At NordicBaltic.Tech, a partnership between PUBLIC Denmark and the Nordic Council of Ministers, we share the insights gained by those working to support citizens with innovative digital solutions during and beyond the crisis. We spoke to Ann Molin who has 10 years of experience working for the Government Agency of Employment in Sweden and is now Head of Hack for Earth at the Government Agency the Swedish Institute and is also National Curator for Sweden in the EU Commission’s EUvsVirus initiative, to hear about how Sweden mobilised solutions in response to Covid-19.

Since March 26th, the government mission Hack for Sweden has been divided into a national and an international part. Ann Molin is in charge of the international part that is hosted by the Swedish Institute. The national part of Hack for Sweden is run by the Government agency for Digitalization, DIGG.  Ann is also the National Curator for Sweden, in the EU commission’s ‘EUvsVirus’ initiative.

The EUvsVirus hackathon on April 24-26 gathered 22.000+ participants from 245 countries, and all 27 member states in the EU are now involved in making the 117 winning solutions come to life – first up is a matchathon on May 22-25th. The goal of the matchathon is to match the 117 winning solutions with organisations all over Europe, according to the needs of the solution. Public sector, private sector and academics from all European countries are welcome in this work – all parts of Europe need to come together to help the solutions to this crisis come to life.   

Hack for Earth and the Swedish institute’s involvement in the response to Covid-19

The global online hackathon ‘Hack for Earth’ will invite the 192 participating countries at the world exhibition Expo2021 to find real solutions to the 17 global goals, the SDG’s. 

“Now it is more important than ever before, that we come together to find the solutions we need, for the world we all want to live in tomorrow”.  

Key insights and successes from Hack the Crisis

Hack the Crisis Sweden is the biggest Hack the Crisis hackathon in Europe so far, with 7.439 participants from 91 countries, 160 partner organisations including many of the big dragons in the tech industry, resulting in 532 submitted solutions – all done in 8 days of preparation. Considering that we are a very small country in numbers this is an achievement we are proud of. The 6 winning solutions are being taken to the next level by the Government Agency of Digitalization. The Hack the Crisis movement started in Estonia in March, and spread fast over the world with Hack the Crisis hackathons being arranged in most European countries and also India, Canada, Afghanistan and more.  

“As project manager for Hack the Crisis Sweden my key insight is that the generosity and willingness to help out in this time of crisis, exceeded my wildest imaginations. I was overwhelmed by the passion and drive to contribute from all parts of society – from engaged citizens, to the public sector to tech giants. I have never seen anything like it. To me, the message is clear: when we are pushed to the very edge we also rise to the occasion and deliver. Our society is strong and can deliver beyond expectations when needed”.   

Is there anything that cannot be achieved in 48 hours?  

“At the end of a hackathon it is like standing in a big room full of post-its. Great ideas everywhere but they will have no real importance if we don’t make them come to life. The most important work comes after a hackathon – that is when we take all the great solutions and create real tools for society out of them. It’s not about ideas – it’s about making ideas happen”.   

Technology that transcends national boundaries  

“It’s imperative that we create solutions that transcend borders. We will be more dependent on each other than ever before and the need for solutions (for example a test and certificate for immunity to corona) that deliver value for all Europeans will be in high demand”.  

How do you see the role of the Nordics and Baltics when it comes to technology, innovation and government technology adoption?   

“In relation to the world, I believe we can greatly benefit from joining forces – especially in these times. The success of initiatives like Nordic Innovation House in Asia and the United States only proves the need for developing the Nordic collaboration internationally. The high level of technology development in the Baltic countries is of course a great source of inspiration to Sweden – and I believe also to our Nordic neighbours. The need for collaboration and co-creation will only increase in the future, to solve the Sustainability Development Goals and other global challenges that may arise. And when I say collaboration I mean actually DOING things together – not just going to more meetings.  

How can tech startups work together to optimise overall impact?   

“The most important thing is that all of society needs to collaborate to create the solutions to this crisis – and here is where we need the public sector to take a step forward and be the proactive force that our society needs. We need to invite our citizens to create the solutions – why should only a few decide over something we all are going to use? Social media is an excellent tool for this, to get direct feedback and to involve the users in the innovation process.  We need to take citizen driven innovation to the next level and reinvent democracy as we know it”.   

What is the role of government in the realisation of winning solutions that emerge from collaborations such as Hack the Crisis and EUvsVirus?   

“Everyone in society needs to collaborate and co-create in order to get us out of this crisis and into the future we want to create. The government and public sector need to step up and be the proactive driving force needed to deliver on this crisis and the SDG’s. The solutions from Hack the Crisis Sweden are being matched with specific public sector stakeholder organisations by the Government Agency of Digitalisation, DIGG. This means that DIGG has the responsibility to lead the work of making the solutions come to life, in cooperation with the private sector and other interested parties. The same is done by the European Commission through the matchathon on May 22-25”.  

What are the appropriate measures needed to keep innovation afloat?   

“Necessity is the mother of invention, so lack of ideas will not be an issue in these trying times. To keep a healthy innovation ecosystem alive and flourishing is more important than ever, and here all parts of society have a responsibility to contribute. Exactly what those measures are I leave to the experts in their respective fields to say. In my view, important democratic values will probably be under attack in the years to come because of the effects of Covid-19, so in order to protect democratic values we need to put focus on citizen driven innovation, inviting citizens to be part of the solutions we create to a much greater extent”.