In our jet age, a virus doesn’t heed borders. The high stakes, worldwide pressure test we are in demonstrated that while we are clearly interconnected, we have much work to do to effectively collaborate. In a matter of weeks, we saw basic structures we depend on—hospitals, education, supply chains, even the concept of an office—suddenly falter. One after another, Covid-19 exposed fragility long hidden behind the normalcy of day-to-day operations. Business as usual stalled the world over and our response demands a new level of agile collaboration—this time across organizations, ecosystems, and even industries. Naturally, we turn to our digital tools for support.

Yet, it’s becoming starkly clear that despite 30 years of the web under our belts, there are still gaps—that the way we want to use the internet still doesn’t quite match up with the functionality it offers. We want to share data across organizational or regional borders, but we don’t want to lose control over that data. We want to collaborate, but we want to protect our interests and our IP.

Many in the technology community see answers in an emerging technology, blockchains. Blockchains offer features that could advance our capability to simultaneously share and protect. Here are seven projects demonstrating how pioneers are leveraging this technology to support safer collaboration in the fight against Covid-19.

Safely Collaborate With Health Data

Blockchain platform Hacera’s MiPasa project is using the technology to create a safe, protected hub of verified pandemic data from credible sources to drive new insights.  Technologists, data scientists and public health officials can apply analytics against multiple data sets—far more data than available in a single organization.  

Around the world, governments and corporations have struggled with the tension between individual privacy and public health as contact tracing apps become a vital tool to restart the economy—and these apps have also suffered low usage. The Stanford Medicine Healthcare Innovation Lab and Prysm Group are developing a solution to both preserve privacy and experiment with incentives for use.

A European consortium has piloted a tamper-proof immunity passport for Covid-19. The consortium, which includes Guardtime, Swiss security firm SICPA, and French health data platform OpenHealth will use the technology to issue and manage certificates based on antibody test results. The data is timestamped and used via an app and QR codes.

Safely Share Intellectual Property

In the journal Science this month, a team of researchers described how blockchains could be used to protect diverse teams of researchers around the globe working together on a cure for a pandemic. Researchers may be hesitant to share findings that have not yet been formally published because there hasn’t been a way to protect patents, interests of employers, and prove attribution. They are looking to blockchain technology to enable a auditable trail, prevent tampering, and selectively grant access to data only to trusted collaborators.

Retired USAF Colonel James Allen Regenor founded Rapid Medical Parts this March to protect the veracity and track the use of designs for 3-D printed parts using a blockchain-based platform. The company was awarded a contract by the Pentagon to support the conversion of sleep apnea machines (which are in ample supply) into ventilators, ensuring that designs and printing instructions have not been subjected to tampering. 

Boost Supply Chain Resilience

Rapid Supplier Connect is a new blockchain project that supports health-care providers in identifying nontraditional but vetted suppliers of medical equipment that they can trust, as companies from across industries mobilize to provide medical supplies. Hospitals can search for supplies on the platform, but vendor financial information and certification is only revealed once the supplier agrees to share it—supporting trusted connections while retaining control of how data is used.

Covid-19 has revealed what pressure on global supply chains that lack connectivity and data exchange can look like. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified blockchains as instrumental to develop supply chain resilience by helping to build more transparent, interconnected, and interoperable networks. Last month, WEF released a toolkit supporting the work of using blockchains in supply chains.

In Time For Our Current Crisis?

While many of these projects mobilized around the current crisis, it’s a long road ahead to achieve impact at scale—and this may not come in time for the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we need global-scale agility in response to a pandemic or other black swan event. As blockchain technology is more broadly adopted and integrated, its functionality offers the promise to strengthen our ability to carry forward, next time.

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