Don’t Trust Your Gut

Book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: “Big decisions are hard. We consult friends and family, make sense of confusing “expert” advice online, maybe we read a self-help book to guide us. In the end, we usually just do what feels right, pursuing high stakes self-improvement—such as who we marry, how to date, where to live, what makes us happy—based solely on what our gut instinct tells us. But what if our gut is wrong? Biased, unpredictable, and misinformed, our gut, it turns out, is not all that reliable. And data can prove this.

In Don’t Trust Your Gut, economist, former Google data scientist, and New York Times bestselling author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reveals just how wrong we really are when it comes to improving our own lives. In the past decade, scholars have mined enormous datasets to find remarkable new approaches to life’s biggest self-help puzzles. Data from hundreds of thousands of dating profiles have revealed surprising successful strategies to get a date; data from hundreds of millions of tax records have uncovered the best places to raise children; data from millions of career trajectories have found previously unknown reasons why some rise to the top.

Telling fascinating, unexpected stories with these numbers and the latest big data research, Stephens-Davidowitz exposes that, while we often think we know how to better ourselves, the numbers disagree. Hard facts and figures consistently contradict our instincts and demonstrate self-help that actually works—whether it involves the best time in life to start a business or how happy it actually makes us to skip a friend’s birthday party for a night of Netflix on the couch. From the boring careers that produce the most wealth, to the old-school, data-backed relationship advice so well-worn it’s become a literal joke, he unearths the startling conclusions that the right data can teach us about who we are and what will make our lives better.

Lively, engrossing, and provocative, the end result opens up a new world of self-improvement made possible with massive troves of data. Packed with fresh, entertaining insights, Don’t Trust Your Gut redefines how to tackle our most consequential choices, one that hacks the market inefficiencies of life and leads us to make smarter decisions about how to improve our lives. Because in the end, the numbers don’t lie….(More)”

The Great Experiment

Book by Yascha Mounk: “Some democracies are highly homogeneous. Others have long maintained a brutal racial or religious hierarchy, with some groups dominating and exploiting others. Never in history has a democracy succeeded in being both diverse and equal, treating members of many different ethnic or religious groups fairly. And yet achieving that goal is now central to the democratic project in countries around the world. It is, Yascha Mounk argues, the greatest experiment of our time.
Drawing on history, social psychology, and comparative politics, Mounk examines how diverse societies have long suffered from the ills of domination, fragmentation, or structured anarchy. So it is hardly surprising that most people are now deeply pessimistic that different groups might be able to integrate in harmony, celebrating their differences without essentializing them. But Mounk shows us that the past can offer crucial insights for how to do better in the future. There is real reason for hope.
It is up to us and the institutions we build whether different groups will come to see each other as enemies or friends, as strangers or compatriots. To make diverse democracies endure, and even thrive, we need to create a world in which our ascriptive identities come to matter less—not because we ignore the injustices that still characterize the United States and so many other countries around the world, but because we have succeeded in addressing them.
The Great Experiment is that rare book that offers both a profound understanding of an urgent problem and genuine hope for our human capacity to solve it. As Mounk contends, giving up on the prospects of building fair and thriving diverse democracies is simply not an option—and that is why we must strive to realize a more ambitious vision for the future of our societies…(More)”.

Taking Transparency to the Next Level

Blog by USAID: “In order for us all to work better together, foreign assistance data — how and where the U.S. government invests our foreign assistance dollars — must be easily, readily, and freely available to the public, media, and our international partners.

To uphold these core values of transparency and openness, USAID and the U.S. Department of State jointly re-launched

This one-stop-shop helps the American taxpayer and other stakeholders understand the depth and breadth of the U.S. Government’s work in international development and humanitarian assistance, so that how much we invest and where and when we invest it is easier to access, use, and understand.

The new provides a wealth of global information (above) as well as specific details for countries (below).

The new, consolidated is a visual, interactive website that advances transparency by publishing U.S. foreign assistance budget and financial data that is usable, accurate, and timely. The site empowers users to explore U.S. foreign assistance data through visualizations, while also providing the flexibility for users to create custom queries, download data, and conduct analyses by country, sector, or agency…(More)”.

Under Construction: Citizen Participation in the European Union

Paper by Dominik Hierlemann: “Four out of five European citizens want to have a bigger say in EU policymaking. Already now, they can participate in the European Union through elections, citizens’ initiatives, consultations, petitions, dialogues, and the Ombudsman. But how well do these participation instruments work? Do citizens know about them? What is their impact on EU policymaking? This study examines seven EU participation instruments in depth. It finds that the EU offers a patchwork of participation instruments that work well in some respects but remain largely unknown and create little impact. To strengthen the voice of European citizens, the EU should move from its participation patchwork to a coherent participation infrastructure. Voting every five years is not enough. A democratically accountable and legitimate EU depends on the ongoing and effective participation of citizens…(More)”.

