why not: create a crisis lab

Think about now what you can do, but about what can be done. - Mac Premo

Some time ago I was lucky to attend a discussion on social technology and disasters. It was the kind of event that included Facebook, Google and the like. We chatted about how technology is now and should be considered infrastructure during a disaster. Let's be clear - I love this topic. I love exploring how technology unites disaster survivors and service providers. It's why I continue to do what I do - especially here in San Francisco.

But each time I sit down and listen to organizations talk about this topic I realize something - innovation is slow. What I mean is this... the nature of innovation is usually rapid and quick, but in a disaster, innovation is not quite as fast. Why? I've thought a lot about that - why is it so difficult to create and iterate new tools and capabilities for events that impact large portions of population? Isn't that the point of things like iteration, design thinking and user testing?

 

My conclusion

There is no safe space to create and iterate pre-disaster so a disaster tech debut is well received. If an organization launches a solution in an event you want that solution to be successful and used.... but that means you need to launch something proved and tested. As it stands, there is no safe space to launch. It's hard to test what might work in a situation when you lack an opportunity to create those circumstances prior to the real thing.

 

A Proposed Solution

What if a research and development lab - a Crisis Lab, so to speak - was developed to experiment on how technologies (multiple types and sectors - belonging to different companies) might help disaster survivors and responders? Could startups and old giants alike learn in a space designed to test assumptions and mimic someone's worst day? Could a Crisis Lab make a better product before it's needed?

What's more - could this Crisis Lab develop a better, more robust, useable product that could benefit the bottom line? And could this same lab educate and prepare non-profits and governments on how to best deploy and understand technology's capabilities?

The conversation is valuable (I'm looking forward to participating in the next one), but being able to go beyond words is how change is accomplished. If we want to create a survivor-centric resilient community we need to leverage our experiences and growth more fully. We've got to go beyond the conversation.

 

Which leads to one last question - how and who might create such a place?