I think it will be as The Year Data Saved The World.
On the one hand, it’s quite obvious that 2020 will always be known as the year the modern world was brought to its knees by an invisible, infinitesimal, virus.
With a global pandemic shutting literally everything down, “life as we know it” changed forever in what has been quite an extraordinary confluence of circumstances.
- One of the worst recessions of modern times ? Check.
- Living, working, and socializing virtually? Check. (Second Life was way ahead of its time!)
- One of the most bizarre U.S. elections ever? Check.
- People taking any opportunity to get outdoors, as opposed to zoning out in front of the small screen? Check. (Ok, many of us still zoned out in front of our screens – those on our mobile devices – but at least we did that outside…!)
- Baking becoming something we did in our kitchens, as opposed to watching it on TV? Check.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
So, while 2020 will certainly be The Year COVID-19 Changed The World, I think it will also be The Year Data Saved The World.
From period to semi-colon
Think about it.
Had we not already been living in a time where we could harness, and use, data to reconfigure our lives, the semi-colon punctuating practically every day this year would instead have been a period.
Thanks to data, we were able – after a pause – to:
- resume working, teaching, and studying (even if parents around the world tore their hair out at the same time);
- routinely express creativity en masse, like Camden Voices (one of the many stunning “Zoom choirs” to emerge during the pandemic);
- increase inter-generational bonding (TikTok shuffle challenge, anyone?);
- share information on COVID-19 (and everything else!) as never before;
- learn, in real time, how vaccines are developed; and
- watch innovation take shape before our eyes as a speed to which we were not accustomed, but which now feels “normal.”
Living my learning
I had no idea, when I enrolled in the Harvard Business Analytics Program, just how much I’d start living what I was learning.
It’s been quite a ride (with more to come, no doubt); scary yet exhilarating at the same time.
And while I did not enroll in the program to become a data scientist (I wanted to deepen my understanding of data and analytics to overlay on my Communication experience and expertise) it’s been fascinating to watch, and learn from, my colleagues who are adept at data wrangling.
Using data to solve a problem
Take, for instance, my colleague Jonathan Mogil.
Like so many of us in the initial months of the pandemic, Jonathan found himself frustrated not by the lack of COVID-19 data (heaven knows there was enough of that out there), but by the lack of specificity that would make it really useful to a particular population: parents of school-going kids in New York State.
As he wrote on Medium:
Searching for the number of COVID-19 cases in NYC schools in my neighborhood shouldn’t be this difficult.
In a sea of dashboards and trackers following COVID-19’s path, the lack of aggregated data for schools in the state of New York led me to create my own.
In creating this new dashboard, my goal is to help parents in the Empire State easily access the data and find the neighborhoods and specific schools where pre-K through Grade 12 schools have been the most impacted by cases of the virus.
In his post, Jonathan goes through his thought process, from identifying the problem (plenty of COVID-related data on college kids, but none for K-12), to rolling up his sleeves and doing something about it.
It’s a fascinating read. And, as we gear up to get through winter and however many waves of the pandemic remain, it is likely to be incredibly helpful to the millions of parents of school-age kids in NYS.
If you are in the area (or know folk who are), I hope you will pass it along.
This is what I mean by 2020 being The Year Data Saved The World.
As businesses increase their use of data, it is critical that they do so ethically, and proactively address the many significant, and valid, concerns around consumer privacy.
But while we continue to engage in these vital discussions, it is equally important to remember that data, when used well, can open doors in ways we never imagined it would.
It can help us solve problems in a much more strategic and efficient way than we might have been able to do in the past… not to mention, in a faction of the time.
Just as Jonathan did.
Yes, 2020 really was The Year Data Saved The World.
I wonder what 2021 will bring.
Many thanks to Jonathan Mogil, not just for his work in creating this dashboard, but his generosity in sharing it with us. How have you seen data change the world in 2020? I’d love you to to drop a comment below; the floor is yours. And if you are taking some time off for the holiday weekend, I hope you and yours stay safe and healthy. Happy Holidays!