Understanding Public Participation as a Mechanism Affecting Government Fiscal Outcomes: Theory and Evidence from Participatory Budgeting

Paper by Jinsol Park, J S Butler, and Nicolai Petrovsky: “This study aims to advance our knowledge about the role of public participation in formulating budgetary decisions of local governments. By focusing on participatory budgeting as a prominent form of public participation in the budgetary process, we posit that participatory budgeting serves two important roles in aligning the fiscal outcomes of local governments with citizen preferences: (1) increased transparency of the local budget and (2) improved budget literacy of citizens. This study investigates a link between participatory budgeting and the fiscal outcomes of local governments by utilizing data drawn from Korean local governments for seven fiscal years. Employing instrumental variable regression to address endogeneity, there is strong evidence that public participation and deliberation during the participatory budgeting process have a positive association with the fiscal balance. There is also weak evidence that the authority delegated to participatory budgeting participants affects the fiscal balance. The findings of this study imply that it is the quality of public participation that matters in holding the government accountable for its fiscal decisions…(More)”.

European Health Union: A European Health Data Space for people and science

Press Release: “Today, the European Commission launched the European Health Data Space (EHDS), one of the central building blocks of a strong European Health Union. The EHDS will help the EU to achieve a quantum leap forward in the way healthcare is provided to people across Europe. It will empower people to control and utilise their health data in their home country or in other Member States. It fosters a genuine single market for digital health services and products. And it offers a consistent, trustworthy and efficient framework to use health data for research, innovation, policy-making and regulatory activities, while ensuring full compliance with the EU’s high data protection standards…

Putting people in control of their own health data, in their country and cross-border

  • Thanks to the EHDS, people will have immediate, and easy access to the data in electronic form, free of charge. They can easily share these data with other health professionals in and across Member States to improve health care delivery. Citizens will be in full control of their data and will be able to add information, rectify wrong data, restrict access to others and obtain information on how their data are used and for which purpose.
  • Member States will ensure that patient summaries, ePrescriptions, images and image reports, laboratory results, discharge reports are issued and accepted in a common European format.
  • Interoperability and security will become mandatory requirements. Manufacturers of electronic health record systems will need to certify compliance with these standards.
  • To ensure that citizens’ rights are safeguarded, all Member States have to appoint digital health authorities. These authorities will participate in the cross-border digital infrastructure (MyHealth@EU) that will support patients to share their data across borders.

Improving the use of health data for research, innovation and policymaking

  • The EHDS creates a strong legal framework for the use of health data for research, innovation, public health, policy-making and regulatory purposes. Under strict conditions, researchers, innovators, public institutions or industry will have access to large amounts of high-quality health data, crucial to develop life-saving treatments, vaccines or medical devices and ensuring better access to healthcare and more resilient health systems.  
  • The access to such data by researchers, companies or institutions will require a permit from a health data access body, to be set up in all Member States. Access will only be granted if the requested data is used for specific purposesin closed, secure environments and without revealing the identity of the individual. It is also strictly prohibited to use the data for decisions, which are detrimental to citizens such as designing harmful products or services or increasing an insurance premium.
  • The health data access bodies will be connected to the new decentralised EU-infrastructure for secondary use (HealthData@EU) which will be set up to support cross-border projects…(More)”

Data scientists are using the most annoying feature on your phones to save lives in Ukraine

Article by Bernhard Warner: “In late March, five weeks into Russia’s war on Ukraine, an international team of researchers, aid agency specialists, public health experts, and data nerds gathered on a Zoom call to discuss one of the tragic by-products of the war: the refugee crisis.

The numbers discussedweregrim. The United Nations had just declared Ukraine was facing the biggest humanitarian crisis to hit Europe since World War II as more than 4 million Ukrainians—roughly 10% of the population—had been forced to flee their homes to evade Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deadly and indiscriminate bombing campaign. That total has since swelled to 5.5 million, the UN estimates.

What the aid specialists on the call wanted to figure out was how many Ukrainian refugees still remained in the country (a population known as “internally displaced people”) and how many had crossed borders to seek asylum in the neighboring European Union countries of Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, or south into Moldova. 

Key to an effective humanitarian response of this magnitude is getting accurate and timely data on the flow of displaced people traveling from a Point A danger zone to a Point B safe space. And nobody on the call, which was organized by CrisisReady, an A-team of policy experts and humanitarian emergency responders, had anything close to precise numbers.

But they did have a kind of secret weapon: mobility data.

“The importance of mobility data is often overstated,” Rohini Sampoornam Swaminathan, a crisis specialist at Unicef, told her colleagues on the call. Such anonymized data—pulled from social media feeds, geolocation apps like Google Maps, cell phone towers and the like—may not give the precise picture of what’s happening on the ground in a moment of extreme crisis, “but it’s valuable” as it can fill in points on a map. ”It’s important,” she added, “to get a picture for where people are moving, especially in the first days.”

Ukraine, a nation of relatively tech-savvy social media devotees and mobile phone users, is rich in mobility data, and that’s profoundly shaped the way the world sees and interprets the deadly conflict. The CrisisReady group believes the data has an even higher calling—that it can save lives.

