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Policy Makers and Network Science: Time to Bridge the Divide

Milica Begovic's picture

Last week I attended Masters of Networks, an event that analyzed how a greater understanding of networks can be used to make better policies, especially in the digital era. Many questions built in policy making both from the procedural and substantive perspective involve networks dynamics:

  • How does information spread?
  • Who participates in decision making?
  • How do we collect evidence?
  • Who influences behavior change?

Alberto Cottica, the mastermind behind the event, had a vision of putting two groups of people who traditionally don’t mingle much in the same room – policy makers and network scientists – to see what emerges as a result. Policy makers presented a variety of policy problems, and network scientists helped better frame the problems and address them through applying principles from network theory.

I had the privilege of presenting my perspective of what policy making in the digital era looks like (slides will be put on Slideshare soon). I will summarize below the main points from my intervention, but, more interestingly, reflect on feedback from the group.

My presentation consisted of three elements:

To Give or Not to Give: Getting into Your Head

Johanna Martinsson's picture

In a previous blog post, I wrote about a small airfare tax that’s been implemented in a number of countries to help fight three of the world’s deadliest diseases. The idea behind the initiative (UNITAID) is to raise funds by applying a small levy on domestic and international flights; a levy so small that most people do not even take notice. It’s interesting what the success of this method says about us and human behavior. Let’s say, had a traveler been given the option to donate $1 before purchasing the air ticket, the outcome of UNITAID would probably have been very different. While studies show that there’s a strong connection between giving and the level of happiness, most people opt out. Why?

David Brooks of The New York Times points out that “we spend trillions of dollars putting policies and practices into place, but most of these efforts are based on the crudest possible psychological guesswork.” Understanding behavioral sciences is important. As he points out, sometimes “behavioral research leads us to completely change how we think about an issue,” and result in new policy approaches. He’s referring to one well-known example, which has to do with default settings: “Roughly 98 percent of people take part in organ donor programs in European countries where you have to check a box to opt out. Only 10 percent or 20 percent take part in neighboring countries where you have to check a box to opt in.” There’s something magical about the check box!

Connecting Social Media to the Policy Cycle

Jude Hanan's picture

Here are some fact and figures:

- 62% (that’s six in ten) of online citizens now use social media.

- Facebook has 1 billion registered users and is still growing, mostly in developing countries.

- China has the most people online – 456 million (only 34% of population).

- And nearly 1 in every 5 minutes spent online is now spent on social networking sites.

The business case for using social media in communications is clear: Social media is faster, often cheaper and, for the most part, offers a better way to connect. For communicators, social media is (or should be) an intrinsic part of every campaign or project.

New Year, New Skills: Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Digital IQ

Jim Rosenberg's picture

Every few months I try to go offline for at least two weeks, trading the incessant frenzy of status updates for the pleasures of longform journalism and books (I also have a mad crush on Spanish cinema). In addition to being prone to “Blackberry Thumb” syndrome, social media burnout is an occupational hazard for me. In the spirit of sharing and as this is the season for lists and resolutions, here are five easy ways you can amp up your digital intelligence.

Innovations for Development: 2013 Wish List

Maya Brahmam's picture

A recent Poverty Matters blog post in the Guardian noted that mobile technologies and social media are creating cheap ways for citizens to interact with their governments and that development projects are trying to tap into these technologies. It gave a plug to the Bank’s new Open Finances mobile app that lets users find and monitor bank-funded projects near where they live, using mapping and GPS technology.

With the advent of the New Year and given the on-going work in the Bank on the open agenda, here are three things we may accomplish in 2013:

#1 from 2012: Tuning in to Facebook’s Global Frequency

Jim Rosenberg's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on January 4, 2012

Though I work full-time on social media for the World Bank, my career started in public broadcasting. “Radio is the modern version of oral tradition,” a former journalism professor of mine would say, likening radio to the way in which people have communicated for years: using stories, narratives, to connect, to break down complex ideas into concrete pieces. That line resonated with me, summing up the power of radio to connect people using the shared experience of a broadcast.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

ICT Works
The Choice Between Facebook and Running Water Isn’t Obvious

"Over the past several years two seemingly independent ideas have been gaining traction:

  1. New technology allows developing nations to leapfrog over traditional growth patterns (M-PESA, long-range wi-fi).
  2. The increasing move towards “convenience models” may be pointing the US’ tech sector away from innovation (Peter Thiel’s “they promised us flying cars but instead we got 140 characters”).

In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Robert J. Gordon writes that the US’ current wave of innovation is less of a step forward and more of a lateral move, merely finding novel ways to use innovations made 20 years ago, sitting him squarely alongside Thiel. To illustrate, Gordon asks the following hypothetical question between two options, A and B:

With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002. Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?" READ MORE

Media (R)evolutions: 2012 Social Networking Stats

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Does Social Media Create (or Destroy) Social Capital?

José Cuesta's picture

Like cholesterol, “social capital” comes in bad and good types.

Elusive to define, social capital consists of those bonds created by belonging to a group that instills trust, solidarity, and cooperation among members. We know that good social capital has an enormous development potential, positively influencing economic growth, democracy, cognitive development, and adoption of farming practices, among others.

In a recent study on crime in Colombia1, a colleague from American University, Erik Alda, and I show that high rates of crime help destroy social capital (victims trust less). But social capital can also reduce crime when it effectively increases the involvement of all of us in the prevention and management of crime and violent behavior and when it reduces the temptation of each individual to let others solve the problem of crime.

Stronger interpersonal trust, however, also allows an easier exchange of information and know-how among criminals, reducing their costs of committing a crime. Because bonding and trust within these groups demands the exclusion of others, a perverse social capital may lead to the kind of extreme violence and hatred seen in the Mafia, the Ku Klux Klan, maras, or genocides.

Keeping the Peace: A Tech-Savvy Approach to Nonviolence

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

What do stock trading and conflict early warning systems have in common? Interestingly, both rely heavily on mathematical patterns of recognition. According to Joseph Bock, Director of Graduate Studies at the Eck Institute of Global Health at the University of Notre Dame, scholars such as Phil Schrodt have been applying the mathematics of stock trading to detect and identify conflict before it happens.  This pattern recognition is part of a process that enables local citizens, NGOs, and humanitarian workers to use cell phones, radio, and online forums to help detect and prevent religious, ethnic, and politically motivated violence.  A few weeks ago, Prof. Bock came to the World Bank to talk about his new book, The Technology of Nonviolence, where he discussed the use of social media and other forms of technology to both detect and respond to outbreaks of deadly conflict.


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