As we begin 2013, I am worried that we do not have the capacity to deal with the mounting complexity in the world. I worry that we are not set up to systematically connect the dots between the inter-connected issues on the global agenda (e.g. climate change, food security, and political unrest) and that therefore these issues will remain unresolved. Our systems of global governance are not designed to see and fix the world this way. I worry that the speed and self-absorption of the modern era is incongruous with how we once knew how to connect the dots (ie. sit and think) and I worry that that we are incapable of seeing the big picture anymore because the forest is now beyond our grasp. If we do not acknowledge this reality and solve for it, I am concerned that ours will be the generation that lost humanity’s grip on the planet.
I wonder, though, if in the open data revolution we might find an alternate, modern path to resolving complexity.
We have collectively lauded the open data movement for increasing government transparency and modernizing civic engagement, and thereby emboldening democracy. And if this is all that comes from this movement, it will have well been worth it! But I wonder if there’s not another, equal, contribution that could come from the plethora of open data – and that’s spurring and enabling us to literally connect the dots (to link previously siloed data)… and in connecting the dots, to help us see and solve the world’s issues holistically.
I imagine us becoming more scientific – more rational and evidence-based – in our policymaking because we have the data to do science: macro-level analyses, systems modeling, network analysis, simulations, etc. We’ll need to first start thinking about what data is missing, ie. which data sets we need to model a particular complex system. And we’ll need to find a way of communicating that seemingly esoteric need to the agency or company that holds the missing link. (And, we’ll still need to find way of sitting down with all our data to just think!)
Over the past few weeks I’ve met with leaders in the homelessness and sustainability spaces who have a newfound appreciation for the complexity of their systems and are looking to amass seemingly unrelated open data to arrive at a more systemic understanding and to produce truer models. I could imagine NGOs, companies, and global institutions forging new partnership models based on data supply and demand in the near future.
Open data might help us tackle the world’s complexity.