WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A SMALL BUSINESS FACES THREATS FROM NEW COMPETITORS, DIGITAL DISRUPTION OR CHANGING CONSUMER DEMANDS? THE SMARTEST ONES TRANSFORM. BY BEVERLEY HEAD.
Jessica christiansen-Franks “wasted many hours” of her life wielding a clipboard, trying to engage with locals, and sending out opinion surveys, knowing there might be a 15 per cent response at best.
Governments and developers hired her non-profifit consultancy, CoDesign Studio, to try to elicit from people information about the types of amenities they wanted in their local environment. “But we were incredibly frustrated by how manual it was,” says Christiansen-Franks, who lamented the lack of deep data she could tap for insights.
At the same time, the very people that the urban designer of 15 years was trying to interview were becoming cynical about these “fact-fifinding” exercises and the marketing spin that sometimes seemed to be in play. This was a business heading south unless it made some signifificant changes.
The clipboard had to go. Christiansen-Franks decided to get the data a different way. With her CoDesign Studio co-founder, Lucinda Hartley, she set up Neighbourlytics. If it worked the way they hoped, they’d have both a new business and fresh insights.
They took the idea to SheStarts, an accelerator for female-led startups, secured $100,000 of funding and found technologists who could develop datamining tools using artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud technology. Their aim? To sift through social media, make sense of commentary on usergenerated review sites and extract a raft of other latent data sources to get the insights essential for successful urban planning.
Christiansen-Franks says that while census data might suggest that people who live on Smith Street and Chapel Street are similar, Melburnians know they have completely different “personalities”. As she explains, “If we’re trying to create a city that people love and feel connected to, it’s important that we try to understand the nuances that make neighbourhoods unique.” Only by tapping latent data is it possible to understand “the personality” of each of those suburbs that’s so important to urban planners.
Christiansen-Franks adds that today almost eight in 10 Australians use social media and 35 per cent of them check it more than five times a day. “Social data is rapidly becoming a valuable way to understand how people live, what they value and how they spend their time,” she says. “Instagram and Twitter analysis for a recent project in
illustrations by JON GREGORY