The Experimenter’s Inventory: A catalogue of experiments for decision-makers and professionals


Report by the Alliance for Useful Evidence: “This inventory is about how you can use experiments to solve public and social problems. It aims to provide a framework for thinking about the choices available to a government, funder or delivery organisation that wants to experiment more effectively. We aim to simplify jargon and do some myth-busting on common misperceptions.
There are other guides on specific areas of experimentation – such as on randomised controlled trials – including many specialist technical textbooks. This is not a technical manual or guide about how to run experiments. Rather, this inventory is useful for anybody wanting a jargon-free overview of the types and uses of experiments. It is unique in its breadth – covering the whole landscape of social and policy experimentation, including prototyping, rapid cycle testing, quasi-experimental designs, and a range of different types of randomised trials. Experimentation can be a confusing landscape – and there are competing definitions about what constitutes an experiment among researchers, innovators and evaluation practitioners. We take a pragmatic approach, including different designs that are useful for public problem-solving, under our experimental umbrella. We cover ways of experimenting that are both qualitative and quantitative, and highlight what we can learn from different approaches….(More)”.

How Aid Groups Map Refugee Camps That Officially Don't Exist


Abby Sewell at Wired: “On the outskirts of Zahle, a town in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, a pair of aid workers carrying clipboards and cell phones walk through a small refugee camp, home to 11 makeshift shelters built from wood and tarps.

A camp resident leading them through the settlement—one of many in the Beqaa, a wide agricultural plain between Beirut and Damascus with scattered villages of cinderblock houses—points out a tent being renovated for the winter. He leads them into the kitchen of another tent, highlighting cracking wood supports and leaks in the ceiling. The aid workers record the number of residents in each tent, as well as the number of latrines and kitchens in the settlement.

The visit is part of an initiative by the Switzerland-based NGO Medair to map the locations of the thousands of informal refugee settlements in Lebanon, a country where even many city buildings have no street addresses, much less tents on a dusty country road.

“I always say that this project is giving an address to people that lost their home, which is giving back part of their dignity in a way,” says Reine Hanna, Medair’s information management project manager, who helped develop the mapping project.

The initiative relies on GIS technology, though the raw data is collected the old-school way, without high tech mapping aids like drones. Mapping teams criss-cross the country year round, stopping at each camp to speak to residents and conduct a survey. They enter the coordinates of new camps or changes in the population or facilities of old ones into a database that’s shared with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and other NGOs working in the camps. The maps can be accessed via a mobile app by workers heading to the field to distribute aid or respond to emergencies.

Lebanon, a small country with an estimated native population of about 4 million, hosts more than 900,000 registered Syrian refugees and potentially hundreds of thousands more unregistered, making it the country with the highest population of refugees per capita in the world.

But there are no official refugee camps run by the government or the UN refugee agency in Lebanon, where refugees are a sensitive subject. The country is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and government officials refer to the Syrians as “displaced,” not “refugees.”

Lebanese officials have been wary of the Syrians settling permanently, as Palestinian refugees did beginning in 1948. Today, more than 70 years later, there are some 470,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, though the number living in the country is believed to be much lower….(More)”.

Four maps showing the growth of informal Syrian refugee settlements in the Zahle district of the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon
Maps compiled by UNHCR showing the growth in the number of informal refugee camps in one area of Lebanon over the past six years.COURTESY OF UNHCR

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer


Edelman: “The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures—government, business, NGOs and media—is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behavior…

Since Edelman began measuring trust 20 years ago, it has been spurred by economic growth. This continues in Asia and the Middle East, but not in developed markets, where income inequality is now the more important factor. A majority of respondents in every developed market do not believe they will be better off in five years’ time, and more than half of respondents globally believe that capitalism in its current form is now doing more harm than good in the world. The result is a world of two different trust realities. The informed public—wealthier, more educated, and frequent consumers of news—remain far more trusting of every institution than the mass population. In a majority of markets, less than half of the mass population trust their institutions to do what is right. There are now a record eight markets showing all-time-high gaps between the two audiences—an alarming trust inequality…

Distrust is being driven by a growing sense of inequity and unfairness in the system. The perception is that institutions increasingly serve the interests of the few over everyone. Government, more than any institution, is seen as least fair; 57 percent of the general population say government serves the interest of only the few, while 30 percent say government serves the interests of everyone….

