Adaptive governance could help build trust in COVID-19 digital contact tracing apps

November 12, 2020

Adaptive governance could help earn social license of digital contact tracing apps as a way of managing COVID-19, authors say in this Policy Forum. Following the rapid spread of COVID-19, many governments and health organizations worldwide have looked to smartphone-based digital contact tracing (DCT) apps as a way to monitor and manage the disease. However, despite their promising potential, most national DCT apps are not widely used. In a Policy Forum, Alessandro Blasimme and Effy Vayena suggest that this lack of uptake is due to uncertainties concerning the awareness, privacy risks and overall effectiveness of DCT, and also the public's mistrust toward the apps, which could be viewed as a form of digital surveillance. Thus, according to the authors, DCT faces a notable quandary: without widespread use, evaluating the effectiveness of DCT will remain difficult, but until it's proven effective, the public's widespread DCT use is unlikely. For DCT to be successful, the technology, its governance and oversight, and the public's expectations for each, need to be understood. According to Blasimme and Vayena, the best approach to achieving these ends is an adaptive governance framework capable of providing guidance, yet also flexible enough to adapt to new knowledge, needs and expectations. The authors outline a path toward implementing adaptive governance in DCT and suggest public engagement, technical, legal and ethical focuses for oversight. "This model will arguably be useful for other technologies and in case of future large-scale crises--in public health and possibly beyond," write Blasimme and Vayena.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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