Data for the Greater Good

Here at Delvinia, we talk a lot about how data and research can benefit a business, but we also know that it can benefit the world as a whole. In recent years data has gotten a bit of a bad rap in the public realm, as there have unfortunately been bad actors utilizing data unethically, and the public tolerance for this behaviour has been low. On his podcast Pivot, Scott Galloway discusses one recent example of this as Google faces the possibility of an antitrust suit from the US Department of Justice. He examines the difficulty in deciding who is the worst of these bad actors, and believes, as I do, that Facebook is actually a worse offender when it comes to unscrupulous uses of consumer data. Discerning who is using data for negative purposes can be as much a struggle as navigating the balance between privacy and insights. These are issues that are defining our modern society. What the past two months have shown us, though, is that when harnessed properly data can be used for the greater good and benefit everyone in a society. We have also seen an increase in willingness from the public to have their information used for these purposes, as demonstrated by a recent report by KPMG.

One of the key changes we have seen since the outbreak of COVID-19 is the open sharing of anonymized data between organizations. This was a hitherto unheard-of idea. Whatever information an organization had access to was for their use and their use alone. There were many good reasons for this, information security being top among them, but it also limited the ability for collaboration and cross-pollination. Now, we are seeing private corporations sharing information with government organizations and vice versa in order to better understand the current situation we are living in – and how best to deal with it. We at Delvinia are doing this through our current partnership with CAMH. All of the data collected by their mental health researchers is being made available free of charge through Methodify to help other organizations better understand the mental health and substance use of Canadians during this time. If everyone continues with this cooperative approach, what other issues might we be better able to tackle as a society?

A key reason the sharing of information is such a valuable tool in improving the world is because it allows for patterns to be detected earlier on and with more reliability. When we can see patterns, we can prepare for their possible future outcomes proactively instead of having to react in the moment when they happen. We can never predict the future, but we can use data to actively understand trends and in turn develop strategies that will serve all those involved in a positive way. For instance, the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto conducted a study titled The COVID-19 Crisis and Policy Preferences of Canadian Technology Scale-Ups (made freely available), which revealed the top concerns of this group which is so pivotal in the Canadian economy. By making these insights available, better policies and decisions can be made by governments to both help and encourage these businesses in the best ways possible while planning for a variety of future scenarios.

In a similar vein, a phrase that is frequently heard around Delvinia is the democratization of data. Usually, this is in reference to giving more stakeholders in a company access to the data being used to make key business decisions. But this extends into the wider world as well. As the collection of consumer data increases exponentially across programs and devices, shouldn’t those consumers have a stake in it themselves? If their own data is used to improve not only their lives, but the lives of everyone around them rather than strictly for the purposes of the organization collecting it, then we see the democratization of data at a societal level. The process of gathering data becomes a two-way street where everyone can benefit. For example, Deloitte released a free report titled COVID-19: Voice of Canadians and Impact to Retailers. This allowed consumers to have their voices heard, while simultaneously allowing retail businesses to benefit from the data collected and make the necessary adjustments, and hopefully mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic country-wide.

Data is powerful, but has also been controversial. It is critical to always ask why the data is being gathered, if it serves a higher purpose. Many brands who begin to dig deeper into consumer data and insights do so in an effort to be more consumer-centric. What if we expand that ethos beyond the confines of business and begin to use data to be more human-centric as a society? The current pandemic has created a shift in the world’s approach to data, and if we can continue with these changes data can truly be used for the greater good.

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