Against the backdrop of growing cynicism around capitalism and the fairness of our current economic systems are deep-seated fears about the future. Specifically, 83 percent of employees say they fear losing their job, attributing it to the gig economy, a looming recession, a lack of skills, cheaper foreign competitors, immigrants who will work for less, automation, or jobs being moved to other countries….(More)”.

The Handbook of Public Sector Communication


Book edited by Vilma Luoma-aho and María José Canel: “Research into public sector communication investigates the interaction between public and governmental entities and citizens within their sphere of influence. Today’s public sector organizations are operating in environments where people receive their information from multiple sources. Although modern research demonstrates the immense impact public entities have on democracy and societal welfare, communication in this context is often overlooked. Public sector organizations need to develop “communicative intelligence” in balancing their institutional agendas and aims of public engagement. The Handbook of Public Sector Communication is the first comprehensive volume to explore the field. This timely, innovative volume examines the societal role, environment, goals, practices, and development of public sector strategic communication.

International in scope, this handbook describes and analyzes the contexts, policies, issues, and questions that shape public sector communication. An interdisciplinary team of leading experts discusses diverse subjects of rising importance to public sector, government, and political communication. Topics include social exchange relationships, crisis communication, citizen expectations, measuring and evaluating media, diversity and inclusion, and more. Providing current research and global perspectives, this important resource:

  • Addresses the questions public sector communicators face today
  • Summarizes the current state of public sector communication worldwide
  • Clarifies contemporary trends and practices including mediatization, citizen engagement, and change and expectation management
  • Addresses global challenges and crises such as corruption and bureaucratic roadblocks
  • Provides a framework for measuring communication effectiveness…(More)”.

Unlocking Technology for the Global Goals


Report by the World Economic Forum: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is still in its early years yet it is already changing the way we work, live and interact. As 4IR technologies become faster, smarter, and more widely applied, the pace of transformation will only accelerate.

In parallel, we face global challenges of increasing magnitude and immediacy. The United Nation’s 17 Global Goals give a blueprint for what we globally and collectively must do if we are to end extreme poverty, protect our natural environment, revert climate change and create a more sustainable, equal and prosperous future for all.

Despite a rapid rise of 4IR technologies being applied across many aspects of industry and commerce, the potential of these technologies to accelerate progress to the Global Goals is not being realised. Today’s technological revolution is a time of enormous promise to accelerate progress on the Global Goals, both broadening and deepening current action.

But unlocking this potential requires a change in priorities and significant challenges to be overcome. This presents us with a dilemma of how to drive systems-level change in priorities, and to overcome significant challenges to ensure that it has an impact over the next 10 years on the global goals, and also on these challenges in the long term.

In this report, developed in collaboration with PwC, we showcase the significant opportunity to harness new technologies for the Global Goals. Through analysis of over 300 technology applications, the report explores; 1) the extent to which this opportunity is being realised, 2) the barriers to scaling these applications, and 3) the enabling framework for unlocking this opportunity….(More)”.

Rejuvenating Democracy Promotion


Essay by Thomas Carothers: “Adverse political developments in both established and newer democracies, especially the abdication by the United States of its traditional leadership role, have cast international democracy support into doubt. Yet international action on behalf of democracy globally remains necessary and possible. Moreover, some important elements of continuity remain, including overall Western spending on democracy assistance. Democracy support must adapt to its changed circumstances by doing more to take new geopolitical realities into account; effacing the boundary between support for democracy in new and in established democracies; strengthening the economic dimension of democracy assistance; and moving technological issues to the forefront…(More)”.

The promise and perils of big gender data


Essay by Bapu Vaitla, Stefaan Verhulst, Linus Bengtsson, Marta C. González, Rebecca Furst-Nichols & Emily Courey Pryor in Special Issue on Big Data of Nature Medicine: “Women and girls are legally and socially marginalized in many countries. As a result, policymakers neglect key gendered issues such as informal labor markets, domestic violence, and mental health1. The scientific community can help push such topics onto policy agendas, but science itself is riven by inequality: women are underrepresented in academia, and gendered research is rarely a priority of funding agencies.

