Tech for Change: Using data intelligence to solve the most critical problems of today

It is easy to blame technology for the problems we have – we don’t talk anymore like we used to, children don’t go out and play and so on.

While it is glorious to revel in the nostalgia of the ‘good old days’, we tend to overlook how technology has changed our lives in fundamentally positive ways in the last two decades.

We have never been more connected to each other and education has never been cheaper than it is today. Innovators get younger every year as access to the internet gives children an unlimited resource to fulfill their natural curiosity.

Tech for Change is a new series of columns that will explore the ways in which technology has radically altered the way we solve problems of varying complexities.

This week we’re looking at SocialCops, a Delhi-based firm that uses data intelligence to solve the most critical problems of today. These range from the gross inefficiencies in the public education system which are holding students back, to the seemingly impossible task of finding parking for your car.

What is data intelligence?

Data intelligence is the process of collecting data from numerous sources and then analyzing it to derive actionable insights. Today, there is an immense focus on decision-making grounded in data and practicality.

The development of metrics and sophisticated tools for measurement allows organisations to keep an eye on the effect of their choices, sometimes in real time. For example, Google Analytics lets you measure the impact of every rupee spent on advertising. Many businesses all over the world have adopted data intelligence to increase profits and cut costs. Several gain a competitive edge solely because of their ability to collect important metrics and deploy the insights derived from them.

Decision-making based on data is by no means a new concept and the government has been doing it for ages. The government is one of the largest aggregators of data on metrics like population, health and education. Unfortunately, due to many variables, this data is often incomplete or inaccurate. As the quality of decisions is only as good as the data that informs it, such shortcomings are then reflected in the policies made by different stakeholders of the public sector.

What SocialCops gets right, right from the start

In a country as vast as India, not everyone is as connected to the Internet. Access to technology is most restricted for people that could derive the greatest benefit from it. While surveying the readers of a website may be as easy as having a pop-up survey, there is no digital way to reach people in the remotest corners of India.

Therefore, the collection of primary data on them can only be done on ground, with field researchers and data acquisition teams. Although this process has been carried on ever since the first census in 1872, SocialCops has revolutionized the process to better reflect the pace with which tech has evolved in other areas.

SocialCops has worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to bring clean cooking fuel to around 50 million women in a span of three years. They worked with All India Bakchod to develop data-driven sketches examining issues like corruption, sex education and fire safety. They helped build a digital map of parking lots in cities for Get My Parking, a startup that aims to solve the parking crisis in India.

SocialCops has been able to achieve such incredible feats due to their platform consisting of four applications — Collect, Access, Transform and Visualize. Collect makes it easy for anyone to create surveys without without having to code. It even allows the researcher to collect data without an internet connection. This is especially useful in areas where the network is spotty or non-existent.

Access is a massive repository of verified datasets from the government and other sources. Transform handles the bane of most primary researchers‘ existence: it cleans and formats the data to make analysis easier and more accurate
Visualize brings the work of all other platforms to a fitting culmination. It converts the processed data into graphics, tables, charts, etc. for decision-makers to understand the information better, thereby enabling better decisions.

The Right to Education(RTE) was enacted in 2009 to ensure education for every child between the ages of 6 and 14 in India. In 2015, as part of its campaign, Oxfam partnered with SocialCops to measure the gaps in the implementation of RTE.

The first step was to create a set of metrics on which schools could be measured and which were a reliable indicator of the quality of education provided by them. 1.4 million schools were surveyed on aspects like accessibility for the differently abled, availability of utilities and teacher-pupil ratio. This information was then compiled in an interactive scorecard which was sent to the elected representatives of the districts covered in order to impress upon them the areas where their schools fell short. ‘Haq Banta Hai’, Oxfam’s campaign for RTE went on to get 4,30,000 signatures. Find more details about this particular project here.

How SocialCops has has disrupted the conventional decision-making process

There is a growing understanding in the industry of the need for reliable and validated datasets. Everyone, from doctors to presidents, is talking about the revolution this has and will bring about in our lives. In the book ‘Everybody Lies’ by Seth Steven-Davidowitz, the author uses datasets readily available on Google Trends to draw interesting conclusions about the nature of racism, sexuality and relationships in America which could not be gleaned through traditional methods of looking at data.

While a corresponding dataset for India may exist, a large part of our population simply does not Google enough for the search results to be truly representative. The most advanced analytics will fail if the data is not up to snuff. SocialCops’ solution is to use a number of datasets from different sources for secondary data and rationalizing the process of primary data collection.

Better data will lead to better decisions and better, more measurable development for the nation!

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