Disruptive innovations

My inbox is full of newsletters. I’m one of those people who subscribe to everything, because to paraphrase Emmett from the Lego Movie, Everything is Interesting. Having said that, I rarely read them, because of time or headspace.

However, one release from the World Economic Forum caught my eye this week The Future of Financial Services: How Disruptive Innovations Are Reshaping the Way Financial Services  Are Structured, Provisioned and Consumed, Right, I hear you think, this applies to disaster management, how? The report focusses upon new entrants into the finance market, that is shifting the momentum away from the traditional bricks and mortar, pinstripe suited banking sector. So, the first part of my interest was piqued. When I attended the Global Resilience Forum in Colombia last year, I chaired a session on predictable funding for resilience, and had long conversations about it with my friend and colleague Dan Neely from City Of Wellington afterwards. Funding for disaster resilience, like many other emergency management activities is very linear. It is a Purchaser-provider relationship that has a start and an end. Yet we are seeing many innovations and projects funded through non-traditional sources. I like crowdsourcing. Recently I’ve supported a girl’s school in Afghanistan, the development of a new bike light, a friend’s record, and a documentary about Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. This is not about what a great bloke I am, it shows that someone can easily support financially a range of eclectic projects, easily.

Emergency Management, however, is exceptionally slow at thinking about how to tap into these sources. And particularly when there are new players in the market, who maybe nimble, and niche although also unpredictable, we need to be thinking about to tap into these sources, or help communities tap into these sources. I think also we need to be careful too, with the entrant of these finance providers, many providing the payday type of loans, that as post disaster financial assistance is reduced (check out the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to reduce the Australian Disaster Recovery Payment), people with urgent needs may turn to these lenders, which are easy to access through smart phones, and find themselves quickly and significantly indebted, and with greater challenges in their recovery.

But, it doesn’t end there. The two words disruptive innovations, really caught my eye. I’ve heard my friend Dave, who has an advertising agency, talk about disruptive innovation, but really thought of it as a Madmen concept (Dave is not madmen, though). It is about a new products entering the bottom of a market and working its way up to displace existing and established products. So, in the context of this article, it’s about skyscrapers in Frankfurt and Sydney being replaced by dweeby girls and guys with a smart phone in their bedroom in Tucson, or Mumbai.

Finding all this fascinating (yes, I have said it before, nerd) as I read the criticisms of the stolid banking sector or the new upstarts, I realised I have heard this before. Not regulated. Unsustainable. Not part of a plan, getting in the way, fly by night, well-intentioned but misguided. And vice versa. Not meeting people’s needs. Too slow. Too rigid. We have heard this in the sector in the tension between traditional volunteering and non traditional volunteering, particularly so called spontaneous volunteering and emergent organisations. It is the subject of a project that I am involved with through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, led by RMIT’s John Handmer, and Josh Whittaker . IT is the likes of Blaze Aid, Christchurch’s Student Army, Tassie Fires We can Help or the Digital Humanitarian s Network that are the disruptive innovators, getting in on the ground floor, in response to a need or a perceived need, and growing, challenging the status quo (and helping out along the way).

It is easy to see why they don’t “fit in”. Emergency Management is very linear, temporally (there is before, during and after), spatially (the event only affects what you can see), or organisationally (you move from local to regional to state to national to international. Clearly the way that society is being rapidly restructured, thinking linearly about disasters can no longer apply.

2 thoughts on “Disruptive innovations

  1. Hi John,
    Imagine where emergency management would be with a few more disruptive innovators! I love it that young people have demonstrated great leadership following big disasters and when you think about Sam Johnston and Mel Irons they just saw the problem found the solution and got on with it far more nimbly than the formal EM structure would allow. Just goes to show what we could achieve if we provided an opportunity to give young people a voice in this space.


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