Story twelve –

In the certifiable world of the software release cycle, ‘pre-alpha’ refers to everything before the formal testing of a design, ‘alpha’ to the lab-test stage, ‘beta’ to field testing for bugs, ‘release candidate’ to the stabilised or tried-and-tested product, and ‘stable release’ to the ready-for-production product. At least that’s the theory, because as the likes of Google Gmail or Flickr have so successfully shown, in times of relative uncertainty, a product in almost perpetual beta – rough and ready, and constantly improved in partnership with the end-user – works so much better than the finished article.

If ever such times existed, these are it. As well as exposing the weaknesses in our systems for dealing with the effects of fast-moving pandemics, Covid-19 has no patience for the product release cycle, especially when it comes to the needs and wants of the frontline. The result is much marvellous beta-like ingenuity, of which my favourite example is the story of consultant anaesthetist Dr Chris Marshall who, together with fellow anaesthetist Dr Ben Hardy, has devised – for their area, from scratch – a Covid-proof rota using nothing more than Google sheets. No time for anything but the beta stage, rough, ready and utterly fluid, the new rota for 70 anaesthetists replaces the NHS’s legacy rota, which was deemed inadequate to the task of coping with scenarios that might at any one time see over half of its users self-isolated. Built for absolute uncertainty, ever learning, it has resulted in no department lacking an anaesthetist, and no anaesthetist having to work more than a 40-hour week, even at the peak of the crisis.

Soon to be published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, Marshall and Hardy’s beta rota is made for times when the only certainty is uncertainty, times that will mark post-Covid as much as they do the great lockdown. As such, it and the many other Covid-inspired beta plans out there will serve – and are already serving – as inspiration for After Covid, the key being speed, out-of-the-box thinking, a capacity to evolve, and the constant creative involvement of their beneficiaries. Meaning, forget pre-alpha, alpha, release candidates and the like. The perpetual field test’s where it’s at – now, next, and for a long time to come.


Words by Adam Scott and Dave Waddell




About AfterCOVID

The historian Peter Hennessy recently observed that future historians will divide post-divide society into BC and AC – Before COVID and After COVID. It is in exactly this spirit that AfterCOVID seeks to celebrate how the world’s largest shared experience has given us the most extraordinary stories of what it means to live beautifully. Together, they are the clues to creating the future we all hope for.

About FreeState

FreeState is planning for a post-COVID future. Share your story with us – really, we’d love to talk. In the meantime, stay well.