However, the critical importance of better gender data for societal well-being is clear. Mental health is a particularly striking example. Estimates from the Global Burden of Disease database suggest that depressive and anxiety disorders are the second leading cause of morbidity among females between 10 and 63 years of age2. But little is known about the risk factors that contribute to mental illness among specific groups of women and girls, the challenges of seeking care for depression and anxiety, or the long-term consequences of undiagnosed and untreated illness. A lack of data similarly impedes policy action on domestic and intimate-partner violence, early marriage, and sexual harassment, among many other topics.

‘Big data’ can help fill that gap. The massive amounts of information passively generated by electronic devices represent a rich portrait of human life, capturing where people go, the decisions they make, and how they respond to changes in their socio-economic environment. For example, mobile-phone data allow better understanding of health-seeking behavior as well as the dynamics of infectious-disease transmission3. Social-media platforms generate the world’s largest database of thoughts and emotions—information that, if leveraged responsibly, can be used to infer gendered patterns of mental health4. Remote sensors, especially satellites, can be used in conjunction with traditional data sources to increase the spatial and temporal granularity of data on women’s economic activity and health status5.

But the risk of gendered algorithmic bias is a serious obstacle to the responsible use of big data. Data are not value free; they reproduce the conscious and unconscious attitudes held by researchers, programmers, and institutions. Consider, for example, the training datasets on which the interpretation of big data depends. Training datasets establish the association between two or more directly observed phenomena of interest—for example, the mental health of a platform user (typically collected through a diagnostic survey) and the semantic content of the user’s social-media posts. These associations are then used to develop algorithms that interpret big data streams. In the example here, the (directly unobserved) mental health of a large population of social-media users would be inferred from their observed posts….(More)”.

Tech groups cannot be allowed to hide from scrutiny


Marietje Schaake at the Financial Times: “Technology companies have governments over a barrel. Whether they are maximising traffic flow efficiency, matching pupils with their school preferences, trying to anticipate drought based on satellite and soil data, most governments heavily rely on critical infrastructure and artificial intelligence developed by the private sector. This growing dependence has profound implications for democracy.

An unprecedented information asymmetry is growing between companies and governments. We can see this in the long-running investigation into interference in the 2016 US presidential elections. Companies build voter registries, voting machines and tallying tools, while social media companies sell precisely targeted advertisements using information gleaned by linking data on friends, interests, location, shopping and search.

This has big privacy and competition implications, yet oversight is minimal. Governments, researchers and citizens risk being blindsided by the machine room that powers our lives and vital aspects of our democracies. Governments and companies have fundamentally different incentives on transparency and accountability.

While openness is the default and secrecy the exception for democratic governments, companies resist providing transparency about their algorithms and business models. Many of them actively prevent accountability, citing rules that protect trade secrets.

We must revisit these protections when they shield companies from oversight. There is a place for protecting proprietary information from commercial competitors, but the scope and context need to be clarified and balanced when they have an impact on democracy and the rule of law.

Regulators must act to ensure that those designing and running algorithmic processes do not abuse trade secret protections. Tech groups also use the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation to deny access to company information. Although the regulation was enacted to protect citizens against the mishandling of personal data, it is now being wielded cynically to deny scientists access to data sets for research. The European Data Protection Supervisor has intervened, but problems could recur. To mitigate concerns about the power of AI, provider companies routinely promise that the applications will be understandable, explainable, accountable, reliable, contestable, fair and — don’t forget — ethical.

Yet there is no way to test these subjective notions without access to the underlying data and information. Without clear benchmarks and information to match, proper scrutiny of the way vital data is processed and used will be impossible….(More)”.

How digital sleuths unravelled the mystery of Iran’s plane crash


Chris Stokel-Walker at Wired: “The video shows a faint glow in the distance, zig-zagging like a piece of paper caught in an underdraft, slowly meandering towards the horizon. Then there’s a bright flash and the trees in the foreground are thrown into shadow as Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 hits the ground early on the morning of January 8, killing all 176 people on board.

