital Services (GDS), articulated “government as a platform” in his 2014 PDF talk. GDS has gone on to become a vocal advocate of the open source way in government and is responsible for saving the UK Government over £1 billion a year since its inception in 2013.

His book, Digital Transformation at Scale, is one of the clearest and most useful texts on the topic. Read it! And lets deliver a future-friendly government for New York City!

Mayor Bill De Blasio Failed To Equip New York For Coronavirus Crisis.

Seth Baron at City Journal explains how DiBlasio and NYC agencies focused so much of their efforts on climate change related disasters that they forgot to focus on the likely scenario of a flu-like pandemic. So while the city spent millions on education campaigns and billion of flood defenses related to a hurricane disaster, when COVID-19 hit it was short on basic supplies like ventilators, masks, face guards and hand sanitizer.

New York is the nation’s largest and richest city, and it’s worth asking why it found itself in such short supply of basic goods, especially after so much time and energy was spent on preparedness and resiliency. The city published multiple studies about the likelihood of an epidemic that could flood emergency rooms and participated in a rolling “Pandemic Accord Continuity Exercise Series” with FEMA from 2013 through 2015. The NYC Health + Hospitals Corporation, the largest public hospital organization in the country, has a dedicated Simulation Center that ran a “SARS Pandemic Response Simulation” at Kings County Hospital in 2019.

Source: Mayor Bill De Blasio Failed To Equip New York For Coronavirus Crisis.

How Delays and Unheeded Warnings Hindered New York’s Virus Fight – The New York Times

Jonah Markowitz of The New York Times offers a timeline of the many failures of New York City and State leadership to respond adequately to the COVID-19 threat. From the onset, New York leadership said publicly they were on top of the threat but, in actually, weren’t doing what they claimed they were doing. While their California counterparts shut down their cities, NYC leadership presented a false sense of calm. By one estimate, 50%-80% of deaths could have been avoided had NYC responded as quickly as San Fransisco did.

Dr. Frieden said that if the state and city had adopted widespread social-distancing measures a week or two earlier, including closing schools, stores and restaurants, then the estimated death toll from the outbreak might have been reduced by 50 to 80 percent.

But New York mandated those measures after localities in states including California and Washington had done so.

San Francisco, for example, ordered schools closed on March 12 when that city had 18 confirmed cases; Ohio also ordered its schools closed on the same day, with five confirmed cases. Mr. de Blasio ordered schools in New York to close three days later when the city had 329 cases.

 Read the whole, infuriating article at its source: How Delays and Unheeded Warnings Hindered New York’s Virus Fight – The New York Times

That MIT Study About the Subway Causing COVID Spread is Crap

An MIT Study claiming that NYC’s subway system is a major reason why the city has become the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic is under fire. This article in StreetsBlog by Alon Levy attacks it from many different angles, including:

  • Arguing other cities with subway systems aren’t seeing the type of pandemic rise as NYC.
  • The paper’s core arguments come from misinterpreted and misrepresented data.
  • Even if the paper’s premise were correct, Manhattan’s infection data would undermine the argument.

But when it comes to hard evidence, the paper makes two quantitative claims. The first is in figure 3: Manhattan had both the least increase in infections in the 3/13-4/7 period, equivalent to a doubling period of 20 days whereas the other boroughs ranged between 9.5 and 14, and also the largest decrease in subway entries in the 3/2-16 period, 65 percent whereas the other boroughs ranged between 33 percent and 56 percent.

The second is a series of maps showing per capita infection levels by ZIP code, similar to the one here. The paper also overlays a partial subway map and asserts that the map shows that there is correlation of infection rates along specific subway routes, for example the 7, as people spread the disease along the line.

Neither is even remotely correct.

Read the article at its source: That MIT Study About the Subway Causing COVID Spread is Crap

Madrid with shock plan to face the social challenges caused by Covid-19

Disasters often generate tremendous pressure to reform bureaucracies because inefficiencies which are easily hidden and tolerated during the normal course of events suddenly become quite obvious and potentially deadly.

