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Podcast: US Digital Response and COVID-19 with Raylene Yung

Posted on June 30, 2020


Raylene Yung

Raylene Yung
Co-Founder & CEO
US Digital Response
LinkedIn | Twitter


Support for crisis response. Raylene Yung, the Co-Founder and CEO of US Digital Response, joined the podcast to talk about how they are connecting technologists to work with governments in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. These volunteers with experience in software and technology help governments find creative ways to deliver services and operate during the pandemic. She shared examples of their work and how to work with US Digital Response.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Learn More

US Digital Response Website

Coronavirus Is Inspiring Wave of Gov Tech Volunteerism

Listen: Raylene Yung, CEO, US Digital Response

How an army of tech volunteers is helping local governments cope with COVID-19 


Episode Transcript

Kirsten Wyatt

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is GovLove, a podcast about local government. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co-founder and executive director, and today I’m joined by Raylene Yung, the co founder and CEO of the United States Digital Response. Raylene, welcome to GovLove.

Raylene Yung

Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to speak to this audience.

Kirsten Wyatt

Today we’re talking about USDR, what it does, how it can help your local government and how it got started. And we’ll also talk to Raylene about her career and her predictions for 2020. But first, let’s get started with a lightning round. What is your favorite font?

Raylene Yung

It’s actually kind of funny that I even have one. But my favorite part is Proxima Nova. And it’s, it’s my Google suite default. I use it for all my Google Docs.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, it’s, we have found that ELGL and GovLove listeners have very strong opinions about fonts. And so I’m really glad that this this wasn’t a tricky question for you and that you do have one as well.

Raylene Yung

Perfect. I’m in good company.

Kirsten Wyatt

And what is your most controversial non-political opinion?

Raylene Yung

I don’t know if this is that controversial, but I really don’t like to wear shoes without socks. I just think shoes are meant to be worn with socks.

Kirsten Wyatt

Do you wear socks with sandals?

Raylene Yung

I don’t think of sandals as shoes, I guess. Anything like closed shoes with laces.

Kirsten Wyatt

Got it. Yeah, I would agree with you on that. I would agree with you on that. And then what food did you hate as a child but now you love as an adult?

Raylene Yung

This one’s funny because it’s some of my favorite foods now I used to hate as a child. So all raw fish, sushi meat, olives and avocados which I wish I could eat every day.

Kirsten Wyatt

Yeah, yeah, those are I would say that those are fairly common answers and you know, as well as anything just healthy so. So again, you’re in good company. And then last lightning round question, what did you want to be when you grow up when you were 10 years old?

Raylene Yung

I’d say probably a professor of some kind. Because in my mind, being a professor meant you could sit in like comfy armchairs and read books. Or you could be like Indiana Jones and go on really exciting adventures.

Kirsten Wyatt

Good answer. All right. So let’s, let’s fast forward a little bit from when you were 10 years old, and talk about your professional background. What has your career path been and how did you get to where you are today?

Raylene Yung

I started in undergrad by studying computer science at Stanford. And I, in truth, I didn’t necessarily think about computer science as an industry and I thought of it more like a theory and a science and mathematics. I ended up graduating with a master’s degree in theoretical computer science, but decided not to go down the academic route and instead joined what was then a very small startup called Facebook to be a software engineer. I really ended up enjoying software engineering a lot and over the years transitioned more into an engineering management and leadership role. And in all, I spent about 10 years scaling engineering and product teams, first at Facebook and then subsequently at Stripe which is an online payments infrastructure company. That was, took me up to about a year ago when I decided to leave the hyper growth startup life and took some time off learning about the role technology could play in more social impact and civic causes. So that’s where I did a lot of studying around climate change and technology there and government services. From there I, from there I joined, from there I ended up doing a fellowship with the Aspen Institute’s tech policy hub, and immediately after that fellowship ended, I helped start the US digital response.

Kirsten Wyatt

And where did this interest in, you know, kind of the bigger picture, the Civic or the public service aspect of technology come from? Was this something that’s kind of always been with you or something that, you know, developed in the last couple of years?

