When it comes to Covid-19, apparently “we’re all in this
together”.Which is true – in so far as the extent that first
and third-class passengers were in the Titanic disaster together.
Although the journey for all classes was the same, the experience of
it was wildly different, and so was the destination. With 76% of
third-class passengers losing their lives, compared to 39% in first-class
1, it’s clear that when you’re near the top, it’s much easier
to reach the lifeboat.
In reality, the statement that “we’re all in this together” is a
naive way to reflect on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and an
insufficient driver for decisions we make in response. No-one is
immune to the impact or effect of Covid-19, but for millions of people
around the world, a combined legacy of loss and grief has changed
lives forever. This is especially common in communities that are
exposed to increased risk of infection and which face restricted
access to the support they need on account of their socio-economic standing.
That’s not to suggest anyone who has not experienced the
very worst effects of the pandemic should feel guilt or pity, but the
broader social issues it has exposed should inspire us to act.
The last 12 months have exposed many of us to data stories and
because of the universal threat of the pandemic we have all had a very
clear reason to pay attention. As we’ve followed Covid stories, the
news has made armchair data specialists of us all: we’ve had to
grapple with spatial data and follow local and national rules as the
picture has changed month by month, day by day. We’ve also seen that
misinformation does sometimes drive agendas, even beyond the scope of
the pandemic. Now, whatever conclusions we draw and however we feel
about legislation and restriction, the common ground we share is that
we need good data to drive effective strategies.
The challenge, however, is that for many business owners – and
leaders of social change – is that engagement with spatial data is
often passive: information is presented as an update and a conclusion
or answer to a problem rather than as a tool to use for informed
decision making. This is true in part because analytical tools that
are available require a specialist skillset and years of training.
Plan Spatial is a powerful data tool that has been engineered to
change that and bring data to life in a new way by making the power of
spatial data available to everyone, everywhere – a tool that can be
used to guide decision making and collaboration when greater context
Lessons from history
History shows that catastrophe is often the fulcrum for change. Our
descent into the chaos of the Second World War gave rise to an age of
unprecedented international cooperation and fast-tracked the birth of
the NHS in the UK. The crushing poverty of children in the 1700s
inspired William King to launch the first Sunday School, a movement
which swept the nation and laid the foundations for modern universal
education. Mandela’s discovery of forgiveness during his incarnation
on Robben Island was a key factor in the ending of apartheid and laid
the foundations for his office as South Africa’s first black
president. And, more recently, the increasing number and magnitude of
natural disasters has galvanised a generation of young people to hold
governments around the world to account.
But first a catastrophe can feel like a flood. It brings chaos,
amplifies loss and engages our resolve to do better. We need to accept
that the waters will rage and be ready for when they recede. Our job
during the global Covid-19 crisis is to ensure that the new landscape
this catastrophe reveals, is one that reflects our practical
endeavours to build a levelled playing field that better serves all people.
The phrase ‘when we return to normal’ is heard daily in relation to
the pandemic, as if the way things were was some sort of promised
land. For many, yesterday’s normal was a crushing and relentless
experience – 2020 also exposed the extent to which fundamental racism
is baked into our cultural norms. The deaths of George Floyd and
Breonna Taylor, among others, held up a mirror and forced us to
confront some of the ugly parts of ourselves and our society.
The floodgates opened, and after one man said “I can’t breathe”,
these three simple words captured the experience of millions who often
go unheard. After weeks of global protest, where statues fell and
historical figures were cast in a new light, we were left standing in
a new landscape. Now, almost one year later, old realities need facing
and hard work needs to be done. Our upward calling as a society is to
engage with the reality that people live with, to learn from those who
have experienced it, and explore together how to work in
collaboration and ensure that we don’t return to normal – and instead,
build back smarter.
Here in the UK, Covid-19 holds up a different mirror, and freshly
exposes some difficult truths for our society. Within the wider
context of the pandemic, the defensive play of lockdown has ripped
away a wall, laying bare the reality of the foundations we’ve laid and
the unequal society we’ve built upon them.
As Frank Cottrell Boyce’s provoking Guardian article highlights; The
immediate food issue crystallised around school meals [is] because
we have increasingly turned to teachers to plug more and more of
the gaps in our degraded social sphere.
More broadly, the pandemic exposes that the wider limitations faced
by low-income families, high-occupancy households and ethnically
diverse communities in the UK are very real. And when the country is
stretched, we clearly see the cracks: these households and people
within these communities across the country are less likely to have
access to education, more likely to be exposed to risk, have reduced
access to appropriate healthcare and, tragically, are more likely to
die. Put another way, it’s much harder for some to reach the lifeboat.
And like the Titanic epilogue, the data speaks for itself:
- Individuals from black and ethics minority groups are 4.2 times
more likely to die from Covid than white people2.
- People with a serious underlying health condition are twice as
likely to be living in a multi-generational household3.
- Those living in the poorest areas of the United Kingdom are twice
as likely to die as a result of infection4.
