Rapid and Accurate in Emergencies - DX Connecting Government and Citizens

How can useful, accurate information be conveyed in a swift, easy-to-understand way? With the city's large and diverse population, this has been the most important issue for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government throughout the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. The power of technology is expanding the possibilities for a "new form of collaboration" between government and the private sector.

Tokyo's COVID-19 Website Released in a Matter of Days

On February 26, 2020, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) launched a project to disseminate information on COVID-19. The COVID-19 Information Website was released about a week later on March 3. The explosive speed at which the site was built drew much attention.

The site's development was undertaken by Code for Japan, a Tokyo-based non-profit organization. How could they build the site in such a short period of time after being commissioned by TMG?

"We had actually been talking about the pandemic for a long time and thought there might be something we could do to help", explained Jinnouchi Kazuki, deputy director of the organization.

Code for Japan, which promotes "civic tech" in the aim to solve regional issues through the use of IT, was able to quickly start developing the website as it had previously been involved in projects for delivering disaster relief information.

Accurate Information for Everyone

In building the site, the company published the source code on the development platform GitHub and made improvements to it as they exchanged opinions with numerous volunteers. Hayashi Noriko, a staff member who worked on the design, was originally one of those volunteers.

"We implemented different suggestions like creating easier ways to view data, or enabling the sharing of graphs on social media. I try to keep my designs simple so that they don't look complicated, while still keeping accuracy in mind," says Hayashi.

Using multiple languages as well as easy Japanese also contributes to the realization of a diverse society. Code for Japan is still working to arrange the information through trial and error while updating it daily with the latest data.

After the fifth wave this summer, infections in Japan have calmed down. However, Code for Japan will continue to respond to the ever-changing situation in case the number of infections goes up again.

Civic Tech is Built Together

Another reason why the TMG's COVID-19 Information Website has attracted so much attention is the site's open data format and source code. By making the system available to anyone, its use has spread to municipal governments outside of Tokyo as well.

"Before now, we never expected that other municipalities would use something created by the TMG. The fact that this perception has shifted significantly may lead to change, not only for this site but also for future administrations," says Jinnouchi, who has high hopes for the project.

The website's source code, made publicly available in a format that anyone can freely use. Many engineers and researchers participate in its development and exchange different opinions.

This series of collaborations has had a significant impact on the TMG's approach to system development. The city has been working till now to convert various administrative information to open data, but in order to accelerate system development with open-source software (OSS) in mind, the TMG has formulated guidelines, with the entire government having begun to engage in OSS conversions.

The website has produced a variety of ripple effects, but its primary significance lies in the fact that it brought together all of the COVID-19-related information in Tokyo.

As a hot topic, it attracted the interest of many engineers and has deepened understanding on civic tech among Tokyo citizens and the government. Jinnouchi had this to say.

"Of course, some people are more used to analog devices than digital ones, so we can't just digitalize everything. But the COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the mindsets of people across society. I think it's important to continue to deepen cooperation between local governments, city residents, and private businesses as we share information as appropriate."

This new approach to public service by the government and private sectors is on the verge of a widespread expansion.

Left: Jinnouchi Kazuki / Deputy Director of Code for Japan. Has a proven track record in collaborative public-private projects, including the reconstruction plan for Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture. Right: Hayashi Noriko / Previously in charge of design at a system development company specializing in public service and education.
Written by Hoshiba Chisato / Translated by Amitt