At first, it seemed like an accident – engine failure was fingered as the cause – until the first video showing the plane seemingly on fire as it weaved to the ground surfaced. United States officials started to investigate, and a more complicated picture emerged. It appeared that the plane had been hit by a missile, corroborated by a second video that appears to show the moment the missile ploughs into the Boeing 737-800. While military and intelligence officials at governments around the world were conducting their inquiries in secret, a team of investigators were using open-source intelligence (OSINT) techniques to piece together the puzzle of flight PS752.

It’s not unusual nowadays for OSINT to lead the way in decoding key news events. When Sergei Skripal was poisoned, Bellingcat, an open-source intelligence website, tracked and identified his killers as they traipsed across London and Salisbury. They delved into military records to blow the cover of agents sent to kill. And in the days after the Ukraine Airlines plane crashed into the ground outside Tehran, Bellingcat and The New York Times have blown a hole in the supposition that the downing of the aircraft was an engine failure. The pressure – and the weight of public evidence – compelled Iranian officials to admit overnight on January 10 that the country had shot down the plane “in error”.

So how do they do it? “You can think of OSINT as a puzzle. To get the complete picture, you need to find the missing pieces and put everything together,” says Loránd Bodó, an OSINT analyst at Tech versus Terrorism, a campaign group. The team at Bellingcat and other open-source investigators pore over publicly available material. Thanks to our propensity to reach for our cameraphones at the sight of any newsworthy incident, video and photos are often available, posted to social media in the immediate aftermath of events. (The person who shot and uploaded the second video in this incident, of the missile appearing to hit the Boeing plane was a perfect example: they grabbed their phone after they heard “some sort of shot fired”.) “Open source investigations essentially involve the collection, preservation, verification, and analysis of evidence that is available in the public domain to build a picture of what happened,” says Yvonne McDermott Rees, a lecturer at Swansea University….(More)”.

The future is intelligent: Harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence in Africa


Youssef Travaly and Kevin Muvunyi at Brookings: “…AI in particular presents countless avenues for both the public and private sectors to optimize solutions to the most crucial problems facing the continent today, especially for struggling industries. For example, in health care, AI solutions can help scarce personnel and facilities do more with less by speeding initial processing, triage, diagnosis, and post-care follow up. Furthermore, AI-based pharmacogenomics applications, which focus on the likely response of an individual to therapeutic drugs based on certain genetic markers, can be used to tailor treatments. Considering the genetic diversity found on the African continent, it is highly likely that the application of these technologies in Africa will result in considerable advancement in medical treatment on a global level.

In agricultureAbdoulaye Baniré Diallo, co-founder and chief scientific officer of the AI startup My Intelligent Machines, is working with advanced algorithms and machine learning methods to leverage genomic precision in livestock production models. With genomic precision, it is possible to build intelligent breeding programs that minimize the ecological footprint, address changing consumer demands, and contribute to the well-being of people and animals alike through the selection of good genetic characteristics at an early stage of the livestock production process. These are just a few examples that illustrate the transformative potential of AI technology in Africa.

However, a number of structural challenges undermine rapid adoption and implementation of AI on the continent. Inadequate basic and digital infrastructure seriously erodes efforts to activate AI-powered solutions as it reduces crucial connectivity. (For more on strategies to improve Africa’s digital infrastructure, see the viewpoint on page 67 of the full report). A lack of flexible and dynamic regulatory systems also frustrates the growth of a digital ecosystem that favors AI technology, especially as tech leaders want to scale across borders. Furthermore, lack of relevant technical skills, particularly for young people, is a growing threat. This skills gap means that those who would have otherwise been at the forefront of building AI are left out, preventing the continent from harnessing the full potential of transformative technologies and industries.

Similarly, the lack of adequate investments in research and development is an important obstacle. Africa must develop innovative financial instruments and public-private partnerships to fund human capital development, including a focus on industrial research and innovation hubs that bridge the gap between higher education institutions and the private sector to ensure the transition of AI products from lab to market….(More)”.