Humanitarian Technology Hype 2018

Simon B Johnson
Mar 19, 2018 · 4 min read

“And of course we can’t forget about the potential of blockchain..”.

Once again a meeting gets punctuated with the mention of blockchain, followed by much nodding and agreement and, maybe, a little less understanding. There is a lot of hype behind it at the moment, with some announcing ‘The future of world food aid arrived’ and “the potential for blockchain as a tool for social change is overwhelming.”

Blockchain certainly offers opportunities and potential value to the humanitarian sector such as the recent Disberse test by the startnetwork, but how much of this hype is warranted? What about other technologies?

I decided to have a bit of fun and find out. I crowdsourced a list of technologies via twitter

Then I convened a panel of experts (my friends and colleagues!) to rate each on how they judge:

  1. the current hype for the technology
  2. how much impact is has on the sector right now
  3. how much impact it will potentially have in the future.

With this data set I then created visualisation around which technologies were hyped the most.

Drum roll please…here are the results for the Humanitarian Technology Hype 2018:

The higher placed an item is, the more hype it has. The further right an item is, the more potential it has. The size of the circle then represents how much work is needed for the technology to reach its potential. The bigger the circle, the more work that is needed, the smaller circle, the closer it is to reaching its potential.

Now let’s dive into the results and have a play! I’ve divided the visual into 4 quadrants. The top left is the overhyped! The bottom left is low impact, on the right at the top is deserved hype and bottom right is the unsung heroes.

Wow that’s a lot of unsung heroes there! I would just like to caveat some of these classifications in that the panel definitely had a bias towards humanitarian data and information management, so that may have given a bump to ideas like the humanitarian exchange language.

I was really interested in the ideas that had a lot of growth potential. The ones that need the most work to see their true potential. Here is a visualisation with the tech ordered by growth potential.

What’s interesting here is that some of the ‘overhyped’ ideas were rated as having high potential growth. It’s just, at the moment, they have very little impact leaving more room for growth.

As part of the exercise I also asked people to rate ideas, support services and concepts that get talked about a lot in the sector from data literacy to just-in-time logistics to forecast based financing to name just a few. What was interesting about this was that nearly all ideas fell in the quadrant of unsung heroes, getting less hype than they deserved.

I think the important takeaway here is that technology just enables ideas to be implemented. So instead of building hype around the latest tech, maybe we should be providing more hype to ideas such as transparency, human centred design and agile/adaptive approaches which featured on the list.

I’ll repeat the exercise again next year with more rigour as it has sparked many conversations around our office from agreement to controversies.

So what technologies did we miss? Which were scored completely wrong? What result surprised you? What do you agree with?

And finally, based on this data, I’ve made a tool to generate the latest and greatest humanitarian innovation!

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