Jodie Sangster: Using Data For Good

Jodie Sangster: Using Data For Good

In this guest column, ADMA chief Jodie Sangster says data’s not all about getting customers to buy more stuff. In fact, it can help solve a lot of the planet’s problems, too…

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

In the fifty-year history of ADMA (it is our golden anniversary this year) we have seen extraordinary advances in the ability to store, analyse and leverage data. Whilst our industry tends to look at data through the prism of a marketing and advertising lens, some of the most extraordinary stories emerge from where data is helping to advance public and humanitarian initiatives.

We’ve looked at five key areas where data has most shifted the needle towards ‘good’.

Fighting Poverty

It was last month’s announcement that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committing US$80 million to fill the gaps in collecting data on women’s lives, that got me thinking about this subject. The data will be used by decision-makers to help evaluate existing health and development programmes and to recommend areas for improvements. A case study in ‘we do not know, what we do not know’, the data will offer an important voice to the disenfranchised when harnessed in this way.

Data is also being used to assess existing initiatives to find out what kinds of antipoverty programmes are effective. Some recent studies suggest that microloan organisations, whilst beneficial to the individual, don’t actually increase income for the borrower; learnings that can be used to reshape current and future programmes.

Advancing Health Care

Data is being used in so many ways in healthcare it is hard to document. Key is the way in which it is driving critical insights into public health issues. For example, it has played a central role in battling epidemics like Ebola as mobile location data (there is high penetration of phones in affected areas) is used to help determine where best to implement movement restrictions and treatment centres place.

Preventative and personalised medicine is a burgeoning area as DNA sequencing is becoming more affordable. Google’s Verily Life Sciences (previously Google Life Sciences), with its ambitious baseline study, is imaging data from 10,000 volunteers to try and find out what it means to be healthy. Companies like this are operating at the intersection of a Venn diagram which brings together medicine, data science and engineering and it will be fascinating to see what products and services emanate from this and similar initiatives.

I’d also highlight IBM’s Watson for Oncology which is analysing an individual’s medical records and information against available data to provide evidence-based treatment options.  IMB has also joined forces with Apple to share Apple Watch data to IMB’s Watson health cloud analytics service to develop new medical insights using real time biometric data. In March this year the Sleep Apnea Association and IBM launched the world’s first sleep data repository using the open source Apple ResearchKit.

Helping the Planet

I was lucky enough to be at an International Woman’s Day event with the inspiring 2015 winner of the Telstra Queensland Business Woman of the Year Dr Catherine Ball who has achieved significant advances in  drone technology; pioneering the use of drones for  ground breaking environmental and infrastructure surveys following natural disasters and other geo-environmental initiatives. According to Ball, drones have tremendous as yet untapped potential for humanitarian work and disaster management, wildlife conversation and more as they are capable of entering geographies that traditional research planes are unable to and can capture unprecedented quantities of data.

Law and Order

It was Dr Ball who first alerted me to the use of drones by home security companies in Japan. Designed to protect large areas of land it will launch when suspicious vehicles or people are detected and take photos that will be sent to a monitoring centre; thereafter giving chase if it is deemed a threat.

Drones are increasingly being used by police and security services, with North Dakota being the first state to legalise the use of armed drones in September last year. Whilst there are naturally some security-ethics concerns to work through it promises to give law enforcement agencies another channel to use when trying to track down and identify at risk individuals – NSW police introduced them in December 2015 after an 18 month trial period.

And of course predictive modelling has been used for some time to predict where crimes are likely to occur and resource appropriately.

An Education

Aside from the fact that data science is a burgeoning educational path in itself with high demand commanding high salaries (and the Harvard Business Review famously calling Data Scientist the sexiest job of the Century) data is driving significant progress in the field of education.

Within the classroom data is changing the way teachers create and connect with students – and overtime could reduce reliance on grading by providing a more personal learning experience to each student. New resources like the Khan Academy have grown from a one man making videos tutorials for his cousin to an 80-person organisation with a mission to provide free education from anyone everywhere. It uses a personalised learning dashboard and adaptive technology to identify strengths and learning gaps. Their Head of Data & Analytics flew to ADMA’s Global Forum in August where he outlined the impact that big data had on their evolution and is having on their future.

The positive impact that data can and does have is phenomenal. And I can’t wait to find out how it will continue to change our world in the next 50 years of ADMA’s future.