As data and analytics tools become more prevalent and easier for people of all walks of life to access, this consumerization of data is opening up a glut of opportunities for quality of life improvements in different corners of the world.
For example, some Beijing residents have begun using small handheld devices that resemble old transistor radios to record pollution levels in and around the smog-shrouded city. Activist residents then post the information about the city’s air quality online—information that the Chinese government doesn’t readily share with inhabitants who are increasingly demanding to know just how polluted their city is.
Opportunities for people to share information for humanitarian purposes have also emerged. Ushahidi (@Ushahidi) is an open source platform that allows people to easily gather and share information about disasters or emergency situations, including reports about human trafficking and violence against women. Ushahidi, a Swahili word meaning “testimony” or “witness,” enabled Kenyans to keep current on information regarding post-election violence that broke out in 2008.
Ushahidi has also been used in the Democratic Republic of Congo to monitor unrest and has been applied on a global basis to share and monitor information about the recent swine flu outbreak. Anyone can use Ushahidi to share information from any type of digital connection, including text messages, photos or videos transmitted from smartphones, or information that’s entered online.
Crowdsourcing, or the sharing of information between people, can also lead to regional quality of life improvements. For instance, a group of Carnegie Mellon University (@carnegiemellon) faculty and students has created a crowd-based application called Tiramisu (an Italian word that means “pick me up”) that enables Android and iPhone users to share bus and transit information in Pittsburgh, PA. The application provides passengers with real-time transit information shared by fellow riders, including information about the next buses or light rail vehicles that are expected to arrive at their stops as well as the occupancy levels of those vehicles.
These types of tools are also helping to improve the quality and delivery of healthcare in developing nations. For instance, D-Tree International, a non-profit organization committed to changing the way healthcare is delivered in developing countries, recently received a grant from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation to help scale up a mobile phone-based decision support application that helps healthcare workers in Zanzibar, Tanzania identify and treat children with severe acute malnutrition.
The key to success with the distribution of these types of data tools and applications is making them accessible and uncomplicated for people in all walks of life to use. These are just a handful of examples among the many that are sprouting up around the world.