Raylene Yung

I think I’ve always been interested in Government Services and Public Services and access to everyone. I grew up, our weekly tradition as a family was going to the library. We would spend maybe half a day there every weekend. And so I just have really, really appreciated the civic institutions that I think give access to, you know, all residents here. So it was always an interest, I would say at both Facebook and Stripe, the companies are very mission oriented and they think a lot about increasing access to communication or economic mobility through being able to accept payments online. And so that’s always been a part of even my professional work at startups. So with just takin, and so with leaving Stripe, I thought I had an opportunity to just take some real time to learn about these areas that I’ve been more passively interested for a long time.

Kirsten Wyatt

And tell us more about the US Digital Response. And you know how it came to be and how did you take it from an idea into this really exciting program we’re going to talk about today. Your

Raylene Yung

US Digital Response was first founded by former US Deputy Chief Technology Officers who had a lot of government experience and previously led Federal Open Data policies and digital government strategies. So it was, you know, these fellow deputy CTOs and myself and other seasoned tech industry veterans, who really came together behind a pretty simple idea that we weren’t sure would work when we started. And the idea was, could we somehow find and coordinate some really fast and effective ways to help governments respond to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And how could we use technology to get help to the people who needed it the most. We’ve seen that the pandemic has had a really big impact on systems that really also go far beyond healthcare. So critical government services from voting to benefits access and the social safety net, have all been overwhelmed by the crisis and has really exposed a deep need for a tech forward government. And, and from my personal experience in the tech industry, you’ve also seen that there’s no shortage of technical expertise in this country, and what’s and what’s more, but the people I think, are there, they’re ready and they’re willing to really help improve the critical systems that we rely on every day. And a lot of it is just not knowing how to plug in and how to use your, your skills in the private sector to help. So we saw this kind of connection right away and literally thousands of people answered our call and raised their hands to help in our very first few weeks, which was, which really blew all of us away. So, you know, seeing that desire that people had to help, and we saw the need on the side of the services and government teams. And that’s where US Digital Response stepped in to bridge that gap, and to give volunteers and to enable them to give direct and free help to governments in need. And today, it’s been about three months, and I think we’ve really seen that this model can work. Today we’ve had over 5500 volunteers raise their hands to help. And yeah, that’s really amazing. And we’ve taken on over a 100 projects with different states, counties and cities all across the country.

Kirsten Wyatt

You know, someone said that in in the last, you know, three to four months because of COVID, local government has innovated more in those three to four months than they normally would have done in 10 years. Tell us more about how US Digital Response volunteers are kind of helping government with that very fast transition that they are having to make which is not normal for them?

Raylene Yung

One of the really special things about our work is that it’s directly done in partnership with people in government. So that resonates so much where every project that we do with local government, there’s a team and a partner on the other side, who’s really excited about partnering and trying to find the best tools and get it to enable us to get help to people most quickly. So that’s something that’s been really special. As a result, we’ve done a lot of different types of work, because it’s been, in many ways driven by what our government partners need. So I’ll share a few examples. But there’s really a lot more that we’ve done. I think, first of all benefits has been something that has just come up almost in every conversation. I think it’s so top of mind for all cities and counties across the country. And it takes a lot of forms everything from unemployment insurance to a lot of the pandemic and CARES Act specific programs like PPP or PUA, a PEBT, all of the P’s. It’s so many. And the problems that, I think the challenges that government teams are facing have a wide range of everything from simply keeping their systems online. We did some work with the Kansas Department of Labor who saw a 5,000% increase in traffic to its unemployment insurance application website overnight. So you know, in one day, and that kind of that kind of traffic is happening all across the country. So in that case, we were able to work really closely with the Kansas team. We actually we’ve actually worked with six different states across the country on UI. And we’ve helped come up with different ways that each specific system can be improved. In Kansas, we ended up connecting them with a content delivery network service, which was able to just greatly reduce page load times and they were able to bring that site back online within hours. There are many more examples of benefits and I think at the city and county level, a lot around a lot of the issues with benefits are helping educate residents around what they’re eligible for and how do they apply? And, you know, what should they expect to hear back from government agencies. So we’ve done a lot around open source, customizable tools that are free for everyone to use, and that take you through really simple to use eligibility questionnaires. So that’s an example of a project we did with the New Jersey Office of Innovation and Department of Human Services where we were able to help them take previously like really clunky application processes that might require in person interviews, and actually move them all online, so applicants could apply for benefits like snap from the safety of their own homes. Yeah, I think for a different kind of speaking, so in addition to benefits, there’s obviously a lot of needs happening at the local level around just dealing with the very COVID specific challenges of communicating the latest shelter in place guidelines and our schools open and what are the latest rules from the district. And testing, I think testing is extremely top of mind, and it has to really happen at the local level. So something we’ve been doing is helping cities really get easy to use and scalable testing sites up and online very quickly. So in this example, we worked with the City of Seattle, you know, which was one of the first major US cities to take on the COVID crisis, and we worked with them to get a some new testing sites, free testing sites up and online, within weeks, and they included a really easy to use online scheduling tool that we did in partnership with a company called Solvhealth. They were able to customize the tool rapidly and launch it and at this point, Seattle residents are able to access those tests for free and the city is testing just through those two new sites, thousands of people per day. So that’s something that was really enabled through that partnership of the city’s operations team and local healthcare facilities and these online tools.

