Changing New Zealand with better information

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about what I can do to change things, what difference I can make in the world.  At heart, I’m a people person. When I look back on my life and think about the change I made in the world, I want to think “I made people’s lives better”. So I’m putting a question from one of my favourite books to myself: “What can I do with the gifts I have?”

What can I do with my creativity, project management skills, information management skills, communication and people skills, research skills, and writing skills to change people’s live’s for the better?    I love information, it has to be something to do with information. Translating information into forms that are useable.  That’s the key problem I see in society right now that I have the best chance of contributing to solving.

There’s more information out there on people’s lives than ever before.  It’s so frustrating that all the answers are probably out there by now, but there is such a volume of data that we can’t see the meaning for the noise.  More data than we can make use of flows around us constantly.  Helping harness data to improve outcomes and make people’s lives better.  A good goal.

The Economist argues that these faster, bigger flows of information are changing the speed at which we perceive time moving:

“There is no doubt that there are far more data coursing round firms than there were just a few years ago. And when you are used to information accumulating in a steady trickle, a sudden flood can feel like a neck-snapping acceleration. Even though the processes about which you know more are not inherently moving faster, seeing them in far greater detail makes it feel as if time is speeding up.

This unsettling sensation is common to most chief executives—a straw poll suggests that they receive 200-400 e-mails a day. Their underlings are deluged with information, too. AT&T now tracks faults on its telecoms networks by monitoring social media for grumpy customers letting off steam online. Big consumer brands are subject to a rolling online plebiscite from their customers. This abundance of information gives firms a cloak of hyperactivity.”

“More information provides firms with an even broader range of time frames over which to exert their transformational powers—to operate second by second, if they so desire.”

“New technologies spread faster than ever, says Andy Bryant, the chairman of Intel; shares in the company change hands every eight months. But to keep up with Moore’s Law—named after Intel’s founder—the firm has to have long investment horizons.”

What does this mean for New Zealand? We have to plan strategically, far into the future, about how and why our data is going to be used, even as we are constantly shifting technologies and ideas in the short term.  Agility in the short term, but on a solid, secure long term base.

I was recently talking to someone about what we need to change in New Zealand to improve outcomes in the health sector.  I believe we need to start by developing trusted, high quality data sets. Jayden McRae is doing great thinking in this space.

I’ve been reading Anthony Townsend’s recent book on Smart Cities: big data, civic hackers and the quest for a new utopia, and I really like his definition of smart cities as “places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even our bodies to address social, economic and environmental problems.” (p. 15)

It upsets me when the cool new technology comes before the people who the technology is FOR. Anthony Townsend is on the same page. I’m a huge advocate of smart technology and the use of software to catalyse change, but to me, every so called ‘technology project’ is actually a ‘people and change project’, enabled by technology. This quote articulates the place of technology in innovation for me:

“Many people have placed their bet on a better future delivered through technology. Not me. I get nervous when I hear people talk about how technology is going to change the world.  I have been around technology enough to know its vast potential, but also its severe limitations. When coarsely applied to complex problems, technology often fails.  What’s much more interesting is how we are going to change our technology to create the kinds of places we want to live in.” (p. 17)

As an information management professional I see myself as a translator and synthesiser of information.  I draw information together, separate the meaning from the noise, sort it into a meaningful pattern that is more than the sum of it’s parts.  organisers – making things easily accessible linking people to the information they need, when they need it.

Creativity fits into it for me, because I see designers as the same –except they’re translating ideas into visual form rather than written form.  I like this quote:

“In the future, designers will become the reference point for policy makers, for anyone wanting to create a link between high-faluting and hard to translate, and reality, and people”. Paola Antonelli,  1hr6mins Objectivity, 2009

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