Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

The art of contact tracing

Anne says: Contact tracing is being endorsed globally as one of the critical virus control strategies. And regardless of various apps being touted as the best way to manage it, there’s still a need for people to do the leg work – that is, call the contacts, discuss the issues, and advise re quarantine requirements. But what type of person will be good at this sort of job? There has to be a broad skill set that is part investigator, counsellor, problem-solver and more. You have to engage with people who may be frightened, dismissive, aggressive, confused and not willing to share or unable to recall details. How do you train people to do this?

If you want to understand the processes of contact tracing and it’s importance in pandemics, this TED Talk with Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer of Partners in Health, reveals how her teams of people have used contact tracing in vulnerable communities to manage outbreaks of disease like Ebola. Her experience and insights should be used more widely to inform our current needs for contact tracing.

As a learning specialist, I was pondering ways to create this type of investigative mindset when I came across two articles by journalists that had both enrolled in the John Hopkins University course being offered online through Coursera. It’s a free six-hour course, that includes topics on virology, epidemiology, medical ethics, privacy, and interview techniques and it’s open to anyone (if you’re interested).

This article and accompanying video from Wall Street Journal’s Alex Janin also includes interview responses from Dr Emily Gurley, Associate Professor of Health at John Hopkins University. Both reviewers had similar experiences and it seems like a grounded, basic introduction. But when you look at the scale (cited in the Wired article) that will be required, the sheer number of people need to be up-skilled – it seems like an overwhelming task. Certainly, the online course offers the basics, but this is a highly sensitive role and I would expect a lot more in-depth practice and guidance before I’d be comfortable allowing someone who has completed a 6 hour online interactive course to be performing their role as a fully-fledged tracer.

The Wired article mentions a number of other courses – all conducted online through Universities – that include extending into practical role plays. I’d be interested to review the assessment methodology of these courses – testing knowledge and recall online is straightforward, however, being able to evaluate someone’s ability to perform a multi-layered role such as contact tracing requires contextual experiences under a variety of conditions. Without this type of assessment we could be producing masses of people who can figure out dates and potential spread, but miss the nuances of deep contact tracing and managing people’s anxiety and challenges.

Some of the challenges we need to address, in addition to how we assess people performing these roles, includes the management and privacy of personal data. In times of a pandemic, do our normal rules of privacy apply? Or should we concede that for the greater good, we need to share more details? These are some of the ethical issues that contact tracing apps have flagged (watch this space for more on apps in the following weeks). There’s an example provided in the Wall Street Journal article – it reminded me of the trolley problem to some extent. What would you do if you knew someone had tested positive and was a close friend of a family member? Under privacy regulations, you can do nothing.. but under pandemic situations, can you withhold that information and allow a family member to become infected?

Both articles suggest that unemployed people could be a great resource for scaling contact tracing during the current crisis – but I wonder if we can scale the type of skills required effectively and rapidly through these online courses? I think I’m going to try out some of these courses myself – anyone else interested in sharing their thoughts?


During a pandemic, stalkerware becomes even more sinister

Jakkii says: Still pandemic related, but rather than contact tracing as Anne has delved into this week, it’s a different type of tracing from me, and one that is insidious and disturbing – the rise and rise of ‘stalkerware’ during the pandemic.

What is stalkerware?

applications that can spy on partners’ texts, calls, social media use and geolocation information

If you’re not already disturbed, you should be.

Under normal circumstances, stalkerware can make it difficult for domestic violence victims to get support since it can monitor targets’ every move on their phones. But during a pandemic, stalkerware can make it near impossible for victims to get help, since an internet-connected device may very nearly be their only lifeline to seek outside support during the global health crisis.

There are a lot of technologies and uses for technologies out there that bring to mind Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm, when he says the oft-quoted line, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” There is a raging lack of ethics in technology, a disturbing willingness to embrace it (governments and facial recognition tech, I’m looking at you), and a lagging set of laws that not only aren’t keeping pace with technology, are being created by people who don’t seem to necessarily understand technology, let alone the broader ethical implications and the very legitimate concerns about impinging on citizens’ civil liberties.

It is important as consumers and as citizens that we probe and question technology, and that we make ourselves aware of the ethical issues surrounding advancements in technology. Embracing technology blindly because we can create it is foolish at best, and most certainly potentially dangerous. Also? Don’t use stalkerware to spy on your partner.


Around the house

This week:

Friday Funnies

Misinformation Friday Five

COVID-19 Friday Five

Work Friday Five

Tech Friday Five

Social Media Friday Five

Corona Business Insights Podcast

How the four-day work week conversation gains new momentum and new converts in the time of COVID-19.

As COVID-19 sets out to change the world forever, join Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer as they think about what’s to come in the future of business.


Singaporean Parliament suggested moving towards a four-day work week

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the four-day work week in a Facebook live chat

The four-day work week discussion is back

The four-day work week and COVID-19

The four-day work week and COVID-19 tourism

The four-day work week during the pandemic

The climate case for the four-day work week

Our extended discussion of the four-day work week on The Future, This Week (Nov 2018)

Our follow-up discussion of the four-day work week on The Future, This Week (Nov 2019)


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