Kirsten Wyatt

If a listener is hearing about these examples, you know, these highly relevant, very useful examples that you’ve just shared, for listeners hearing this, and they want to learn more, either as a local government or as a volunteer, you know, what are kind of the steps that they would go through to engage now with US Digital Response?

Raylene Yung

Yeah, it’s pretty simple on both sides. So for a government team, or any agency that might need help, we have a pretty straightforward online application or an online help form. So you go to our website, you fill out some basic information around what you’re looking for help with and a contact like an email or phone number. And with that, within hours, we’ll reach back out to get on the phone with you or get on a call and just listen to what the challenges and figure out what the best way to help is. One thing I’ll say to anyone who’s, you know, wondering if we can help is, please don’t hold back on reaching out. I think we’re really here to be responsive to what government teams need. And in some cases we’ve had, we’ve ended up being able to help with projects, like I mentioned, which might take, you know, sometimes weeks of development work or research. And in other cases, we’ve just been able to connect government teams with other services that exist and get them answers within sometimes hours or days. So we’re really trying to here to be here to be flexible and responsive. On the volunteer side, it’s very similar. We similarly have a form online that you can apply to volunteer with. And what we do is we really look carefully at those government needs that I described from those intake calls. And from each new project that we decide to take on, we think a lot about the needs that the government team is expressing everything from the availability or the skill sets that they might need to help with their problem. And then we’ll look through our volunteer database and really find kind of a shortlist of people who we think are going to be a great fit for that project. So we do, do pretty deliberate matchmaking there. And after an interview and a bit of an on-boarding process, we connect the volunteers to the government teams directly and enable them to partner on a solution.

Kirsten Wyatt

And so is it likely because you’re doing that careful matching that the volunteer might not be geographically near that they may have the skill set, you know that that is best needed for to solve that problem?

Raylene Yung

That’s right. Especially given everyone is working remotely and communicating remotely, I think it’s actually been really powerful. We have volunteers who’ve signed up from almost every state in the country and a few territories. So what’s neat is we can take those volunteers who are signing up to help from the homes and deploy them on projects that are you know, the most origin and most important, regardless of where they are. I would say in some cases we’ve had government teams actually request local volunteers or people that either so in one case, the volunteer actually had to go into the office to sign some paperwork. And we were able to find someone who was located close enough and willing and excited to actually go in person and help. So I would say we can be flexible, but the vast majority of the work is being done online.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I think you’re right, that is incredibly powerful to think and for government to start thinking about, do we need to have the talent that we need, especially for these very specialized projects to be living, you know, right here, or can we really tap into some of the best minds that are out there to solve some of these tricky problems?

Raylene Yung

Yeah, and something that we it’s, it’s a bit, it it’s almost kind of it’s kind of meta because it’s how we operate. But something we’ve been helping a lot with, with various government teams across the country is also helping them figure out how to operate better remotely. So, one example is, very early on probably in the first few weeks of the pandemic, we worked with the City of Napa, California, just to help them set up their own office better with a virtual private network, and different networking tools so that the remote, so the workers of the City of Napa could actually work remotely themselves. And so we’re kind of helping in some cases, government teams also just learn how to take advantage of remote work locally, even as we can provide volunteers from across the country.

Kirsten Wyatt

And that’s such a great point. And something that we’ve seen with ELGL members is that some agencies were ready to quickly stand up remote work operations and others were starting from scratch. I mean, they didn’t even have enough laptops for all of their staff that were, you know, quickly working from home. So I think a good reminder for our listeners that they don’t need to have, you know, the most complex problem to take advantage of US Digital Response volunteers and expertise, that you’re really helping across the full range of challenges that local government might be facing right now.

