Exploring a new governance agenda: What are the questions that matter?

Article by Nicola Nixon, Stefaan Verhulst, Imran Matin & Philips J. Vermonte: “…Late last year, we – the Governance Lab at NYUthe CSIS Indonesiathe BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, Bangladesh and The Asia Foundation – joined forces across New York, Jakarta, Dhaka, Hanoi, and San Francisco to launch the 100 Governance Questions Initiative. This is the latest iteration of the GovLab’s broader initiative to map questions across several domains.

We live in an era marked by an unprecedented amount of data. Anyone who uses a mobile phone or accesses the internet is generating vast streams of information. Covid-19 has only intensified this phenomenon. 

Although this data contains tremendous potential for positive social transformation, much of that potential goes unfulfilled. In the development context, one chief problem is that data initiatives are often driven by supply (i.e., what data or data solutions are available?) rather than demand (what problems actually need solutions?). Too many projects begin with the database, the app, the dashboard–beholden to the seduction of technology– and now, many parts of the developing world are graveyards of tech pilots. As is well established in development theory but not yet fully in practice, solution-driven governance interventions are destined to fail.

The 100 Questions Initiative, pioneered by the GovLab, seeks to overcome the chasm between supply and demand. It begins not by searching for what data is available, but by asking important questions about the biggest challenges societies and countries face, and then seeking more targeted and relevant data solutions. In doing this, it narrows the gap between policy makers and constituents, providing opportunities for improved evidence-based policy and community engagement in developing countries. As part of this initiative, we seek to define the ten most important questions across several domains, including Migration, Gender, Employment, the Future of Work, and—now–Governance.

On this occasion, we invited over 100 experts and practitioners in governance and data science –whom we call “bilinguals”– from various organizations, companies, and government agencies to identify what they see as the most pressing governance questions in their respective domains. Over 100 bilinguals were encouraged to prioritize potential impact, novelty, and feasibility in their questioning — moving toward a roadmap for data-driven action and collaboration that is both actionable and ambitious.   

By June, the bilinguals had articulated 170 governance-related questions. Over the next couple of months, these were sorted, discussed and refined during two rounds of collaboration with the bilinguals; first to narrow down to the top 40 and then to the top 10. Bilinguals were asked what, to them, are the most significant governance questions we must answer with data today? The result is the following 10 questions:…(More)” ( Public Voting Platform)”.