COVID-19 is putting tremendous pressure of social services providers: both the nonprofits that often deliver social services and the government agencies that operate their own programs and oversee service provision in general.

In Madrid, the city government is reorganizing its social services system in a hurry to meet the needs – implementing modernization and reform plans that never would’ve been possible outside this crisis.

When it comes to families, the authority will focus on eliminating bureaucratic obstacles so that the most vulnerable receive emergency aid quickly. The mechanism of the ‘family card’ will be definitively implemented. Also, social service centres will start reopening as of next week.

Read more about it here: Madrid with shock plan to face the social challenges caused by Covid-19

‘This Is A Big Deal’: New York Hails Ventilator Deliveries From China And Oregon : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

New York State will be receiving 1,000 ventilators from the Chinese government on Saturday after the US federal government has failed to deliver enough ventilators to the nation’s largest city.

Could a NYC metro-regional coordinating body be useful for bringing much needed medical supplies to NYC? Almost certainly.

NPR has the story: ‘This Is A Big Deal’: New York Hails Ventilator Deliveries From China And Oregon : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

Cuomo on possible NY quarantine: ‘I don’t think it’s legal’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo goes on CNN to give his opinion of Trump’s idea to quaratine the New York metropolitan area due to fears of spread of Coronavirus.

“It would be chaos and mayhem,” Cuomo told CNN’s Ana Cabrera. “It’s totally opposite everything he’s been saying. I don’t think it is plausible. I don’t think it is legal.”

“This would be a federal declaration of war on states,” Cuomo said, adding that he doesn’t think the President is looking to start a war with states.

Source: Cuomo on possible NY quarantine: ‘I don’t think it’s legal’ – CNNPolitics

Your Neighborhood Might Be a Coronavirus Hot Spot, but New York City Refuses to Release the Data

Intrepid ProPublica muckracker Justin Elliott examines the lack of data New York City is releasing about Coronavirus cases. His main complaint is that NYC isn’t releasing neighborhood level data, a practice many other cities are doing including Los Angeles, Singapore, Soeul and many more.

The lack of detailed information makes it difficult for medical workers, journalists and the public to establish whether particular communities in the city are being harder hit and to get beyond anecdotal accounts of which of the city’s roughly 60 hospitals are already overwhelmed.

Dr. Michael Augenbraun, director of the infectious diseases division at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in central Brooklyn, said that while he knows the city has its hands full, the data could be useful for doctors. “Everyone is struggling to make sense of this evolving picture,” he said. “I think it would be useful to us in the hospitals to get a detailed situational appraisal, to know how much of the burden we are confronting.”

Source: Your Neighborhood Might Be a Coronavirus Hot Spot, but New York City Refuses to Release the Data — ProPublica

MIT E-VENT | Emergency ventilator design toolbox

This MIT project is developing open source plans for a ventilator in response to the Coronavirus panedemic. A lack of ventilators within the US and globally could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people who need them to stay alive during the more severe phases of the disease. 

Almost every bed in a hospital has a manual resuscitator (Ambu-Bag) nearby, available in the event of a rapid response or code where healthcare workers maintain oxygenation by squeezing the bag. Automating this appears to be the simplest strategy that satisfies the need for low-cost mechanical ventilation, with the ability to be rapidly manufactured in large quantities. However, doing this safely is not trivial.

Source: MIT E-VENT | Emergency ventilator design toolbox

Feeling Powerless About Coronavirus? Join a Mutual-Aid Network

New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel profiles a mutual aid group in Massachusetts organized in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, explaining the general concepts and tells a few stories about why these networks are so powerful.

There’s also a selfish component to joining a mutual-aid network: In a moment of deep uncertainty and anxiety, helping those in need is one of the few pure pleasures one can still partake in while social distancing. If you’re feeling powerless these days and have the means, look up your local mutual-aid network. Plug into the organizing that’s happening. If you don’t have the means to donate, share the resource documents or email or donation address with your neighbors. A quarantine is the perfect time to get (virtually) close to your community.

Source: Opinion | Feeling Powerless About Coronavirus? Join a Mutual-Aid Network – The New York Times