Raylene Yung

Yeah, definitely. And something I would say is, in many in another, in several of our projects, we specifically try to look for tools that the city or government team already has installed, because we realize that we’re trying to get things that work really fast and cheaply and easily. And it’s often easier to help a government team learn how to use a tool they’ve already been using and just in it kind of new way or a way that’s better tailored for remote work than to have them go out there and find like brand new technology to implement. So one example, I think I mentioned in New Jersey, where we help them improve one benefits application flow to be online. The best part of that project was our solution ended up being, using existing tools that the New Jersey team already had installed and relationships with and so there was no new you know, need for contracting or a lot of kind of time and time intensive and costly integration work.

Kirsten Wyatt

And talk to us about working with volunteers, anything a local government should know. Do you help navigate that managing volunteers relationship? Is that something that they can count on your central office, I guess to help them with, or anything that they should be prepared to do or to expect, as they work with people who, you know, aren’t their paid employee, but are still there to help and be a resource?

Raylene Yung

It’s a great question. It’s something we think a lot about. One of the benefits of something we we’ve definitely emphasize is, because it’s volunteer run and a lot of these projects are, you know, tired that basically entirely volunteers. The thing to remember is they’re motivated by the opportunity to help. So the volunteers are really coming with that really strong motivation is to see and how they can be helpful and all the help therefore is free and really aligned with what the government teams need. So we don’t come in trying to suggest a specific vendor or any specific solution and come in with a pretty open and listening mindset. The other benefit too, is that, you know, our volunteers are volunteering often on top of work they’re doing in very senior roles at great tech companies. And this means that the projects that they take on benefit directly from that knowledge from the industry. And you know, they can take advantage of using the latest tools and learnings from people who are not only experienced  technologists, but actively working at great tech companies. So that’s very neat. We’re very intentional, intentional about placing volunteers on projects and you asked about how do we kind of shepherd them along and certainly there is a core team at USDR that is here to kind of check in with both sides, both the volunteers and the government team throughout the life cycle of a project. And you know, we’re here, we can be very reachable, we’ve been able to get on the call within hours, anytime that they need help. And we also sort of are on standby to listen to feedback, and in many cases to take on more project work as other needs come up. So we really think of it as a partnership with a government team and sort of an ongoing relationship, rather than just, you know, here’s a volunteer and then we sort of walk away.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, what strikes me about the program is that it’s really giving especially small to mid size, local governments access to expertise and positions and perspective that they normally would not be able to afford or to hire in-house. I mean, we’ve seen that some very large local governments can hire developers and designers and that’s something that they that they can staff up for, but for the vast majority of local governments, the expertise that your volunteers are bringing would never be something you could build into a local government budget. And so I think your point about the fact that they’re bringing all of this expertise from their private sector or their software jobs, you know, and providing it to government is, is pretty unbelievable.

Raylene Yung

Yeah, I also think something we’re trying to do in these project relationships is also show that you don’t necessarily need a really costly or large IT team to get a lot of these tools up and running. I think what we try to do is find the lowest cost and the easiest to use off the shelf tools we can and in many cases, we’ve worked with a really small but awesome and scrappy IT team locally to teach them about the new tools and sort of arm them with that information to go forward. So I also don’t think you necessarily need you know, a large army of I think it’d be great if local government teams were able to have larger technical teams. But part of what we’re trying to do is show that you can do a lot with surprisingly little.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I think, again, it’s a reminder that we’re all in this together. And we can’t just assume that there’s one job title or one, you know, way to approach these really challenging public problems. And, you know, tapping into groups like US Digital Response is a way for local government to kind of take that all hands on deck approach.

Raylene Yung

That’s right.

Kirsten Wyatt

And so where is US Digital Response headed? I mean, I think we can all see that COVID is not going to be gone in a couple of months. And so obviously, there are, there’s that aspect of what you were founded around, but are there other projects or issues or topics that you envision the group will be working on?

