Often an existing tool, process or piece of technology will focus heavily on maintaining the status quo. This is especially true for any sector that has been slow to adopt technology and digitization, like the homelessness sector. This is an issue because we tend to get stuck utilizing technology to replicate inefficient systems that already exist rather than approach technology to reimagine how we work and help others. In fairness, often people do not have the time, money or skillsets required to disrupt the ways things are currently being done.
Co-design by Sector
Various sectors have experienced a lack of appropriate technology to meet their needs. In response, strong niche technology sectors have formed to focus on designing solutions that match the needs, regulations, and idiosyncrasies of specific industries. While hidden by titles such as “insurtech” or “fintech”, what these specializations represent is realizing that the development of disruptive technology requires co-design with users and experts specific to the sector.
From personal experience, it is common for new technology to be developed without consideration of the nuances of the sector it is being designed for. In the homeless-serving sector, there are both idiosyncrasies and needs that need to be met, and simple repurposing of software will not work.
Technological Disruption of the Status Quo
There are many examples of how technology has changed an industry in a positive way, and it often does not depend on cutting-edge technology. Instead, disruptive innovation often requires the repurposing of proven technology in a way that meets the changing needs of the sector.
The responses to an individual’s experience of homelessness are complex and often our systems and technologies do not take this into account. Technology cannot stand alone, it must consider the user’s experience. The current system forces individuals experiencing homelessness to depend on informal networks and personal experience to help them navigate the system and find the supports that they need to exit homelessness. Yet, the technology already exists to digitize navigation of complex systems (e.g., Google Maps/Waze, Uber, Door Dash), it simply hasn’t been applied to this sector.
Making the change
Even if we had the technology, so much of disruptive technology and innovation depends on the people. For many organizations, the adoption of a digital system involves a massive change from the status quo that they may be unwilling or ill-equipped to make.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We have been faced with unprecedented disruption and crises and in my experience, we face one of the greatest demands for technological disruption that has occurred to date. While not everyone is bought into the potential of technology, there is unprecedented investment and demand within this sector and beyond. From small tools and widgets to large-scale software development, the coming years will begin to show how technology can serve the people most in need in our society.
We work in a sector that depends heavily on a complex ecosystem and there is great power in each of us to drive the change that is necessary. From the frontline worker to the leader of a large organization, we can all learn and demand more from our current system.
The collection of multiple social challenges accelerated by COVID-19, makes systems transformation imperative. We can’t wish for reconciliation; we must build tech that advances it. We can’t wish for equity if we don’t have data to drive accountability. We can’t talk about being person-centred, and evidence-led if we sit on innovation that can solve systems fragmentation. To get there, we are going to need a shift in our mindsets, have the safety to try new things and learn from wins and losses. It may take multiple iterations to develop the tech needed to fill the gaps in the sector, but we must start somewhere!
HelpSeeker has quickly grown into a team of more than 60 members who develop and service a suite of data-driven solutions to support social sector decision-makers, service providers, and community members looking for help.
Matt joined the HelpSeeker team in Nov 2020 with a background in driving innovation in the public sector and a heavy focus on healthcare. Matt has deep experience in developing commercialization strategies for complex and technical products. In his previous role, he lead health Artificial Intelligence (AI) at an Albertan tech company. Matt has also worked in commercialization and innovation in Toronto for Sinai Health System. Matt has obtained his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Victoria and an MBA from the Schulich School of Business.