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Campaigns

The Things We Do: How Crowd Science Can Help Eliminate Biases

Roxanne Bauer's picture

There is a new and exciting field emerging that combines the insight of analytics and psychology; it’s known as crowd science.  Already, it’s a fairly pervasive industry, involving not just data scientists but also behavioral economists, marketers, and entrepreneurs.
 
Crowd science analyzes data (through mining, algorithms, statistical modeling, and others) and then applies psychological or behavioral theories to make sense of the analyses. It is sometimes referred to as the “guinea pig” economy because it utilizes consumer tests— often without the consumer realizing it— to obtain its data and, therefore, insight.
 
One of the most popular forms of crowd science is A/B testing whereby website visitors are shown different interfaces or versions of the same site. The way in which each visitor navigates through the site is then tracked to determine which version is more appealing or effective. One reason A/B testing is so helpful is that it divides users into a control group and a treatment group, allowing the engineers of the experiment to determine not just what the issues are but how to solve them. It also allows decision-makers to test for biases in project design and implementation.

How to Insult Your Opponent

Sina Odugbemi's picture

You really should not go around insulting those who take an opposing viewpoint in public debate. The ideal is clear. You treat opponents with respect. You take seriously what they are saying. In responding, you do not cheat, you do not unfairly sum up or characterize what they are saying. You acknowledge facts; you are not entitled to inventing your own facts. Above all, as much as possible, you avoid logical fallacies. You argue logically and cogently. For, that is the only way that the search for truth is advanced, and it is the only way that informed public opinion created. In short, abuse is no argument. Civility in public discourse is a great and worthwhile ideal.

And yet!

Much of public debate and discussion takes the form of invective. It was always thus; and it seems it will always be thus. The culprits, I suppose, are human passions; those self-same unruly horses that carry us to great heights when we want to achieve something worthwhile. We often become so convinced that we are right that we cannot imagine how anyone would disagree. And when we confront opponents who are as certain as we are that they are right something seems to snap. Faces contort. Abuse and spit fly. No matter how often people are told to calm down, commit to logical reasoning, respect facts… nothing seems to work. A huge chunk of public debate on the great issues of the day is characterized by the trading of insults.

Insults must serve a purpose, otherwise how come all public political cultures have them?

Campaigning on Hot v Cold Issues – What’s the Difference?

Duncan Green's picture

I recently began an interesting conversation with our new campaigns and policy czar, Ben Phillips, who then asked me to pick the FP2P collective brain-hive for further ideas. Here goes.

The issue is ‘cold’ v ‘hot’ campaigning. Over the next couple of years, we will be doing a lot of campaigning on climate change and inequality. Inequality is flavour of the month, with an avalanche of policy papers, shifting institutional positions at the IMF etc highlighting its negative impacts on growth, wellbeing, poverty reduction, and just about everything else. That makes for a ‘hot campaign’, pushing on (slightly more) open doors on tax, social protection etc.

In contrast, climate change is (paradoxically) a pretty cold campaign. Emissions continue to rise, as do global temperatures and the unpredictability of the weather, but you wouldn’t think so in terms of political agendas or press coverage (see graph). The UN process, focus of huge attention over the last 15 years, is becalmed. Politicians make occasional reference to ‘green growth’, but that is becoming as vacuous as its predecessor ‘sustainable development.’

The distinction is not so clear cut, of course. Hot campaigns can suddenly go cold and vice versa (politicians and officials are able to go from saying ‘no, don’t be ridiculous’ to ‘we’ve always supported this’ with bewildering ease, when the moment is right). You could argue that the Arms Trade Treaty campaign was one of those. But a campaign needs to get seriously hot if it involves a major redistribution of power and influence (like taxation/inequality or climate change, but not, I would argue, the Arms Trade Treaty).

So the essay question is: do you campaign differently on hot v cold campaigns, and if so, how? Here are some initial thoughts:

Campaigning and Complexity: How Do We Campaign on a Problem When We Don't Know the Solution?

Duncan Green's picture

Had a thought-provoking discussion on ‘influencing’ with Exfamer (ex Oxfam Australia turned consultant) James Ensor a few days ago. The starting point was an apparent tension between the reading I’ve been doing on complex systems, and Oxfam’s traditional model of campaigning.

In my first days at Oxfam, I was told that the recipe for a successful campaign was ‘problem, villain, solution’ (heroes are apparently optional). And sure enough, if you look at good/bad campaigns, the presence or absence of all three ingredients seems pretty key.

But one of the characteristics of complex systems is that solutions are seldom obvious and often only emerge from trial and error. Elsewhere I’ve translated the offputting language of complexity theory into ‘how do you plan when you don’t know what’s going to happen?’ But in the case of advocacy and campaigns aimed at influencing government or international organizations’ policies, a better formulation would be ‘how do you campaign when you don’t have a solution?’

The first option is of course to pretend that you do anyway. Echoes of Yes Minister’s ‘we must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it!’. Not that Oxfam would ever stoop to such a thing, obviously.