Raylene Yung

Yeah, I think you said it, right. It’s, I think the COVID 19 pandemic has been really dynamic. We’re all learning new things about how to reopen businesses or set up testing sites. And there’s a lot of fundamentals that we keep learning and evolving. So I would say one thing is we’re we’ve remained here to support our government partners, and we really want their needs and the needs of the people they’re supporting to actively shape our work as things change. And we’ve seen that as time passes, COVID and the pandemic and so many related things are influencing services that in many ways we wouldn’t have thought of as under the COVID umbrella. So I think benefits and business and economic recovery, those are sort of very adjacent to kind of fall squarely in there. But there are a lot of processes or systems that are going to look really different, like voting or courts and you know, being on a jury, and these are things that we’re starting to hear from our government partners, around requests around how do we how do we adjust to the new world? How do we use technology to facilitate doing these things? So we’re certainly following our government partners in that and looking for new ways that we can bring technology in to help make these services work. I would say, we’re also trying to build a lot on what we’ve done so far. I think the first few months, we’ve been really responsive and try to react quickly and build things quickly. But over time, we’ve also started to build some depth in a few different areas where we’ve not only done multiple projects across the country on, but we’ve also started to see some patterns or really common issues that are that occur across jurisdictions. So examples are unemployment insurance, certainly a lot around using data to understand the COVID-19 crisis and how to best communicate with residents or even things like tracking stimulus funding and reporting on it. And for those areas of depth, we’re trying to see how, are there new ways that we can take on or even support much longer term work, like work that might require making fundamental infrastructure improvements. And that could take months or years versus just weeks or days that a lot of our projects have been able to be completed in. I think we’re seeing a lot of our work roll into, you know, helping lay a better digital foundation for the country to provide a fair and equitable and efficient and effective services to people across the country. So all of our work is sort of tied into that longer term view.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I’m not trying to broaden your scope here, but I can’t help but think that your model is also poised to serve cities and counties and local governments that want to deal with social justice and equity issues. And, you know, I think obviously, all of that is tied into COVID. But also with a interest that we’re seeing across the country and for local governments to be taking a look at, you know, everything from defunding police to using an equity index to look at all levels of local government service. I can’t help but think that that your volunteers and your mission, you know, is also poised to be a real resource for local governments that are starting to pay even more attention now than ever before.

Raylene Yung

I think that’s right. And I think what we’re trying to be is really that technical resource and advisor or just sort of partner that a government team can look to, even if it’s just to ask for information on what other cities are doing or what advice around best practices in data science or, and tooling and so forth. So we’re certainly here to help on a variety of issues and actually are quite eager to do more and some of the areas that you described. I would say, I was just thinking about, common around smaller cities and local offices, which sometimes don’t have as much as many resources. So another thing that we’ve been thinking a lot about is the idea that often these problems that different cities or counties are facing, don’t look that different across the country.

Kirsten Wyatt

Exactly.

Raylene Yung

Yeah, and you end up having individual teams, each kind of trying to reinvent the wheel and facing a lot of, a lot of work in short periods of time. And so one thing we’re trying to do is with everything that we build, we really try to make it very open and extensible from day one. And basically, every project that we’ve done, we’re able to kind of apply the same playbook to another city. And so naturally, the second city that we work with in the third city in the fourth city only gets faster and cheaper and easier for us to help. And so that’s something to keep in mind where if you know anyone listening, if you see something that even sounds like a problem they’re facing, we would love to try and help because I think there’s a lot of economies of scale here, as you’re able to work with more teams.

Kirsten Wyatt

And such a great point and I you know, I keep thinking, you know, it immediately like in March and April, everyone was trying to just kind of put these band aids or they were almost it’s almost like they were just putting up a tent. And now it’s like you’re building a house and you’re trying to figure out, you know, what is the architecture and the foundation and the, and the layout so this can withstand and not just be this temporary fix. And so, you know, I love that you’re describing how this is all about, you know, finding those common challenges and then helping people solve them quickly, and not having to go in and like, you know, recreate the wheel every single time. You know, someone comes to you with a challenge, and I think that’s a real benefit to this program.

Raylene Yung

Yeah, I like that analogy. I’ve never used that, but that’s a great one.

Kirsten Wyatt

And so tell us more about kind of the mechanics of getting started. So what happens when a local government contacts you they identify the challenge that they’re working on? What type of things are they going to need to provide? What kind of resources are they going to need to help throw at the problem with the volunteer? What’s kind of the, I guess, the step by step mechanics of what a listener might expect if they kind of head into this journey with you?

