Chasing bad air


It was 1854 and London was experiencing a cholera outbreak. The theory at the time was that the disease was spread by "bad air". This explanation didn't sit well with Dr. John Snow, who took it upon himself to hit the pavement and figure out what was happening. By talking to people in the affected neighbourhood and plotting infections on a map, he found that the disease was clustered around the Broad Street water pump.

In doing his homework and finding out how people lived and moved about, he was one of the first to drastically reduce the cholera outbreak by pinpointing the real problem — the pump. Without challenging assumptions and creating informed and actionable research, we would be fixed to a harmful status quo — bad air.

This is the foundation of exploratory research - question the status quo, talk to people about the things that impact them, understand situations from a qualitative and quantitative perspective, pinpoint problems and then try to create real solutions.

In digital, this ability to question, listen and create is just as crucial.

Many clients have been fed the "bad air" excuse where digital solutions are informed only by status quo practices. Real digital solutions should be an ongoing and participatory process of questioning assumptions — How are things done now? Why are things done the way they are? Is there a better way? What are the barriers to change?

We should seek to understand the sources not just the symptoms. Applying an exploratory research mindset to digital will help you start discussions and seek out alternative perspectives. Actively listening to and quantifying the experiences of your stakeholders or users can pinpoint clusters of opinion. These clusters will help you zero in on the sources of challenges. Finding the source is the first step to a creative and meaningful solution.

Of course, time is of the essence, an outbreak needs quick investigation, as does inquiry into the ever-changing digital landscape. By approaching digital solutions as an exploratory and constructive process we can bring rigour to projects of any size. A tight timeline doesn't mean we should abandon our exploratory mindset, if anything we should strengthen it and apply it more creatively.

Don't be content with a bad air solution — actionable insights are about finding the source. What's your water pump?

Can we help you get to the bottom of your challenges?