How data analysis can combat some of the world’s biggest issues

In what seems to have happened in a very short space of time, it’s now fair to say that the UK has become a ‘data-driven’ nation. Many of us use data every day to analyse personal information; whether it is tracking our fitness levels or calorie counting, getting a better grip on our finances or even working out how we could be spending our time differently.

Ultimately, at the heart of all this personal data analysis is the search for doing things better; looking for ways in which things can be improved.

Naturally, there’s actually a lot that can be done to improve the way we live in a broader sense as well, namely, using data to look at issues that we previously thought out of our control which gives us a fuller picture of the situation so we can see what steps we can all be taking to help out. Of course, the main issues I’m thinking about here are environmental – and using data to help us get better insights into the way our environments around the world work.

Take for instance one of the biggest environmental concerns, water scarcity and access to clean water, ranked by The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report in 2015 as the number one global risk. Access to water should essentially be a basic human right and yet, three quarters of a billion people across the world have no access to clean drinking water. In fact, the United Nations estimates that 1.2 billion people are living in areas of water scarcity. That’s almost one fifth the population of the entire planet without ready access to something that a lot of us actually take for granted.

By no means is the UK exempt from this issue either. The UK is one of nine European countries that has been described as ‘water-stressed’ by the European Environment Agency and the situation in the East of England is regularly singled out as an area of particular concern. In fact, the NERC has set up a UK Droughts & Water Scarcity research programme to focus on trying to help cope with this issue specifically in the UK. Furthermore, industries that use vast amounts of water as part of their manufacturing processes, such as food and beverage sector, have been tasked by the government to reduce water consumption by 20 per cent by 2020

It is obvious, we clearly can’t go on without resolving this issue; even if it doesn’t affect us today, it soon will. Here’s where data analysis can play a really important role – and help in the way it helps us in our working and personal lives – to give insights into what exactly is happening so that we can improve the situation.

At Qlik, we recently decided to take the lead on a multi-year Commitment to Action for the Clinton Global Initiative, focusing on addressing water availability and quality issues worldwide. We’re working with Circle of Blue, the Columbia Water Center, the University of California Irvine and the Pacific Institute to garner information around water scarcity and create a visual application so better decisions around water allocation, policy changes, crisis response, and infrastructure can be made.

Our other partner, Twitter, will then be taking the insights from the analysis and encouraging individuals worldwide to analyse the data themselves to get an overview of where the issues lie and what can be done to combat them. After all, visual analytics that explain causes and effects and display – artfully – the relative importance of different factors in the water scarcity equation can transform public discussion and political attitudes, as well as provide a sturdy base of knowledge for developing solutions. We’re hoping to keep expanding the project and getting more and more government bodies and commercial sectors involved.

But that’s just one instance of the different data analysis initiatives that can – and have been taken –to help some of the world’s most pressing issues. We’re lucky enough to live in a technologically advanced society, so want to help lead the way in applying technology to existing information to help make the world a better place, but want to inspire many others to get involved. When it comes to water scarcity, we will build a clear narrative of how climate, hydrology, and human water consumption can affect society at both the regional and national scale.

But this data-driven narrative will help set the stage for a number of other different issues and provide a basis for how government officials, businesses, and members of the public should respond to some of society’s greatest challenges globally. It’s an exciting time to be involved in applying technology to help create a better world.

Sean Farrington, UK MD & RVP of Northern Europe, Qlik

Image credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens