Why a community needs to know its own data

It’s no secret that the big tech companies in the world have grown to be gargantuan predominantly off the back of data. Our world is data-driven, as it should be, and data is now the most valuable resource in the world.

When you come up against a problem, whether as an individual, a business or a community, you need data to help you determine the best course of action. The biggest roadblock to solving our problems is the availability of data. We don’t have it, can’t easily collect it, or sadly can’t afford to collect it.

Let’s look at a situation where Sarah is going to open a new restaurant. At some point she’s going to have to decide what type of cuisine to focus on, so how does she make that decision?

The perfect situation would be to know what everyone in the community likes to eat. She can then compare that to what cuisines are already being offered and make a more informed decision because of it.

How does she find out what everyone likes to eat? Easy she gives a truckload of money to someone who does the market research for her, and she has to cross her fingers and hope that they are good at what they do. This is a huge barrier to entry that the majority of potential new business owners generally can’t afford.

So what does Sarah do as the restaurant owner if she doesn’t have the money for market research? She uses her intuition. Sarah looks at the market and determines what cuisines are currently out there and how many restaurants there are for each cuisine. These are her safe bets, such as Italian, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, and American. A little less safe, but generally still safe are cuisines like Mexican, Japanese, Thai and Greek.

The risk of opening her new restaurant increases when she picks a cuisine that isn’t a safe bet. Now the irony of this is that we as a community are actually crying out for variety. If all we ever have to choose from is safe bet cuisines life gets pretty boring. People are naturally curious and want to try new things. A savvy business owner can create a successful and thriving business based on that curiosity, but if they don’t know what people are curious about they’ve either got to spend a lot of money finding out or take a punt.

So how can data help us? Well that’s simple. An organisation that collects, analyses and aggregates local data on behalf of the community can share that in controlled ways to potential new business owners for little to no cost.

What does that mean? It means that Sarah decided to open a Mongolian BBQ restaurant in Southbourne because it cost her little or nothing to know that there was a large enough market of people living there who showed interest in the cuisine to make a viable business.

We hear a lot about data-privacy these days as the world becomes more digitally-minded. Data is big business and because of that it attracts all kinds of flies. We have to be very careful with our data, but not to the point of being so paranoid about it that we refuse to share any of it at all.

We are comfortable sharing data if we know what it’s being used for and by whom. A community will thrive if it has an enterprise that collects and collates data and uses it to give potential new business owners informed support on their business idea. Keeping our local data local is a much easier proposition to build trust.

At the end of the day ask yourself this? If a local organisation asked you to pick a cuisine you like from a list of cuisines not in your area, and told you the reason for it was so that when people expressed an interest in opening a restaurant of that cuisine they could be directed to do it in your area, wouldn’t that be a good thing for you and for them? You get to eat the food you want, and they get to pay their bills.

Absolutely not. The organisation that can benefit the most from access to collated data about the local community is the local authority. Lowering the costs of decision-making for the council means more money spent on areas that need it. Ironically the local authority has a huge amount of data about the local community already, but with austerity and cut-backs everywhere, we doubt they can justify the cost of collating it internally or subcontracting it out externally.

For individuals, a wealth of data can help them make informed decisions on where to live, what activities and opportunities exist for them, but just as crucially, what doesn’t exist and what is desired.

A thriving, stable and happy community needs low-to-no cost access to its own data.

N.B. if you’re thinking about opening a Mongolian BBQ restaurant in the BCP I can guarantee you’ve got one potential customer already! ;)

Not your average social enterprise