Why policy failure is a prerequisite for innovation in the public sector

Blog by Philipp Trein and Thenia Vagionaki: “In our article entitled, “Why policy failure is a prerequisite for innovation in the public sector,” we explore the relationship between policy failure and innovation within public governance. Drawing inspiration from the “Innovator’s Dilemma,”—a theory from the management literature—we argue that the very nature of policymaking, characterized by myopia of voters, blame avoidance by decisionmakers, and the complexity (ill-structuredness) of societal challenges, has an inherent tendency to react with innovation only after failure of existing policies.  

Our analysis implies that we need to be more critical of what the policy process can achieve in terms of public sector innovation. Cognitive limitations tend to lead to a misperception of problems and inaccurate assessment of risks by decision makers according to the “Innovator’s Dilemma”.  This problem implies that true innovation (non-trivial policy changes) are unlikely to happen before an existing policy has failed visibly. However, our perspective does not want to paint a gloomy picture for public policy making but rather offers a more realistic interpretation of what public sector innovation can achieve. As a consequence, learning from experts in the policy process should be expected to correct failures in public sector problem-solving during the political process, rather than raise expectations beyond what is possible. 

The potential impact of our findings is profound. For practitioners and policymakers, this insight offers a new lens through which to evaluate the failure and success of public policies. Our work advocates a paradigm shift in how we perceive, manage, and learn from policy failures in the public sector, and for the expectations we have towards learning and the use of evidence in policymaking. By embracing the limitations of innovation in public policy, we can better manage expectations and structure the narrative regarding the capacity of public policy to address collective problems…(More)”.

Now we are all measuring impact — but is anything changing?

Article by Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation: “…Increasingly the landscape of Impact Measurement is crowded, dynamic and contains a diversity of frameworks and approaches — which can mean we end up feeling like we’re looking at alphabet soup.

As we’ve traversed this landscape we’ve tried to make sense of it in various ways, and have begun to explore a matrix to represent the constellation of frameworks, approaches and models we’ve encountered in the process. As shown below, the matrix has two axes:

The horizontal axis provides us with a “time” delineation. Dividing the left and right sides between retrospective (ex post) and prospective (ex-ante) approaches to measuring impact.

More specifically the retrospective quadrants include approaches/frameworks/models that ask about events in the past: What impact did we have? While the prospective quadrants include approaches that ask about the possible future: What impact will we have?

The vertical axis provides us with a “purpose” delineation. Dividing the upper and lower parts between Impact Measurement + Management and Evaluation

The top-level quadrants, Impact Measurement + Management, focus on methods that count quantifiable data (i.e. time, dollars, widgets). These frameworks tend to measure outputs from activities/interventions. They tend to ask the question what happened or what could happen and rely significantly on quantitative data.

The bottom-level Evaluation quadrants include a range of approaches that look at a broader range of questions beyond counting. They include questions like: what changed and why? What was or might the interrelationships between changes be? They tend to draw on a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data to create a more cohesive understanding of changes that occurred, are occurring or could occur.

A word of warning: As with all frameworks, this matrix is a “construct” — a way for us to engage in sense-making and to critically discuss how impact measurement is being undertaken in our current context. We are sharing this as a starting point for a broader discussion. We welcome feedback, reflections, and challenges around how we have represented different approaches — we are not seeking a ‘true representation’, but rather, a starting point for dialogue about how all the methods that now abound are connected, entangled and constructed…(More)”

Misuse versus Missed use — the Urgent Need for Chief Data Stewards in the Age of AI

Article by Stefaan Verhulst and Richard Benjamins: “In the rapidly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (AI), the need for and importance of Chief AI Officers (CAIO) are receiving increasing attention. One prominent example came in a recent memo on AI policy, issued by Shalanda Young, Director of the United States Office of Management and Budget. Among the most important — and prominently featured — recommendations were a call, “as required by Executive Order 14110,” for all government agencies to appoint a CAIO within 60 days of the release of the memo.

