This interview tells the story of c19.dk – a tech response to Covid-19 through which citizens could contribute self-reported health data in order to gather a database for the Danish health authorities regarding the spread of Covid-19. This is also the story of how c19.dk failed, lessons learnt and recommendations for future startup-government collaboration during a crisis.
The creation of a self-reporting health status tracker
In March, Covid-19 became a reality in Denmark. It was at that moment Martin Permin got the idea for c19.dk. “The great fear of the corona epidemic is that our health system is collapsing, and since an epidemic is also largely a data and logistics challenge, we thought it was important to build c19.dk,” Martin explains in an interview with DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation). Together with Holger Thorup, Martin founded the tech association, Foreningen Techværnet. The association consists of volunteers from the tech community in Denmark, all of whom contributed to making c19.dk. There was no profit involved in c19.dk. Below you find some of the volunteers behind Techværnet:
From the top left: Carl Kronika, Henrik Teisbæk, Jesper Theil Thomsen, Sebastian Winther, Dominic Parr, Andreas Lønborg, Andreas Cleve, Emil Bender Lassen, Jacob Lenheden, Sissel Hansen, Martin Permin, Andreas Olesen, Holger Thorup, Martin Krag, Kristian Mody, Mikkel Møller Andersen. (© Techværnet). Source: DR.dk
Martin elaborates on the motivation for building c19.dk, and how an association made up by various tech entrepreneurs could help:
“We built c19.dk as a countermeasure to the low testing capacity at the time. With the Danish health system at risk of being overwhelmed, we wanted to build a model to predict local ICU needs on the zip code level. When healthcare resources are scarce, hospitals face a coordination problem — one that we believed we could solve”.
Foreningen Techværnet got the self-reporting solution up and running within 72 hours from conception, and within two weeks, they had 35,000 Danish users, 25,000 of which signed up in one 48h period. A citizen would sign up with their phone number and then receive a daily short questionnaire via text message about their health status. This way more data could be generated on the dark figure of Covid-19 for the Danish health authorities. The solution c19.dk never launched, nor did it collect any health data. They opened the platform up for users to sign up but wanted to wait for permission from the Danish government prior to launching.
The path to population-wide distribution
However, the solution was never distributed to the wider Danish population due to some obstacles between the new tech entrepreneurs and the Danish government:
“Our major challenge was coordinating with the health authorities. We had made a decision early on, to not launch without government consent — so we spent a long time navigating various branches of government, to find whoever could grant it. We’d engaged a legal team to make sure that c19.dk was compliant with various data protection regulations, but in the end it was less costly for Danish authorities to build their own version internally, rather than verifying c19.dk‘s compliance,”
says Martin. Despite the failure of the initiative, c19.dk, the team behind it helped the Danish Ministry of Health design their own self-reporting solution made in partnership with Danish Netcompany, COVIDmeter.
What to do when another crisis hits?
So, what are the lessons learned from c19.dk? Martin shares his experience with lacking a ‘go-to’ in government:
“We found that we lacked a trusted hierarchy to get answers from. From our experience, there has been no Directly Responsible Individual in charge of COVID-19 related digital data collection.”
We asked Martin what he would recommend to government with regards to adopting new technologies in a crisis:
“A small team of government officials, tasked with aiding volunteer initiatives in issues of compliance. One might think of this as a government-run incubator that can help, but does not take responsibility for volunteer efforts.”
Nordic vs. American perspective
On an everyday basis, Martin runs Danish-American paid mentorship startup, Pelion, together with his co-founder and CTO, Holger Thorup. They are based in both Los Angeles and Copenhagen. We were curious to get Martin’s perspective on public sector technology adoption in the two regions:
“From a public sector perspective, the Nordics are obviously further ahead than the U.S in terms of technology adoption. I generally believe that the Danish authorities err too far on the side of data-security over usability in their public-facing tools. Of course these things are not mutually exclusive. Since we started c19.dk, Google and Apple have announced their joint contact-tracing project, so hopefully that will roll out soon, and there’ll be no need for c19.dk.”
Next steps for Martin and Pelion
c19.dk didn’t take off – so what’s next for Martin and Pelion? “Pelion is now back to normal operations. [Pelion spent one month of unpaid work on developing c19.dk] We’re busy since a lot of technology workers are turning to paid mentorship when laid off from their jobs. Our focus right now is making sure that as many of our users as possible can weather the storm without too much disruption to their careers.”
About Martin Permin
Martin Tromp Permin has worked in the tech industry since 2012, starting at Airbnb right after high school as a partnerships and marketing specialist. Later he moved to Los Angeles to become the first employee at Hive.co. After having worked there for almost four years, specialising in Business Development and Growth, Martin returned to found Pelion with Holger Thorup, who had been working at KPMG and Netcompany. Pelion was founded in 2018 in an effort to help more people get really good at their jobs, fast. As a marketplace for paid mentorship with tech companies as customers, Pelion helps team members learn from the best in their respective fields. Foreningen Techværnet has also made the site dinecph.dk to support restaurants during the Covid-19 crisis.
Foreningen Techværnet: https://www.facebook.com/techvaernet