Building Capacity for Evidence-Informed Policy-Making


OECD Report: “This report analyses the skills and capacities governments need to strengthen evidence-informed policy-making (EIPM) and identifies a range of possible interventions that are available to foster greater uptake of evidence. Increasing governments’ capacity for evidence-informed is a critical part of good public governance. However, an effective connection between the supply and the demand for evidence in the policy-making process remains elusive. This report offers concrete tools and a set of good practices for how the public sector can support senior officials, experts and advisors working at the political/administrative interface. This support entails investing in capability, opportunity and motivation and through behavioral changes. The report identifies a core skillset for EIPM at the individual level, including the capacity for understanding, obtaining, assessing, using, engaging with stakeholders, and applying evidence, which was developed in collaboration with the European Commission Joint Research Centre. It also identifies a set of capacities at the organisational level that can be put in place across the machinery of government, throughout the role of interventions, strategies and tools to strengthen these capacities. The report concludes with a set of recommendations to assist governments in building their capacities…(More)”.

Computational social science: Obstacles and opportunities


Paper by David M. J. Lazer et al: “The field of computational social science (CSS) has exploded in prominence over the past decade, with thousands of papers published using observational data, experimental designs, and large-scale simulations that were once unfeasible or unavailable to researchers. These studies have greatly improved our understanding of important phenomena, ranging from social inequality to the spread of infectious diseases. The institutions supporting CSS in the academy have also grown substantially, as evidenced by the proliferation of conferences, workshops, and summer schools across the globe, across disciplines, and across sources of data. But the field has also fallen short in important ways. Many institutional structures around the field—including research ethics, pedagogy, and data infrastructure—are still nascent. We suggest opportunities to address these issues, especially in improving the alignment between the organization of the 20th-century university and the intellectual requirements of the field….(More)”.

Winter is coming. Can cities use innovation to save ‘streateries’?


Bloomberg Cities: “Outdoor dining has been a summer savior in these COVID times, keeping restaurants and the people they employ afloat while bringing sidewalks and streets once hushed by stay-at-home orders back to life.

But with Labor Day now behind us, many city leaders and residents alike are asking, “What’s next?” “What becomes of the vibrant ‘streateries’ once winter comes rolling in?”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Chicago, notorious for its frigid winters and whipping lakefront winds, is at the forefront of the hunt for an answer. The city recently launched the City of Chicago Winter Dining Challenge to get everyone from designers to dishwashers thinking up new ideas for how to do outdoor eating in the cold in a way that is both appealing and safe for customers and restaurant workers.

More intriguing is just how much interest the competition has generated, including nearly 650 entries from all over the world. There are dozens of takes on warming large patios and small dining pods, including approaches likened to greenhousesigloos, and yurts; ideas for repurposing parking garages and city buses; furniture-based concepts with heated tablesseats and umbrellas, and even a Swiss-style fondue chalet.

The goal, said Samir Mayekar, Chicago’s Deputy Mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development, is to surface ideas city leaders would never have thought of. Three winners will get $5,000 each and see their ideas piloted in neighborhoods across the city in October….(More)”.

The Razor’s Edge: Liberalizing the Digital Surveillance Ecosystem


Report by CNAS: “The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating global trends in digital surveillance. Public health imperatives, combined with opportunism by autocratic regimes and authoritarian-leaning leaders, are expanding personal data collection and surveillance. This tendency toward increased surveillance is taking shape differently in repressive regimes, open societies, and the nation-states in between.

China, run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is leading the world in using technology to enforce social control, monitor populations, and influence behavior. Part of maximizing this control depends on data aggregation and a growing capacity to link the digital and physical world in real time, where online offenses result in brisk repercussions. Further, China is increasing investments in surveillance technology and attempting to influence the patterns of technology’s global use through the export of authoritarian norms, values, and governance practices. For example, China champions its own technology standards to the rest of the world, while simultaneously peddling legislative models abroad that facilitate access to personal data by the state. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic offers China and other authoritarian nations the opportunity to test and expand their existing surveillance powers internally, as well as make these more extensive measures permanent.