Raylene Yung

That’s a great question. So it’s pretty straightforward. As I mentioned, you, you really submit something online. And the first few steps are just getting on a call. I think we learned so much from just directly learning from the government team. And so I’d say the biggest thing that I would ask people to bring into the projects is that willingness and excitement to just share a lot of information. And what the best projects usually have a person or a few people on the government team side who are really excited about being like a project lead and a partner for our for our team. So they’re just kind of a point of contact that we can go to whenever we need information or we want to test out you know, here’s a prototype, what do you think get feedback on it. So we’d really like to have some kind of stable partner for us that we can build that relationship with. I think that’s one thing. And a lot of it comes across in ongoing calls and discussions. So that’s one, I think another is, you know, being able to share any data or information that maybe you’ve tried in the past or learned from working with other departments. I think we, like I said, we like to learn from what’s worked or hasn’t before, so that we can help, you know, either avoid the same problems or just make the new solution work faster and be better than what you’ve seen before. So I think bringing in like, hey, this is what our current tool looks like, here’s our challenges with it. You know, here are the things we wish were better, we wish were better. All of that information. Once we get a sense for what the problem is, we do do work to look through things that we’ve done in the past and see, okay, can we learn from oh, this is this project that we did in Anchorage or this project that we did in San Jose, and we try to see if there are commonalities across the things that we’ve done and we’ll either pull in, you know, experienced volunteers who’ve worked on those types of problems, or we’ll go looking for new volunteers that have the right skill set and availability that meet those needs. And very quickly, we try to form what looks like a collaborative team, or you have the people on the government team side and the people from USDR kind of work actively together. Every project will look different. And in some cases, it’s sort of the appetite of the government team around how much they want to, how much they can and want to spend iterating on a solution and some cases, you know, there’s a standing weekly meeting where people on both sides meet up and they share progress, and they kind of get the latest feedback. And other and other times we’ve had volunteers actually do daily, very quick 15 minute calls, just to say, hey, what’s the latest? How can I help and in a lot of those calls, a lot of times it’s actually just more information or, you know, suggestions of tools that that end up popping up and contribute to the kind of the broader project. So overall I would say I’d come with, you know, a good sense of what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. But not necessarily a solution at all. It can be very open ended, and having that reliable partner on the government side to work with us throughout anything that changes and any solutions that we come up with.

Kirsten Wyatt

Do your volunteers come to projects with some, I guess, knowledge or experience with what I would call the special aspects of government? I always think of that Leslie Knope quote about, you know, what I hear when people are yelling at me is people caring loudly. But do your volunteers know, like, some of the things that make government different or unique and are they prepared for that? Or is that the responsibility of the of the local government to kind of bring them up to speed on?

Raylene Yung

Yeah, we understand that working with government can look a bit different from working in the private sector. And there’s a few things we thought about there. I think for one, that overall composition of USDR is a is a pretty great mix. So maybe it’s even close to half – half of people who have government experience and people who are first timers. So we kind of create a lot of that cross pollination even within the USDR team to teach people about, hey, here’s how like procurement works. So here’s why these agencies, you know, here’s what they focus on. So there’s a lot of in house and like, training and sessions that we do in the USDR community. We also have like regular guest speakers that just kind of talk about their lessons from working in government and ways that they’ve seen technology be successfully applied. So we do a lot of that. It’s also part of the what we call the volunteer oath, or the kind of document every volunteer reads before they sign up to help and before they get assigned to a project. And in the oath, we explicitly share things like, you know, what is it what is it like to work with public servants responding to crisis and how to how to approach that work and be really mindful and come with a really open mind. So that’s something we try to bake in to every interaction. But, like you said, we also learn a lot from the partners we work with. So I’ve learned a huge amount just getting on a lot of these calls with government teams who’ve written in for help. And I and something that has been really wonderful, and I think, a big part of I think, what the impact that we’ve had is, is so many volunteers who previously would never have even thought to work in government or really get a lot of exposure to government service delivery, after their volunteer experience, they share just how rewarding it’s been and either have like a new interest in working in government, or at least continuing to volunteer with different government projects and teams. And I think you see that conversion happening. And that’s coming from just directly working with government teams.

Kirsten Wyatt

And can you tell us a little bit more about your Technology Policy Fellowship with the Aspen Institute and anything else from that experience that you’d like to share as it relates to US Digital Response?