Since the first days of Putin’s bombing campaign, various international teams have been tapping publicly available mobility data to map the refugee crisis and coordinate an effective response. They believe the data can reveal where war-torn Ukrainians are now, and even where they’re heading. In the right hands, the data can provide local authorities the intel they need to get essential aid—medical care, food, and shelter—to the right place at the right time…(More)”


Book by Sheila Jasanoff: “From climate change to the pandemic, uncertainty looms large over our public and personal lives. It is also the core feature of democratic life: while democratic governance seemingly heightens individual power, it exposes our life chances to the uncertain activity of others. We do not exercise control over those to whom we appeal, and yet we are constantly dependent on their actions for the goods in life we seek.

Sheila Jasanoff opens a forum on uncertainty and democracy in this volume, arguing that ideas around our autonomy, our freedom, and our individual agency, particularly in the United States, obscure our dependence on others in so many ways. To recognize this political emotion is to start to see the transformative potential in uncertainty.

The debate that follows explores the ideas about uncertainty and experts in a democracy, as well its scientific, philosophic, and emotional aspects…(More)”.

How to Make Better Decisions Online

Article by Josh Lerner and Rose Longhurst: “…First, the good news. Digital participation platforms can enable people to learn, debate, and decide together in more inclusive ways. They generally have several core functions that work well: collecting, reviewing, and revising ideas and proposals; voting on proposals; and reporting outcomes. Along the way, people can receive updates, give feedback, share information beyond the platforms, and integrate offline and online discussions. Advanced platform features are increasingly using artificial intelligence, algorithms, and randomization to connect people and ideas in new ways.

These platforms can make it easier to reach more informed decisions that have broader support. They make engagement easier by automating and distributing work— by collecting ideas, for example, and compiling votes. They make decision-making more transparent by documenting and sharing key information and discussions online, in usable formats. And they make participation more accessible by creating easier opportunities for people to engage at times and in places and languages that work for them.

At FundAction, a European community of activists has used one such platform to make decisions about funding priorities and grants. FundAction is a participatory fund that aims “to shift power to make decisions about funding from foundations to those closer to the issue, strengthen collaboration and mutual support among European activists, and build the capacity of activists and the social movements they work with.” The community is spread across many countries in different time zones, so people need to engage asynchronously at times most convenient for them.

The platform that FundAction uses has made it easier for activists to share their work with people outside their thematic or geographic community, which has helped build solidarity and buttressed political education. For example, disability justice activists shared links to their proposed social model of disability on the platform, making it easier for peers and reviewers to learn about the concept and ask questions. The questions and responses are shared transparently with all, saving the activists time as they do not have to repeatedly address the same points. This open format also serves as a reminder that all of us have questions, as well as solutions, to contribute.

People Powered has used a platform to allocate funds at a global level—and also to decide new organizational policies. People Powered is a global hub for participatory democracy that aims “to expand people’s power to make government decisions.” Its community of members from over 35 countries provides direct support for programs such as participatory budgeting and citizens’ assemblies. Members have used the platform to propose and debate funding allocations and policies and then vote to allocate funds to new projects (e.g., mentorship, trainings and a digital participation platform guide and ratings) and approve new policies (e.g., for membership, board elections, inclusion, and accessibility)….(More)”.

Data sharing between humanitarian organisations and donors

Report by Larissa Fast: “This report investigates issues related to data sharing between humanitarian actors and donors, with a focus on two key questions:

  • What formal or informal frameworks govern the collection and sharing of disaggregated humanitarian data between humanitarian actors and donors?
  • How are these frameworks and the related requirements understood or perceived by humanitarian actors and donors?

Drawing on interviews with donors and humanitarians about data sharing practices and examination of formal documents, the research finds that, overall and perhaps most importantly, references to ‘data’ in the context of humanitarian operations are usually generic and lack a consistent definition or even a shared terminology. Complex regulatory frameworks, variability among donor expectations, both among and within donor governments (e.g., at the country or field/headquarters levels), and among humanitarian experiences of data sharing all complicate the nature and handling of data sharing requests. Both the lack of data literacy and the differing perceptions of operational data management risks exacerbate many issues related to data sharing and create inconsistent practice (see full summary of findings in Table 3).

More specifically, while much formal documentation about data sharing between humanitarians and donors is available in the public domain, few contain explicit policies or clauses on data sharing, instead referring only to financial or compliance data and programme reporting requirements. Additionally, the justifications for sharing disaggregated humanitarian data are framed most often in terms of accountability, compliance, efficiency, and programme design. Most requests for data are linked to monitoring and compliance, as well as requests for data as ‘assurances’. Even so, donors indicated that although they request detailed/disaggregated data, they may not have the time, or human and/or technical capacity to deal with it properly. In general, donor interviewees insisted that no record level data is shared within their governments, but only aggregated or in low or no sensitivity formats….(More)”.