Reflections on SSNA and COVID-19: A Better Kind of Contact Tracing

Recent events (including the great Surveillance Pandemic discussion we had recently) and reflections from @nadia and @matthias have made me give some thought to what our role is in enabling our community members to get through COVID-19 in the context of our NGI work.

I have been turning over the concept of contact tracing, which the EC seems so keen on (and the efficacy of which our expert interlocutors questioned deeply). I think that ‘contact tracing’, removed from its other context, actually describes our SSNA work very well. A better kind of contact tracing – where we trace how community members are helping each other already, and what they need to do that; and a tracing that enables more contact, not less, as we connect people together who we see are working on the same or compatible issues.

The platform is already so much more alive with meaningful stories of these kinds of contact.

The ethnography team is creating a new “COVID Codebook” and think we should create an SSNA mapping these “COVID codes” to show how people are innovating and dealing with the crisis. In a way, this could pave the way for SSNA as a crisis management tool — like in Open Care, mapping what communities are already doing and where they need help and support most.

This builds on the Open Care finding, especially relevant given what is going on with the EC’s divesting of funds to an app, that NGOs and governments are constantly putting money and resources in the wrong place. We already have concrete evidence of that from the surveillance pandemic and we have only just started this phase of community listening in the time of COVID. I am sure that @alberto, @noemi, and @johncoate remember these lessons well from Open Care.

I want to share some stories from Open Care to show what I mean – how community members are already expressing what they need in times of crisis; how those needs aren’t being served by the big organisations that are trying to help them, because those organisations don’t have the infrastructure in place to listen to what they need; and how community members use technology in creative ways that bring people together, when that technology is tailored to their needs and not designed elsewhere and handed to them as a pre-packaged solution that doesn’t take into account their context.

@alex_levene turns our attention to mental health issues in crisis scenarios (not unlike our healthcare workers today, volunteers in refugee camps face giant welfare tasks under enormous resource strain):

He stresses the need for mental health resources, but shows us that resources often don’t get where they need to go:

We learned this fact from @aravella_salonikidou as well, who put together backpacks for refugees when she noticed that aid organizations and governments frequently make decisions without consulting refugees or people with expertise in refugee issues, so often resources go to waste and people do not get the kind of materials they need:

Her expertise and research lead her to come up with solutions that would actually meet people’s needs on the ground:

Meanwhile, she notes, resources were going horribly to waste:

Several community members also lamented attempts to use technology as a cure-all for refugee problems. As Alex asks:

Attempts to provide care that are not localised and do not consult people themselves, in short, do not serve peoples’ needs best. Tomma found this when observing how refugees are creatively using limited resources to transform their living spaces:

These are just a few examples of many, from Open Care, that indicate that SSNA’s value is in enabling contact through contact tracing – seeing what community members are already doing to help each other, what resources they are articulating that they need, and connecting people together who are doing similar or compatible kinds of work.


This is a very lovely concept. I am looking forward to contributing to it!

This is hugely important. Of course Edgeryders stands ready to provide and maintain the SSNA dashboard, and the other associated services, on a best effort basis. How about ethno-covid19?

Yet another emergent use of SSNA! This is the tool that keeps on giving. Makes complete long-term sense to test it.


Here is a small personal contribution. The whole post on Edgeryders seemed a bit too in-you-face, but you find the link in the post.


can we make this public please?