The most important word in "public policy" is "public" — the people affected by the choices of policymakers.
But who are these people? And what do they care most about? Policies evolve as the concerns of generations change over time. Regardless of whether you are generation X, Y, or Z, people want the same things: prosperity and dignity, equality of opportunity, justice and security.
It’s a dilemma only known in contemporary times: how to balance security and privacy.
Today, the internet is increasingly accessed through mobile devices, people are sharing more across multiple outlets, and bulk collection of data is growing. Private, personal information—Google searches, page clicks, GPS locations, and credit card swipes are all collected constantly and invisibly, often without the consumer's permission. Not only are businesses engaging in this tracking, but governments are also conducting surveillance on the basis of national security concerns.
Governments have defended their actions by claiming that the information gathered helps fight threats to national security, both foreign and homegrown. People understand that governments need to give due weight to both privacy and national security; unfortunately, many do not receive even the most basic information regarding their country’s surveillance programs or whether their privacy is being violated.
According to Claire Connelly, “people’s right to privacy is being reduced by the day on the grounds of national security. And while it’s important to keep people safe from terror and other forms of national security threats, it’s arguable whether this should come at the cost of privacy."
Conflict of interest: Digital privacy vs. national security
Afghanistan’s Bamyan province is best known for its ancient statues of Buddha, destroyed 15 years ago by the Taliban government. Today, its relative security and freezing winters are aiding the growth of a fledgling skiing industry. Mukhtar Yadgar explains how a radio station is helping local people discuss its potential for growth.
A five minute drive from the site where the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan once stood, a radio mast sprouts from the ground. It belongs to Radio Bamyan, a local radio station in one of Afghanistan’s most mountainous regions. It’s summer now and wisps of brown dust rise up with the heat, yet in the winter months, Radio Bamyan’s roof is covered with snow.
Bamyan’s frosty winter weather, steep slopes and relative security have popularised skiing in the province. However, there are no ski-lifts, no chalets and certainly no après-ski. In the absence of sporting infrastructure, it was recently announced that two skiers from Bamyan will be representing Afghanistan at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Bamyan is also the venue for the annual Afghan Ski Challenge – which counts ‘no weapons allowed’ amongst its rules. Yet despite these successes suggesting a potential new ski-tourism destination, most of the local population, a relatively poor community, has had little opportunity to discuss what the growth of the skiing industry would mean for them.
"Digitale Teilhabe für alle" (digital participation for everyone) was the theme of last week's Volkshochschultag 2016, an international conference convened in Berlin by the German Adult Education Association (DVV) to explore the impact and consequences of the increasing use of digital technologies in education around the world, especially as they relate to equity and inclusion. "Does digitisation provide an opportunity for educational justice or does it strengthen the unequal access to education even more?" This question (which admittedly flows off the tongue a little better in German than it does in English) animated a related debate (in which I participated) on the last day of the conference.
In support of my pithy, one word response to this question (an enthusiastic and deliberately argumentative ja!), I drew heavily on the 2016 World Development Report, which the World Bank released earlier this year. This widely read, 'flagship' annual World Bank publication explores a topic of broad relevance in the fields of international development and development economics. The 2016 report, Digital Dividends [pdf, 10.8mb), examines the impact that the Internet and mobile networks are having (and not having) around the world.
As a primer on the uses of ‘informational and communication technologies for development’ (what’s known as ‘ICT4D’ by those in related fields who like acronyms), the 2016 World Development Report is quite comprehensive. Surveying and exploring how ICTs are impacting fields such as agriculture, finance, government services, education, energy, the environment and healthcare (and many others), ‘Digital Dividends’ is a World Bank report written for people who don’t normally read (or perhaps even care about) World Bank reports.
It is relatively catholic in its worldview, although not surprisingly there is a decided focus on things the Bank cares about (e.g. economic growth, jobs), but thankfully in language a bit more accessible than what one often finds in publications put out by an institution which employs over 1,000 PhD economists. Happily, there’s not a single mention of a ‘production function’, for example; and I really like the cover!
But I don’t mean to ‘bury the lede’, as journalists say. Here, quickly, are the main messages from the 2016 World Development Report:
For the first time in history, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series, I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030:good governance,gender equality,conflict and fragility, preventing and adapting to climate change, and, finally, creating jobs.
Good jobs are the surest pathway out of poverty. Research shows that rising wages account for 30 to 50% of the drop in poverty over the last decade. But today, more than 200 million people worldwide are unemployed and looking for work — and many of them are young and/or female. A staggering 2 billion adults, mostly women, remain outside the workforce altogether. In addition, too many people are working in low-paying, low-skilled jobs that contribute little to economic growth. Therefore, to end poverty and promote shared prosperity, we will need not just more jobs, but better jobs that employ workers from all walks of society.
There is increasing evidence that labor markets in developed countries are polarizing or hollowing out. On the one hand, the share of employment in high-skilled, high-paying occupations (managers, professionals and technicians) and low-skilled, low-paying occupations (elementary, service, and sales workers) is growing. On the other hand, the share of employment in middle-skilled, middle-paying occupations (clerks, plant and machine operators) is being squeezed. There is ample evidence of polarization in the United States (see Acemoglu and Autor, 2011; Autor and Dorn, 2013; and Autor (2014) for a less technical discussion), and also in Western Europe (Goos, Manning, and Salomons, 2014). Harrigan, Reshef and Toubal (2016), more recently, document the same phenomenon in France, using firm-level data.
Madagascar is big—it’s the fourth largest island in the world, more than twice as big as the United Kingdom. Madagascar’s size, its tropical climate, dense forests and steep hills, combined with a lack of money for infrastructure deployment and maintenance, means there are isolated pockets of people all over the country without easy access to cities, to information, to the world.
Until recently, mobile and communications services were confined to a few, mostly urban, areas. That left people living in rural areas cut off. When we were in Madagascar, working on this project, we saw many rural communities in dire need of essential infrastructure and services. People in some villages live far from any road, or rely on dirt tracks that turn to impassable mud ways in the rainy season, without access to electricity, hospitals, or banks.
So, in this environment, access to mobile communications cannot be considered a luxury anymore—it’s a vital service that overcomes physical barriers and infrastructure gaps. With mobile service, people can contact family members in case of an emergency, call for medical help, and transfer money via their cell phones. Farmers—a large majority of the country population works in agriculture, and especially the poorest—can use the internet to check market prices for their produce, or get information on fertilizers. Schools with connectivity can reach the world, giving students access to information ranging from Victor Hugo’s novels to Fermat’s last theorem. Phones can be vital tools for health and well-being.