Global swing states are already exhibiting troubling trends in their use of digital surveillance, including establishing centralized, government-held databases and trading surveillance practices with authoritarian regimes. Amid the pandemic, swing states like India seem to be taking cues from autocratic regimes by mandating the download of government-enabled contact-tracing applications. Yet, for now, these swing states appear responsive to their citizenry and sensitive to public agitation over privacy concerns.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic offers China and other authoritarian nations the opportunity to test and expand their existing surveillance powers internally, as well as make these more extensive measures permanent.

Open societies and democracies can demonstrate global surveillance trends similar to authoritarian regimes and swing states, including the expansion of digital surveillance in the name of public safety and growing private sector capabilities to collect and analyze data on individuals. Yet these trends toward greater surveillance still occur within the context of pluralistic, open societies that feature ongoing debates about the limits of surveillance. However, the pandemic stands to shift the debate in these countries from skepticism over personal data collection to wider acceptance. Thus far, the spectrum of responses to public surveillance reflects the diversity of democracies’ citizenry and processes….(More)”.

Bringing Structure and Design to Data Governance


Report by John Wilbanks et al: “Before COVID-19 took over the world, the Governance team at Sage Bionetworks had started working on an analysis of data governance structures and systems to be published as a “green paper” in late 2020. Today we’re happy to publicly release that paper, Mechanisms to Govern Responsible Sharing of Open Data: A Progress Report.

In the paper, we provide a landscape analysis of models of governance for open data sharing based on our observations in the biomedical sciences. We offer an overview of those observations and show areas where we think this work can expand to supply further support for open data sharing outside the sciences.

The central argument of this paper is that the “right” system of governance is determined by first understanding the nature of the collaborative activities intended. These activities map to types of governance structures, which in turn can be built out of standardized parts — what we call governance design patterns. In this way, governance for data science can be easy to build, follow key laws and ethics regimes, and enable innovative models of collaboration. We provide an initial survey of structures and design patterns, as well as examples of how we leverage this approach to rapidly build out ethics-centered governance in biomedical research.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we argue for learning from ongoing data science collaborations and building on from existing standards and tools. And in so doing, we argue for data governance as a discipline worthy of expertise, attention, standards, and innovation.

We chose to call this report a “green paper” in recognition of its maturity and coverage: it’s a snapshot of our data governance ecosystem in biomedical research, not the world of all data governance, and the entire field of data governance is in its infancy. We have licensed the paper under CC-BY 4.0 and published it in github via Manubot in hopes that the broader data governance community might fill in holes we left, correct mistakes we made, add references and toolkits and reference implementations, and generally treat this as a framework for talking about how we share data…(More)”.

Regulating Social Media: The Fight Over Section 230 and Beyond


Report by Paul M. Barrett: “Recently, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has come under sharp attack from members of both political parties, including presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The foundational law of the commercial internet, Section 230 does two things: It protects platforms and websites from most lawsuits related to content posted by third parties. And it guarantees this shield from liability even if the platforms and sites actively police the content they host. This protection has encouraged internet companies to innovate and grow, even as it has raised serious questions about whether social media platforms adequately self-regulate harmful content. In addition to the assaults by Trump and Biden, members of Congress have introduced a number of bills designed to limit the reach of Section 230. Some critics have asserted unrealistically that repealing or curbing Section 230 would solve a wide range of problems relating to internet governance. These critics also have played down the potentialy dire consequences that repeal would have for smaller internet companies. Academics, think tank researchers, and others outside of government have made a variety of more nuanced proposals for revising the law. We assess these ideas with an eye toward recommending and integrating the most promising ones. Our conclusion is that Section 230 ought to be preserved—but that it can be improved…(More)”

The open source movement takes on climate data


Article by Heather Clancy: “…many companies are moving to disclose “climate risk,” although far fewer are moving to actually minimize it. And as those tasked with preparing those reports can attest, the process of gathering the data for them is frustrating and complex, especially as the level of detail desired and required by investors becomes deeper.

That pain point was the inspiration for a new climate data project launched this week that will be spearheaded by the Linux Foundation, the nonprofit host organization for thousands of the most influential open source software and data initiatives in the world such as GitHub. The foundation is central to the evolution of the Linux software that runs in the back offices of most major financial services firms. 

There are four powerful founding members for the new group, the LF Climate Finance Foundation (LFCF): Insurance and asset management company Allianz, cloud software giants Amazon and Microsoft, and data intelligence powerhouse S&P Global. The foundation’s “planning team” includes World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Ceres and the Sustainability Account Standards Board (SASB).