Alternatively, stick to problems that are less complex, at least at first sight. Campaign to give people money, or bednets, or vaccines, or food (although any of these efforts in practice are unlikely to stay neat and linear for long).

But there are a number of other options:

Pick Your Celebrity!

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

You know those pictures of Angelina Jolie hugging a starving child in Chad? Elton John singing at AIDS fundraisers? Bono being everywhere all over Africa in campaigns against poverty? There is a very good reason why celebrities lend their names and faces to development causes: it works. By the sheer force of their fame they draw attention to issues that would normally not be on our radar screen and they are able to mobilize parts of the population that does not always have access to information about development issues. So all you need to do is put a famous face on your cause and you’re set for success – increased awareness, increased attention, increased funding, and sometimes even behavior change? It’s not quite as easy as this. Picking the right celebrity is important, or the whole thing can backfire. Here are a few dos and don’ts when involving celebrities in a cause.

Make Inequality History? What Would Change if We Focused on Inequality Rather than Poverty?

Duncan Green's picture

Last week I spoke at a Brussels conference on inequality, organized by the Belgian NGO coalition 11.11.11. Inequality is flavour of the month right now, showing surprising staying power within the post-2015 process and elsewhere. Inequality gabfests usually involve violent agreement that inequality is indeed a Bad Thing, lots of evidence for why this is the case, and polite disagreements on what inequality we should target first – often along the lines of ‘because inequality is really important, we should all work on X’, where X just happens to be the thing that person works on anyway. A more retro variant involves ritual combat between supporters of equality of opportunity (aka American Dream) v equality of outcome (Socialist Paradise). Cynical, moi?

But in Brussels, I had a more difficult, but interesting job: what, if anything, should we do differently if our focus is on inequality rather than, say ‘getting to zero’ on poverty? So let’s imagine. It’s 2015, the UN has signed off on a shift in focus from poverty (MDGs) to inequality (post-2015). True, the commitment is a little vague (hey, this is the UN we’re talking about), but now NGOs and official donors are charged with the task of turning this into a viable campaign and lobbying exercise. What might a Make Inequality History campaign look like?

The Rise of Brazil’s 'Marqueteiros'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Did you know that Brazil is now exporting political campaign strategists? According to a fascinating profile published in the New York Times, Brazil’s top political campaign consultants are now working on elections in other Latin American countries, and they are even beginning to venture into Africa. Written by Simon Romero, the profile focuses on the work of Joao Santana, apparently a colorful and controversial figure. Key quotes:

In the past year, Mr Santana, a hypercompetitive 60-year-old former lyricist for an avant-garde rock band who refers to elections as “almost bloody combat,” accomplished the uncommon feat of simultaneously running winning campaigns for three presidents: Danilo Medina, in the Dominican Republic; Hugo Chavez, in Venezuela; and Jose Eduardo dos Santos, in Angola.

He [Mr Santana, that is] described politics as an activity involving theater, music and even religious rites since “primordial” times, and, with a dash of humor, said about his field, “Just as psychoanalysts help people to have sex without guilt, we help people to like politics without remorse.’

What Would a Global Campaign on Production and Industrial Policy Look Like?

Duncan Green's picture

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan (as well as friend) of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang (right), whose most recentbook, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism should be at the top of any policy wonk’s reading list. Last Saturday, he gave a brilliant keynote at the annual conference of the UK Development Studies Association. Its title, ‘Bringing Production Back into Development’, was a deliberate challenge to those in the room, as he argued that the discussion on development has become like Hamlet without the Prince.

The Prince, according to Ha-Joon is ‘productive capabilities’ – the steady upgrading in skills and industry that has characterized virtually every successful experience of national development, including of course his native Korea. From Adam Smith to the 1980s, the consensus was that such upgrading was the core business of development. No longer.

'Bricifying' International NGOs is Hard Work: The Challenges Facing Oxfam India

Duncan Green's picture

I spent last week trying to understand an intriguing experiment. About five years ago, Oxfam GB’s 'white men in shorts' left India, along with all the other Oxfam affiliates, and a new, completely Indian-run Oxfam India took over. All part of ‘Bricification’ within the Oxfam family (there’s an Oxfam Brazil in the pipeline too).

So what’s changed? After a period of reflection Oxfam India has opted for a strategy combining programming with increased levels of advocacy in areas such as smallholder agriculture & climate change, natural resource management, right to education and health, violence against women and women’s empowerment, along with a hefty dose of emergencies work and disaster risk reduction. Its two ‘emerging themes’ are urban poverty and ‘India and the World’ – for example the impact of Indian investment in Africa, or India’s role in the G20.

But it hasn’t been easy. The apparently unanswerable political logic of ‘Indianizing Oxfam’ has faced some pretty steep challenges, as I found out in a consultation with partners from Indian civil society. These come in two broad areas: political and financial.

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