COVID-19 is the biggest human challenge we’ve encountered in decades — and despite the focus on epidemiology it actually centres on data. In this article, we shift our focus from ‘what happened’ to ‘what we can do better’. Through understanding past crises and recent data in the world around us, we want to help everyday people understand how their choices will lead to a better outcome, dispel uncertainty and use data to chart, draw, and paint a better future.
COVID-19 happened so quickly — and by now it is clear to us all that it will reshape our society in so many lasting ways. It shocked, awed, and changed us in just a few short weeks. While almost everyone was confined to their homes by government-mandated shutdowns, isolation led to deep questions about the world around us: How we’re governed, what matters to us, and with whom we want to spend our precious time. In short, this large, impersonal single-cell driven crisis feels oh-so personal to us all – and is creating in many of us a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
This isn’t the first time that society collectively experienced a traumatic shock. Both the 9/11 terror attacks and the 2008 economic collapse are still fresh in our recent living memory, but the real comparable events occurred in 1918, 1957, and 1968. This was especially poignant when death totals from the 1918 Spanish Flu exceeded tens of millions of people. Only a handful of survivors of the 1918 pandemic remain, and thus our current crisis is new to nearly all of us.
Even taking into account the two other pandemics of the 20th century, very few people experienced similar levels of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Past pandemics affected the world in significant ways — politics, lifestyle, families, and of course the economy. There are lessons from those prior events: During the actual lockdowns, but also in the years that followed and the people who endured those tragedies. How we respond will certainly colour how we look back on this crisis.
Living in a World In Flux
As we entered 2020, things were already changing — political upheaval, globalization breakdown, automation job replacement, innovation moving faster than human comprehension — the world was already in transition. This pandemic hit hard and fast, but now that the shock is subsiding, all nations must begin to chart towards a sense of semblance of normalcy.
Many questions still remain unanswered so we should, therefore, note a key learning moment: This crisis provides us all with a chance to pause and re-evaluate.
We have an opportunity to look at the data and to decide the world we want to live and work in – and rebuild it together for the better. Now more than ever, data will be a barometer of truth.
The last few weeks were an adjustment period, where people watched and debated data more than ever before. Hundreds of dashboards count and filter a local view of infections, deaths, and other key metrics around the coronavirus pandemic, and it impacts our collective psyche. This data is disorienting, morbid, and overwhelming but we are all figuring out how to survive this, together. But despite all of the negative signals, I believe, there is also hope.
Data as The Guiding Light to a Brighter Future
Data can contribute to the healing process, but also shines a bright light on new and exciting changes in our society. Data cannot replace our values, nor should we simply consign our societal decision-making processes to a set of smart algorithms. However, we should use the cast light of data-driven knowledge to gain insights and outline avenues into the future we should strive to shape.
While it’s a jarring shift, many of the things we are doing today will inform a tomorrow that shouldn’t feel distant. These things include our increased focus on the environment, the changing way we are using technology, celebrating front-line workers, how we shop and purchase items, and countless other factors that impact our personal and professional lives.
We are capable of doing more for ourselves than we ever thought. We are resourceful and many people are returning to a simpler way of doing things — whether that’s staying at home with family or getting outdoors (safely) looking for healthier lifestyles. It changed the way we perceive how we could work, the way we may live, what and how much we should give, how our kids would learn, and even how we consume and process information.
In short, it impacts what we prioritize, how we create a sense of purpose in our lives, and where we invest our time. Reality has shifted around us and as we find a new stable perch for our minds in the ‘new normal’, we can choose to direct our gaze, goals, and values to a new horizon, otherwise blocked by the pre-pandemic gruelling daily momentum.
Data-Driven Decision-Making Is More Important Than Ever
The decisions we make today will profoundly impact tomorrow for us, our children, and grandchildren. Data will be at the core of each of these stories because that is what is needed, and yes, also because that is what we do best. And the right data is free from political bias or gut feel – it’s something that is indisputable.
The future will be about a new purpose and a complete pivot that will be driven by analytics that empower the builders of tomorrow. We will each have the opportunity to define our future.