Furthermore, you are far less likely to be able to work remotely and
if you can’t return to work you will have little job security. As a
practical example, for those with limited social mobility,
self-isolating might be unrealistic, which incentivises work to resume
whether you’re well enough or not.
On the global stage society faces a broader moral challenge. Vaccine
hoarding by the world’s richest countries means that ‘14% of the
world’s population have bought up 53% of the eight most promising vaccines’
. The reality for billions of people will be on-going exposure to
this deadly virus, whilst living within an economy and healthcare
system unable to cope.
So what must we do? First, this doesn’t mean you, it
means us. As a society we need an honest conversation with
ourselves where collectively we respect the realities as revealed to
us. And we need to be honest about how we got here and how best to
move forward. Then we need to follow the data, not to build an
argument or an agenda, but to show us where the real conversations are
and where we can find the lived experience that can inform real
change. Then we plan. Practical, transparent and scalable plans.
And finally we act -– testing, learning, measuring and adjusting. And
by preparing for the long haul, we’re ready for a few floods along the way.
From struggle to resilience
There is an ancient story about a man who wrestles with God to
receive a blessing, only to be blessed with a limp to bear throughout
his life. This might sound bizarre, but recently I heard this story
applied to a personal wrestle with mental health, where wrestling a
blessing meant adjusting to a life where bringing better balance to
their mental health was a long-term practice: Living with mental
health struggles meant life still had a limp, but what was once a
symbol of shame became one of resilience, and one that could bring
hope to others.
Everyone needs to wrestle with challenging parts of themselves, and
stay in the fight long enough to make it worthwhile. Being able to
accept, learn from and manage something you live with, and accept past
mistakes, is essential for personal transformation; and brings with it
the ability to navigate life successfully despite limitations, not
instead of them.
The same challenge is felt at scale as Covid exposes the cracks in
our society. These problems don’t exist because of the pandemic, they
are the fruit of our social investment. Our urgent and immediate
labour is to face up to the fight we’re in, to wrestle and engage with
it in a constructive way, so we can forge a new path. We must listen
and learn from people with lived experiences and be ready to find new
perspectives that challenge our own. And as we adjust, the scars we
bear, or the limp we move with, can be a leading light of hope and
change for others to follow – a story that doesn’t deny our past and
our mistakes, but instead finds a way to embrace it for the betterment
Our relationship with data can be complicated, and trust can be
quickly eroded where we suspect that data has been manipulated to fit
an agenda. But robust or ‘good’ data, when used well, can be a
catalyst for tangible and lasting change. In simple terms, data can
tell you where to pay attention and engage – it can help you find
those with the lived experience that may inform policy. And when the
map is at the centre of collaborative endeavours, the challenges
become real: numbers become population centres and people not just
points on a chart.
With the map at the centre, Plan Spatial uses uses open source data
to scale insight-driven social impact by providing teams with tools
and context to drive informed collaboration and better decision
making. The software is powerful, not because of what it can do, but
because of what it reveals – empowering policy makers, decision takers
and community shapers to delivery high impact, insight-driven
strategies and track both their impact and return on investment over time.
From catastrophe to restoration
Among the bad news we have also experienced some of the positive
impacts of the pandemic – advances in science, the resilience of local
communities and the rediscovery that the neighbours next door could
become friends. But culturally we must wrestle with ourselves, because
restoration must be brought to a legacy of brokenness. And in a world
where quick fixes can’t resolve the entrenched problems freshly
exposed by the pandemic, we need to forget about ‘normal’.
To recognise that ‘normal’ was a prison for many, is to acknowledge
and wrestle with our own limitations. And in order to achieve
something better, the focus must shift. Rather than seeing what lies
ahead as a fight to overcome the pandemic, at Plan Spatial we see a
fight to wrestle a blessing that will lay siege to inequality. One
that will serve society for generations to come.
Dan Dowman – Brand Strategist for Plan Spatial
About Plan Spatial – Insight Driven Social Impact
Founded in 2018 by former British Army Officer, Dan Perkins and
global systems developer, Nicholas Jory Plan Spatial is the perfect
marriage of tactics and technology.
Built upon the decision support pedigree of post-conflict
reconstruction Plan Spatial has been engineered to deliver
insight-driven social impact and achieve transformation at scale.
Using a common sense visual interface that anyone can use it brings
data to life on the map, allowing the users to ‘see’ insights, drivers
and impact, revealing what needs attention and where.
Engineered to enhance perspective, Plan Spatial exists to support the
policy makers, decision takers and community shapers on the leading
edge of transformation. See how it works.
Footnotes & resources
Titanic Facts – Titanic victims
Office for National Statistics – Coronavirus
(COVID-19) related deaths by ethnic group, England and Wales: 2
March 2020 to 10 April 2020
ILC Global Alliance – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331993393_Multigenerational_living_an_opportunity_for_UK_house_builders_Final_report_to_the_NHBC_Foundation-source_document
Office for National Statistics – Deaths
involving COVID-19 by local area and socioeconomic deprivation:
deaths occurring between 1 March and 31 May 2020
This article was researched and written in early 2021 before the
phased easing of social restrictions had been made public by the UK Government.