When Being Digital Is Not Enough

Associate Director at The Sound Horizon Jessica Sandin shares her perspective on re-setting our expectations of what digital technology can deliver.

The World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report “Digital Dividends” Phone Imagetakes a close look at the reality of digital impact across the world. It concludes that there have been significant positive outcomes, but that in aggregate, benefits have fallen short and are not evenly distributed.

A key pillar of the argument is that digital in itself is not enough. The context – what the authors call “analogue complements” – has to be right to enable digital to thrive. While digital solutions have brought development and opportunity to some areas, there is currently a risk that digital may widen rather than reduce the gap between the world’s haves and have-nots.

It’s a timely call to action. Beyond the obvious need for affordable internet access for all, the report stresses the need for regulation, competition and skills to support digital deployments. Looking more broadly at “analogue complements”, however, the message can be taken far beyond development, which is the main thrust of the report.

It’s not unusual to find a rather blinkered faith in the ability of a digital solution or idea to transform an industry or the world in and of itself, because it ‘would work better’ or ‘is smarter’. That’s typically not enough.  It is essential to understand the context you’re launching something into, so you can address any obstacles rather than stumble into them too late. That’s just as true for digital disruptors as for anybody else.

Without an understanding of the context, you’re far less likely to get anywhere. You are, for example, unlikely to successfully launch a digital solution that could ‘save the NHS’ without knowing how that structure works, where budget- and purchase decisions are made, and what obstacles and opportunities you face in getting staff and patients to use your solution. This remains true if you’re launching into a rather less complex environment.

On the other hand, you’ll be a good step ahead if you gain that knowledge and have the humility to adapt your solution so that it works, both for the organisation and for the people who are your intended users.

That’s not to say that those behind new digital solutions shouldn’t challenge the status quo. The challenge is just much more likely to be successful if it’s backed by solid insight and knowledge.

This guest post is from JesJessica Sandinsica Sandin, Associate Director of The Sound Horizon and principal of SAND, a strategy and innovation consultancy. Jessica is the co-founder of Thrive With Digital – an initiative dedicated to helping us enhance our relationship with digital devices.