Raylene Yung

The Aspen Tech Policy Hub Fellowship was my first real experience, I’d say in the policy and government world. And it was hugely helpful to teaching me both about how government and policy works, but also what the impact technology is, or can be on our services and systems. It was a, it was a really rewarding and fun program to just be a part of, we had guest speakers and firsthand experiences like sitting in on local committee hearings, or court cases. And so I do think it was a bit of a crash course on government and the role technology and technology policy can play in it. Actually, right now, our fellowship cohort is in the middle of presenting our project work through a series of online webinars. So that’s happening over the next few weeks this summer, and I’m really excited to just hear from my fellows and also get a chance to present the work. So I thought it was a hugely helpful program. I also think it’s it was helpful to think about a lot of the ideas behind US Digital Response around creating that bridge between the industry and the tech sector with government. And I think the Aspen tech policy hub very much does that really well.

Kirsten Wyatt

When we posted about US Digital Response in the ELGL Facebook group, the first reaction was, is this a joke? Is this for real? Like this can’t be real. People were, like, so excited about this potential opportunity, and it sounded too good to be true. As we close out this episode, what can you say to our listeners to remind them that this is a very real opportunity, something that they should take advantage of? And it’s, it’s not we’re not punking them? It’s not a joke. Like US Digital Response is real and it’s here to help local government.

Raylene Yung

Yeah, it’s funny. In some ways, sometimes we were surprised too at just how much, how many government teams we’ve been able to help and get in contact with. And then sometimes like, after a project gets launched in a few days or a few weeks, we all celebrate too, because I think it’s kind of re, it’s redefined what I think a lot of us thought was possible in working with government technology, especially in times of crisis. So I think as a reminder, there’s so many examples of great work, and I would say, not really great work that USDR has done, but great work that our government partners has done, have done with, you know, with the support that we’re happy to provide. There’s so many examples, including the ones I mentioned, but just cities and states where just with a little bit of technical assistance and help, we’ve seen them really greatly improve services and access to the residents. So I would say look at the examples. I think they really tell the story better, better than I can. I think the other one is, there’s something special happening right now with people really, really wanting to help. And I think that desire is so genuine and so strong, and I mentioned, when we ask for volunteers, what they get out of volunteering with US Digital Response, and the number one answer is just, we’re able to use our skills to help real people to actually help governments do that. And for a long time, I think government, for many people, I think government services and teams can be a bit of a black box, where you may not really interact with government employees, and you might not, you know, really make use of a lot of the services that they provide. And through this experience, our volunteers, once they get to see kind of inside that box, they get really excited, and they’re just so motivated to help. So we’re definitely here and, and if anything, we’d love to work with more government teams, because I think we have actually a lot more volunteers that are eager to help than we’ve been able to place to date. So we’re here. Um, I guess the other thing too, I would say is just how much, how much of a community I think a lot of the people working on COVID response have been and created together. I think it’s been really special to just be working alongside public servants who we talk to day in and day out. And we see how hard everyone is working, often with limited tools and time. So just being a part of that, that effort and being able to work with them is really special for all of us.

Kirsten Wyatt

All right, so my last question if you could be the GovLove DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

Raylene Yung

That’s a great question. I think I would pick, if you’re familiar with the song Lovely Day by Bill Withers. I picked that song for a few reasons, I think. I love his music, and he’s an amazing, talented artists. He also recently passed away during the time of crisis. And so it’s brought more attention to his work. And he obviously wrote Lean on me which just I think, is an extremely famous song. But I think the song is just a really uplifting kind of reminder like taking every day in stride. And he also holds one note for an epically long time. I think it’s like 20 seconds. So it’s a fun listen to.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, thanks so much for coming on. ELGL and GovLove are huge supporters of US Digital Response. And we share your belief and your value that we’re all in this together and that when we work together, we can solve the most challenging problems during times of crisis. So thank you for coming on today. Thank you for your work. And thanks for all y’all continue to do as well.

Raylene Yung

Thank you for having me.

Kirsten Wyatt

For all of our listeners, ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. Our vision is to amplify the good in local government and we do this by engaging the brightest minds in local government. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/GovLove or on Twitter @govlovepodcast. If you have a story idea for GovLove, we want to hear it. You can send us a message on Twitter or email [email protected] Thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.

 

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