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Policymaking

#4 from 2013: Numbers Are Never Enough (especially when dealing with Big Data)

Susan Moeller's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on January 8, 2013


The newest trend in Big Data is the personal touch.  When both the New York Times and Fast Company have headlines that trumpet: “Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition.” (The Times) and “Without Human Insight, Big Data Is Just A Bunch Of Numbers.” (Fast Company) you know that a major trend is afoot.

So what’s up?

The claims for what Big Data can do have been extraordinary, witness Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s seminal article in October in the Harvard Business Review: “Big Data: The Management Revolution,” which began with the showstopper:  “‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’”  It’s hard not to feel that Big Data will provide the solutions to everything after that statement.  As the HBR article noted:  “…the recent explosion of digital data is so important. Simply put, because of big data, managers can measure, and hence know, radically more about their businesses, and directly translate that knowledge into improved decision making and performance.”

The Invisible Hand of Development Policy (and why a Development Bank Should Invest in Social Inclusion)

Arjan de Haan's picture

The word “social” tends to be associated with the softer side in the world of economics and development policy. The “social” is generally less well measured, and in the current world of effectiveness thus less actionable. However the “social” does frequently pop up on the dashboard of policy makers and development practitioners, often when things go wrong, when social unrest erupts, and when economic policies do not have the intended consequences. No wonder, hence, that after the Arab Spring and after the global financial crisis with the loss of legitimacy of previous arrangements, social inclusion or cohesion has come to the forefront of the debate.

The reason the “social” is less well defined and measured internationally (although the Indices of Social Development is starting to change this) is similar to the reason it’s difficult to measure what glue or cement does or is in isolation from the pieces it connects. Sociologist are primarily interested in how people relate to each other and to larger societal structures such as public institutions, clubs, elections, etc., and how norms, trust and values alongside interests are of critical importance in guiding individuals’ behaviour. For non-economists, it is heartening to see how Akerlof and Kranton’s Identity Economics is trying to insert identity, norms, and social categories into (economists’) ways of understanding people’s decisions – one hopes that this will lead to a blossoming of inter-disciplinary research that is critical to understand most of not all development challenges.

Modes of Punditry, Modes of Influence

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As the global system endures another round of crisis, leaders and policy makers in many countries are under pressure. The tip of the spear ---barring riots and protests -- tends to take the form of inflamed punditry: on air, on line, and on newspaper op-ed pages. Since we live in an age of volubility, or what someone calls the paradox of plenty in the global media, punditry is everywhere these days and yet most of it is of dubious quality. The outlets for punditry grow exponentially every week. The question, though, is this: how do we assess the quality of the massed punditry that we are being bombarded with these days?

I see at least two categories of influential pundits:

Media Effects on Foreign Policy

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Recent events in North Africa have intensified speculations about the role of traditional mass media as well as communication technologies in shaping political events and cultures across the world. Media influence on policy, foreign or domestic, has been the subject of some research, but is not generally taken seriously in the relevant disciplines. We have discussed on this blog before that the lack of systematic research and acknowledgement of media influence on policymaking may be due to the indirect nature of this effect. Media do not necessarily influence policymakers directly, but may work through public opinion by shaping what people know and believe about foreign politics. Public opinion, embodied in predominant political views or in election results, can have considerable influence on policymakers that need approval from the electorate.

I recently had the honor of contributing a book review on media influence on foreign policymaking to the foreign policy journal IP Global Edition, published by the German Council on Foreign Relations. I discussed three relevant books: "Unreliable Sources" by John Simpson, "The Al Jazeera Effect" by Philip Seib, and Bella Mody's analysis of "The Geopolitics of Representation in Foreign News." You can find the full review here.

Wanted: How Does Your Organization Use Technology To Help Improve People's Lives?

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The World Bank Institute publishes a magazine, Development Outreach, that covers current issues and trends in international development. CommGAP's Program Head, Sina Odugbemi, is guest editor of the upcoming issue of Development Outreach, which will feature articles and debates around the issue of Open Development. In this issue we strive to present a wide range of perspectives, experiences, and knowledge - and we are asking you to share your experience with us and the readers of Development Outreach. Specifically, we are asking you to send us your stories about projects in which your organization used information and communication technologies to improve people's lives in developing countries. Send your stories to commgap@worldbank.org! You can also share your story by commenting on this post (but don't forget a reply-to email).

The Public Sphere Enters Public Discourse

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Building on Johanna's earlier post on social media, I thought I'd highlight a few points from Clay Shirky's new piece in Foreign Affairs, entitled "The Political Power of Social Media" (users must register). The essay is a thought-provoking contribution to the ongoing discussion about technology's political impact - and it also gives me an opportunity to clarify a few issues regarding my thinking on the Internet and authoritarian regimes.