The group’s intention is to collaborate on an open source project called the OS-Climate platform, which will include economic and physical risk scenarios that investors, regulators, companies, financial analysts and others can use for their analysis. 

The idea is to create a “public service utility” where certain types of climate data can be accessed easily, then combined with other, more proprietary information that someone might be using for risk analysis, according to Truman Semans, CEO of OS-Climate, who was instrumental in getting the effort off the ground. “There are a whole lot of initiatives out there that address pieces of the puzzle, but no unified platform to allow those to interoperate,” he told me. There are a whole lot of initiatives out there that address pieces of the puzzle, but no unified platform to allow those to interoperate.

Why does this matter? It helps to understand the history of open source software, which was once a thing that many powerful software companies, notably Microsoft, abhorred because they were worried about the financial hit on their intellectual property. Flash forward to today and the open source software movement, “staffed” by literally millions of software developers, is credited with accelerating the creation of common system-level elements so that companies can focus their own resources on solving problems directly related to their business.

In short, this budding effort could make the right data available more quickly, so that businesses — particularly financial institutions — can make better informed decisions.

Or, as Microsoft’s chief intellectual property counsel, Jennifer Yokoyama, observed in the announcement press release: “Addressing climate issues in a meaningful way requires people and organizations to have access to data to better understand the impact of their actions. Opening up and sharing our contribution of significant and relevant sustainability data through the LF Climate Finance Foundation will help advance the financial modeling and understanding of climate change impact — an important step in affecting political change. We’re excited to collaborate with the other founding members and hope additional organizations will join.”…(More)”

How to See What the World Is Teaching Us About COVID-19


Essay by Karabi Acharya: “At the global learning team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it has been exciting to see people looking at what the world can teach us, whether that be how China is handling COVID-19, South Korea’s drive-through testing, or New Zealand’s elimination of the virus under Jacinda Ardern’s leadership. Yet in a survey conducted by Candid in early 2020 of foundations located in the US, 73 percent of respondents reported that their domestic grantmaking was rarely or not at all informed or inspired by ideas and solutions from around the globe and beyond US borders. 

These practices may be shifting. Those of us working in philanthropy, government, and social change are trying to learn as much about COVID-19 as possible, and that naturally includes looking abroad. Yet what will we actually see when we do? Too often, our vision is obscured by bias, and as we try to distinguish news from noise, good intentions are often not enough. We must ask ourselves critical questions, and train ourselves to overcome our biases.

Here are four ways to see the world in a new light, as we look to come out of the pandemic’s darkness:

Seeing Beyond the Familiar

COVID-19 has no borders and the same with good ideas. But too often, we are limited by what has been called the “country of origin effect,” a psychological effect in which people understand the quality and relevance of an object or idea by the country it comes from. In short, we tend to look for ideas from countries that are demographically, culturally, economically, or politically similar to us. In the US, this can mean we overvalue learning from Europe and undervalue learning from low- and middle-income countries.

Yet countries like Nigeria have much to teach us about contract tracing and mitigation from their experience eradicating the Ebola outbreak, just as Ghana’s innovative testing and taxation policies (including a three month tax holiday for health care workers) are balancing protecting health and the economy. In example after example of necessity being the mother of invention, African nations are leading the way in innovation: developing low-cost tests for under $1, using zipline drones to transport the tests to testing sites, and leveraging its cashless digital payment infrastructure to facilitate social distancing. Another often-ignored source of inspiration are Indigenous cultural practices, where ideas and practices centered around collective well-being can be instructive for us as we tackle issues of inequity arising out of COVID…

In other words, we look to other countries with the hope that doing so will change how we see our own, opening our imaginations to new ideas, solutions, and futures. This is only possible if we can overcome our biases that impair our ability to see the solutions around us. 

COVID-19 will be studied for generations to come. But what the world will learn will depend on what we were able to see today. Did we seek out solutions from every corner of the world? Did we bring on the journey those who would most benefit from what the world had to offer? Did we recognize the underlying conditions that exacerbate inequity or help overcome it? Was our imagination strong enough to see how we can create the kind of society that allows everyone the opportunity to live healthy and happier lives?…(More)”

UK’s National Data Strategy


DCMS (UK): “…With the increasing ascendance of data, it has become ever-more important that the government removes the unnecessary barriers that prevent businesses and organisations from accessing such information.

