2020. A new decade. Many had hoped for a new beginning. Yet it is hard to deny that Australia has had a tumultuous start to the new year.
With significant portions of our country devastated by the bushfire disasters, our population has been shaken to its core.
Whilst we have all been impacted in different ways, there are common feelings which have been expressed over and over. Sadness for what has happened. Anger at things that should have been done and should have happened. Confusion about what needs to happen next and how we can prevent this happening again.
For us personally, the Something Digital team, we found ourselves asking ‘what can we do and how can we contribute’. How can we use the biggest asset we have, our community, to make a difference to the next disaster or emergency.
So we created Emergency Digital.
It was an idea we threw out there, and we were blown away and humbled by the response we received.
On February 4, over 100 of Brisbane’s finest digital minds came together to answer the question “How might we leverage digital innovation to better respond, manage and recover from emergency situations?”
We started by setting the scene.
Joined by two experts, Prof Hilary Bambrick, Head of School of Public Health & Social Work at QUT and John Grey, Digital Manager at Queensland Police Service, we looked at some of the real challenges we needed to consider when reacting to emergency situations.
They shared their insights and experiences before questions were opened to the floor.
- How do we find hope in times of fundamental despair?
- How do we change the narrative from the fear of the world ending vs the great things we can do to make a difference?
- How do we dispel and limit the misinformation that is dominating our media?
- How do we influence government to make the necessary changes?
The sentiment from the audience was clear. Although there was a murky road ahead with a great many more questions than answers, there was a determination in the room to seek out solutions to some of the problems we face when it comes to emergency management.
No longer content with being armchair warriors, the room as ready to move into the design thinking portion of the session.
Step 1: Rapid ideation.
Armed with an index card and a sharpie, the first task of the day was for each attendee to come up with a simple, bold, action orientated idea to help in times of disasters/emergencies and the first step which needs to be taken to implement said idea.
There was then much discussion, card swapping and ideas scoring (followed my more discussion, card swapping and idea scoring) … which lead us to the point where we could filter ideas.
Step 2: Filtering
From 100 ideas, we ranked, filtered and grouped the ideas until we arrived at a set of key ideas we could further explore:
- A centralised platform for emergency response
- Improved communications infrastructure (inc standardised failover or comms systems in rural areas)
- A peer-to-peer needs and wants network
- An education platform to aid in fire prevention
- An education platform to aid in community response
- A means to share critical data
- A long term relief program
- A strategy to verify information and dispel the misinformation (inc during disasters, how relief funds are being distributed etc)
Step 3: Stabilising and Anchoring
Following a short caffeine and chocolate intermission, is was time to dig deeper into the ideas.
Through some simple self selection, teams formed and began a structured process of anchoring and stabilising the ideas, carrying out a force field analysis and working out what was needed to progress the ideas.
Step 4: Wrap up and outcomes.
And before we knew it, time was up. But not before we re-grouped and took stock of what had been done over the previous few hours.
From the initial vague ideas on index cards, details were extrapolated into substantial and organised thoughts, and in some cases they were ready to take forward and actioned.
One my personal favourites was the group who were investigating ways in which long term funding can be given to individuals or families who have been impacted by disasters.
Huge hats off to the teams for keeping it real. Emphasis was given to addressing the gaps (rather than reinventing the wheel) and also acknowledging that there are forces at play (technical, regulatory, privacy etc) which can and will get in the way to utopia.
But all good things must come to an end. Walking away from the morning there were three themes which came up again and again:
- We live in an age of misinformation. And in times of emergency and disaster, this can be fatal. But we need to rise above this and find ways to rapidly verify that information is correct and can be trusted.
- Communication is both the problem and the answer to many problems. We need systems and processes in place to keep communication channels up in times of emergency, we need to ensure the right messages reach the right people and we also need better cross channel, cross organisation communication. #huge
- We need more ways to harness our collaboration and peer-to-peer networks. There was general consensus in the room that whilst much responsibility lies with all levels of government, companies and citizens can (and are willing) to do do more to collaborate and help during times of crisis.
Which seems the perfect and fitting end to this article for again we are seeing that and incredible amount of power really does reside with the people. If we take the time and are willing to collaborate, the things we can achieve are limitless.
#PowertothePeople #SomethingDigital #EmergencyDigital