In 2014, Innovate with "Thick Data"

Photo by jurvetson

Photo by jurvetson

Last night, I was hesitant to post a picture on Instagram. I texted the picture to my mother (hey, parental advice never hurts). She promptly forwarded the image to my father, who sent a text to me: "When in doubt, don't post it. It's permanent and future employers might care." Good to know my parents are looking out for me.

But it made me think twice about what I put out into the world. Every digital move I make becomes part of my "permanent" digital record, which, when analyzed as a whole, will tell a fairly complete story about who I was in 2013. While archaeologists once relied on paper and pottery shards to tell a story about what a person ate and the social organization of past civilizations, presently, we input and track this information digitally. Organizations leverage big data to learn where to go next, but big data only tells you more about what you already know. To innovate, organizations need to pay attention to more than big data. If we think about today's tweets as tomorrow's Rosetta Stone, then we might take more care in the context of the stories being produced. 

We use museums to construct stories of the past. To provide a point of contrast, take a look at how these archeologists and specialists chose to tell the story of native american civilization at The Cahokia Mounds.

We use museums to construct stories of the past. To provide a point of contrast, take a look at how these archeologists and specialists chose to tell the story of native american civilization at The Cahokia Mounds.

Nearly every service innovation project begins with a journey of the customer. You can map these out as emotional journeys or functional journeys, but the point is that the journey the customer takes follows a flowing story line. This story line is enabled by leveraging big data analytics, beautiful hardware solutions (think the Nest), individualized software solutions, and of course, interactions with other people.

On the blog "Ethnography Matters," design ethnographer Tricia Wang recently wrote about the concept of "thick data." According to Wang, thick data is:  

Ethnographic approaches that uncover the meaning behind Big Data visualization and analysis.

Think about how we are currently leveraging data we get from social media. Big data tells Instagram where I posted, but thick data tells Instagram why I posted and how to keep me engaged. Without the context behind the data, organizations and people lack the inspiration and emotion to create meaningful products and services. 

My Instagram photos tell a visual story about moments in my life from the past year but what about the context for these moments? Can thick data help us better understand human motivation? 

My Instagram photos tell a visual story about moments in my life from the past year but what about the context for these moments? Can thick data help us better understand human motivation? 

To understand the life of my grandfather, who is now 92 years old, I've handled old newspaper clippings, a story that was published in his elementary school newsletter, articles, photographs, and certificates. When I think about the way I live, I can only assume my grandchildren will be able to find most of what they want to know through a search query. 

In 2014, I'll be paying attention to how people use technology to construct their worlds. From health care to home automation, I look forward to employing these ideas to help our clients produce the insights they need in order to innovate this year and in the years to come. 

Where can you imagine "thick data" having an impact on our world? 
Message me: @alissa_joelle