The importance of data sharing was demonstrated during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, when government departments, local authorities, charities and the private sector came together to provide essential services. One notable example is the Vulnerable Person Service, which in a very short space of time enabled secure data-sharing across the public and private sectors to provide millions of food deliveries and access to priority supermarket delivery slots for clinically extremely vulnerable people.

Aggregation of data from different sources can also lead to new insights that otherwise would not have been possible. For example, the Connected Health Cities project anonymises and links data from different health and social care services, providing new insights into the way services are used.

Vitally, data sharing can also fuel growth and innovation.20 For new and innovating organisations, increasing data availability will mean that they, too, will be able to gain better insights from their work and access new markets – from charities able to pool beneficiary data to better evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, to new entrants able to access new markets. Often this happens as part of commercial arrangements; in other instances government has sought to intervene where there are clear consumer benefits, such as in relation to Open Banking and Smart Data. Government has also invested in the research and development of new mechanisms for better data sharing, such as the Office for AI and Innovate UK’s partnership with the Open Data Institute to explore data trusts.21

However, our call for evidence, along with engagement with stakeholders, has identified a range of barriers to data availability, including:

  • a culture of risk aversion
  • issues with current licensing regulations
  • market barriers to greater re-use, including data hoarding and differential market power
  • inconsistent formatting of public sector data
  • issues pertaining to the discoverability of data
  • privacy and security concerns
  • the benefits relating to increased data sharing not always being felt by the organisation incurring the cost of collection and maintenance

This is a complex environment, and heavy-handed intervention may have the unwanted effect of reducing incentives to collect, maintain and share data for the benefit of the UK. It is clear that any way forward must be carefully considered to avoid unintended negative consequences. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining appropriate commercial incentives to collect data, while ensuring that data can be used widely for the benefit of the UK. For personal data, we must also take account of the balance between individual rights and public benefit.

This is a new issue for all digital economies that has come to the fore as data has become a significant modern, economic asset. Our approach will take account of those incentives, and consider how innovation can overcome perceived barriers to availability. For example, it can be limited to users with specific characteristics, by licence or regulator accreditation; it can be shared within a collaborating group of organisations; there may also be value in creating and sharing synthetic data to support research and innovation, as well as other privacy-enhancing technologies and techniques….(More)”.

The Pandemic Is No Excuse to Surveil Students


 Zeynep Tufekci in the Atlantic: “In Michigan, a small liberal-arts college is requiring students to install an app called Aura, which tracks their location in real time, before they come to campus. Oakland University, also in Michigan, announced a mandatory wearable that would track symptoms, but, facing a student-led petition, then said it would be optional. The University of Missouri, too, has an app that tracks when students enter and exit classrooms. This practice is spreading: In an attempt to open during the pandemic, many universities and colleges around the country are forcing students to download location-tracking apps, sometimes as a condition of enrollment. Many of these apps function via Bluetooth sensors or Wi-Fi networks. When students enter a classroom, their phone informs a sensor that’s been installed in the room, or the app checks the Wi-Fi networks nearby to determine the phone’s location.

As a university professor, I’ve seen surveillance like this before. Many of these apps replicate the tracking system sometimes installed on the phones of student athletes, for whom it is often mandatory. That system tells us a lot about what we can expect with these apps.

There is a widespread charade in the United States that university athletes, especially those who play high-profile sports such as football and basketball, are just students who happen to be playing sports as amateurs “in their free time.” The reality is that these college athletes in high-level sports, who are aggressively recruited by schools, bring prestige and financial resources to universities, under a regime that requires them to train like professional athletes despite their lack of salary. However, making the most of one’s college education and training at that level are virtually incompatible, simply because the day is 24 hours long and the body, even that of a young, healthy athlete, can only take so much when training so hard. Worse, many of these athletes are minority students, specifically Black men, who were underserved during their whole K–12 education and faced the same challenge then as they do now: Train hard in hopes of a scholarship and try to study with what little time is left, often despite being enrolled in schools with mediocre resources. Many of them arrive at college with an athletic scholarship but not enough academic preparation compared with their peers who went to better schools and could also concentrate on schooling….(More)”