Below is a blog about transformative applications I wrote for the Guardian Sustainable Business blog
This week Transformative-Applications.net was launched. It provides a platform for the presentation each quarter of 10 transformative applications that address some of the most pressing challenges in our society, and five initiatives that support their development and uptake.
We are facing a number of global challenges, such as an increase in CO2 emissions, urban poverty, ageing, growing income gaps and the accelerating depletion of natural resources. As these converge we will face unprecedented pressure and the need for rapid change. Mobile IT applications, now among the most powerful tools available, can help to deliver solutions.
Mobile apps enable people to connect to networks, get access to real-time data, understand complex situations through visualisation, and obtain direct feedback. This represents a historic opportunity to deliver solutions to our challenges that are fundamentally different from those we have today. Connected citizens who understand the impact of their actions, and see through propaganda and PR, could become global citizens with wider ethical boundaries and longer time horizons.
The transformative potential of apps includes increasing transparency and the ability to create new networks. These will allow us to do many things, such as:
See the whole value chain of a product
Apps can help us realise that there is a "story chain" behind products and that our choices are not between different labels, but between the different life stories involved in producing goods. Everyone will be able to see the consequences of their choices, and when the history behind products becomes visible it will be possible to connect directly with the people who produce the things we buy.
Support global citizens working together
Apps can help us create new trans-border networks to influence policy makers and business.
See into the future
We can make choices based not only on what companies and policy makers have done, but what they are planning to do. Apps can help us get real-time information about the investment plans of a company and information about their lobbying. We will be able to see different futures illustrated on a mobile screen and make choices based on these.
These are not future dreams, but possibilities that are already in use in applications today.
However, these apps are currently few in number and hard to find, as they are not developed in a vacuum and there is a lack of supporting initiatives. Without this support, mobile technology will only accelerate the current unsustainable trends. There is no middle ground here and we need to focus on the stakeholders who will influence the direction of the development, including:
- The developers of operating systems such as Apple, Google, RIM, HP and Microsoft. They control the markets and can promote transformative apps in the future.
- Operators such as Verizon, AT&T, China Mobile, Vodafone and Telenor. They influence the use of smartphones and can provide information to users about the possibilities.
- ICT companies, especially manufacturers of mobile devices such as Nokia, HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Apple, Motorola and HP, who can encourage the use of and even pre-install transformative apps.
- Governments, as they decide how to engage with citizens and what they require of the stakeholders on the market.
- All companies that interact with consumers, in fields including retail, energy, health, design and marketing, which can provide apps that allow users to be part of the solution.
Today, most of the above stakeholders are not doing much to support transformative applications, but some have seen it as a way to support the shifts needed in society, and they need support from new clusters and citizens who understand that "ethical consumption" is not enough. Political action is needed and a new generation of mobile applications can help deliver it.
Finally, and most importantly, the world of mobile apps development is still in its infancy and anyone, any organisation, any company, any network, that dares to think beyond the incremental, and about what is really needed, can make valuable contributions. If we act now we can create the underlying infrastructure and policy framework to support the development of many transformative applications.