Wanted: Better social design with data

Kathmandu earthquake 500 wide

While the world still reels from the Napelese earthquake and its aftermath, one thought stands out to me about the value we can create for communities and environments when we design better with data.

The earthquake in Nepal, which has been terrifying in its power, has also shown how much better a joined up world can mobilise thanks to technology.

Just as one example, Unicef has teamed up with EE so it can send texts to users like me to encourage donations. As a network, people can share details of the support they’ve pledged through social media and encourage others to do the same.

We are more in touch through technology.  We can see real-time reports of what’s happening the ground, right up to and including the moment it first started shaking. It’s how we can learn through human feeling, through empathy and by stepping into other’s experiences.

But, while we can appreciate how far human connectivity has come through digital communication, it’s also possible to see how far it has to go, chiefly in the area around data.

Every picture, they say, tells a story. This one shows the ramifications of this disaster have come from buildings as much as from an earthquake.

The biggest cost on human life in Nepal has happened not through natural elements but as a result of the man-made ones; the structures and buildings that collapsed which were venerated and supposed to provide shelter. The earthquake, terrible as it is, has given up that data.

Organisations as ecosystems don’t always have a joined up picture about where their own vulnerabilities are, but using data and rich media can enable better design.

And increasingly, the commercial and social landscape is merging, as the Unicef and EE collaboration demonstrates. Digital business design enables ‘purpose beyond profit’ business modelling and partnerships like this, together with the ability to measure wide ranges of value and impact.

There are many areas where we can meet fundamental human needs better using data. Local government, housing, food supply and health are all examples, where access to utility use, macro-economic and community data all exist and can be linked, where integrated digital business design thinking means we can create better solutions and societies.

When Tim Berners-Lee wrote about what he sees as the design and ultimate destiny of the digital revolution, he called his book ‘Weaving the Web’. Today, the quality of the social fabric we create for ourselves perhaps depends most of all on how we think about fashioning a better world using data.