Change is here and so are the robots

Believe it or not, there was once a time when the internet didn’t exist. No phones, no smartwatches and no virtual reality. The digital age has well and truly arrived, and with it, numerous opportunities to improve the world around us. Countless business models have been disrupted by digital technology, apps, streaming services, digitalisation of previous analogue formats, connectivity, mobile devices and cloud systems.

AirBNB – The largest accommodation provider but owns no real estate.
Uber – The largest taxi company but owns no vehicles.
Netflix – The largest growing television network but lays no cables.
Facebook – The most popular media but produces no content.

We are moving into what many are referring to as the 4th industrial revolution. This will be a time of unprecedented connectivity, automation and increased interconnectivity between physical, biological and digital spheres. It feels like we only need to think of something for it to appear on our screens the following day. The robots are very clearly here – for example, it was only just this morning that I received a lovely email from robot. His name was Ivan, a friendly bot sent from my internet provider. I looked around and saw all my appliances around my home and wondered which ones were listening to me talk about my day!

So, what does this have to do with social change? It’s simple really; everything.

Change is everywhere within the digital space. Social media brought about the #metoo movement through Twitter. Facebook has been used to connect young isolated farmers in rural New South Wales. Viral campaigns have been created to encourage action among the masses. Remember that ridiculously annoying song “Dumb Ways to Die”? Digital sensors are being used to measure air and water pollution so community can have up to the moment data. Satellite imagery is being used to track abuse of human rights and environmental degradation, while mobile apps are being used to map violence so the public can act or know to be cautionary.

There are many opportunities to harness technology in the social sector if you have access to the internet. Technology can enable new business models, provide access to large amounts of  information, and reduce time and distance. Examples include virtually transporting doctors into remote areas, the use of drones to provide aid, new currencies and this is only the start of what is to come.

While technology can be used to encourage positive change in the social sector, there are many instances in the new digital age that allow for problems and negative consequences to arise.

These include:

  • Technology being used to further advance the power of those with money and capital to accumulate more money and power.
  • Unprecedented and unregulated surveillance where the majority of our actions have been recorded and studied.
  • The accumulation and monetisation of human data is now an industry, a commodity, a weapon?
  • Big data companies are the negotiators for how information is exchanged between countries and continents.
  • Individual profiling with Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT) can make everyday actions completely transparent.
  • Group privacy is now at risk.
  • Big Data can be used to inform targeted marketing aimed at getting people to behave in a certain way.

The possibilities are endless for success and innovation within this new digital age, but it raise the question:

Will we use this newfound power for good, or will we let threat of negative impact prevent the possibility of equality within the social sector?

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Dr Jess Dart 3

Dr Jess Dart

CEO & Founder

Inventor of practical methodologies and highly demanded facilitator, Jess navigates complexity with comfort and helps her clients to become clear about their desired outcomes and how to get there.

Recipient of the 2018 AES Award for outstanding contribution to evaluation, Jess has over 25 years experience in evaluating and designing social change initiatives and strategies in Australia and overseas.

In October 2005, Jess founded Clear Horizon Consulting and is now CEO. She is also a board member of the Australasian Evaluation society.

Jess is passionate about developing and designing real world evaluation and strategy for social justice and sustainability. She particularly works with systems change interventions, large scale strategy and social innovation. After completing her PhD she co-authored the Most Significant Change (MSC) guide alongside Dr Rick Davies, which is now translated into 12 different languages.

MSC is well suited to evaluation in the complex emergent context. The latest innovation by Jess, Collaborative Outcomes Reporting (COR), is a collaborative form of impact evaluation.

Jess is also an active mum and has two teenage boys. In a quiet moment, she loves reading far-future science fiction and enjoys long distance running.