[ The urgent need for Spatial Intelligence in post pandemic thinking and planning ]

2nd July 2021

As we come out of the pandemic, much of the talk is about returning to the ‘new normal’ or ‘building back better’. But before we all pile back into our lives with all the fervour of a Labrador in a cake shop, consider this. 

For many, lockdown has been made bearable by AI driven technologies and their smart algorithms, feeding, connecting and entertaining us. AI makes it even easier for us to default to old patterns and comforts, without questioning whether those are good for us. So will the “new normal” combine our desire for old comforts with the enabling power of AI? And will this be a positive or negative change?

This is also a question that healthcare services should be asking themselves, as more and more is invested into AI. While AI is making certain processes easier, is it promoting positive change overall or locking us into old patterns?

THE PANDEMIC RESPONSE

The global health system didn’t fare so well in the pandemic and despite all our advances in AI, hospitals were unable to manage flow in the eye of the storm. 

Ultimately, lockdown was implemented because of a lack of understanding about crucial people-flow data in hospital spaces. They could not accurately model, recalibrate, and respond to a foreign agent infecting and possibly overwhelming their critical systems. 

The result? Many services operate at 20% of their normal levels, some close altogether and 47 million appointments are lost across GP surgeries and outpatients (IFS and NHS Digital).

SO WHAT IS SPATIAL INTELLIGENCE?

We call this lack of understanding a lack of Spatial Intelligence (‘SI’). Put simply, you can’t have people waiting next to each other in a stuffy corridor or waiting room, when you don’t understand or control what put them there! 

At Spatial Quotient we capture and interpret people-flow data in hospitals and we know that more “SI” is needed to enable a recalibration of global health service delivery and to avoid a repeat of the pandemic shutdown. Spatial Intelligence is understanding the alignment of Space, Time, Interactions, and Resources in real human driven environments and systems. 

While an example of “AI” in healthcare might be the attempt to replicate the Doctor’s decision by interpreting images from a scan; “SI” suggests that before we try to replicate doctors’ decision making, we should first optimise interactions between people and resources more generally.

SUBOPTIMAL ATTACHMENT AND THE NEED TO WAIT

A key indicator of Spatial Intelligence is the conscious removal of ‘Suboptimal Attachment’: the ‘comfort’ we derive from ideas, practices and customs that are outdated, inefficient and need to be replaced. Designing new healthcare spaces with substantial areas for “waiting” would be a great example. Why not remove them altogether? What is it that makes us think we have to wait? 

As a start, Suboptimal Attachment needs to be acknowledged and iterated out of our systems using SI before we can even attempt to integrate AI’s.

CALLING ALL SPATIALISTS

Through this thinking, Spatial Intelligence, as a much more human centred but still highly data driven insight, becomes the lens through which we need to understand our post pandemic and lockdown world. Spatialists are the people and community that integrate Spatial Intelligence in their day to day practice. If you think you are a spatialist we would love to hear from you!

Tim Maguire
Tim Maguire
CEO, Spatial Quotient