In many ways, this call is an important development; not even the EU AI Act is requiring this of public agencies. CAIOs have an important role to play in the search for a responsible use of AI for public services that would include guardrails and help protect the public good. Yet while acknowledging the need for CAIOs to safeguard a responsible use of AI, we argue that the duty of Administrations is not only to avoid negative impact, but also to create positive impact. In this sense, much work remains to be done in defining the CAIO role and considering their specific functions. In pursuit of these tasks, we further argue, policymakers and other stakeholders might benefit from looking at the role of another emerging profession in the digital ecology–that of Chief Data Stewards (CDS), which is focused on creating such positive impact for instance to help achieve the UN’s SDGs. Although the CDS position is itself somewhat in flux, we suggest that CDS can nonetheless provide a useful template for the functions and roles of CAIOs.

Image courtesy of Advertising Week

We start by explaining why CDS are relevant to the conversation over CAIOs; this is because data and data governance are foundational to AI governance. We then discuss some particular functions and competencies of CDS, showing how these can be equally applied to the governance of AI. Among the most important (if high-level) of these competencies is an ability to proactively identify opportunities in data sharing, and to balance the risks and opportunities of our data age. We conclude by exploring why this competency–an ethos of positive data responsibility that avoids overly-cautious risk aversion–is so important in the AI and data era…(More)”

Inclusive by default: strategies for more inclusive participation

Article by Luiza Jardim and Maria Lucien: “…The systemic challenges that marginalised groups face are pressing and require action. The global average age of parliamentarians is 53, highlighting a gap in youth representation. Young people already face challenges like poverty, lack of education, unemployment and multiple forms of discrimination. Additionally, some participatory formats are often unappealing to young people and pose a challenge for engaging them. Gender equity research highlights the underrepresentation of women at all levels of decision-making and governance. Despite recent improvements, gender parity in governance worldwide is still decades or even centuries away. Meanwhile, ongoing global conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan, Gaza and elsewhere, as well as the impacts of a changing climate, have driven the recent increase in the number of forcibly displaced people to more than 100 million. The engagement of these individuals in decision-making can vary greatly depending on their specific circumstances and the nature of their displacement.

Participatory and deliberative democracy can have transformative impacts on historically marginalised communities but only if they are intentionally included in program design and implementation. To start with, it’s possible to reduce the barriers to participation, such as the cost and time of transport to the participation venue, or burdens imposed by social and cultural roles in society, like childcare. During the process, mindful and attentive facilitation can help balance power dynamics and encourage participation from traditionally excluded people. This is further strengthened if the facilitation team includes and trains members of priority communities in facilitation and session planning…(More)”.

Are We Ready for the Next Pandemic? Navigating the First and Last Mile Challenges in Data Utilization

Blog by Stefaan Verhulst, Daniela Paolotti, Ciro Cattuto and Alessandro Vespignani:

“Public health officials from around the world are gathering this week in Geneva for a weeklong meeting of the 77th World Health Assembly. A key question they are examining is: Are we ready for the next pandemic? As we have written elsewhere, regarding access to and re-use of data, particularly non-traditional data, for pandemic preparedness and response: we are not. Below, we list ten recommendations to advance access to and reuse of non-traditional data for pandemics, drawing on input from a high-level workshop, held in Brussels, within the context of the ESCAPE program…(More)”


Unmasking and Quantifying Power Structures: How Network Analysis Enhances Peace and State-Building Efforts

Blog by Issa Luna Pla: “Critiques of peace and state-building efforts have pointed out the inadequate grasp of the origins of conflict, political unrest, and the intricate dynamics of criminal and illicit networks (Holt and Bouch, 2009Cockayne and Lupel, 2011). This limited understanding has failed to sufficiently weaken their economic and political influence or effectively curb their activities and objectives. A recent study highlights that although punitive approaches may have temporarily diminished the power of these networks, the absence of robust analytical tools has made it difficult to assess the enduring impact of these strategies.

1. Application of Network Analytics in State-Building

The importance of analytics in international peace and state-building operations is becoming increasingly recognized (O’Brien, 2010Gnanguenon, 2021Rød et al., 2023). Analytics, particularly network analysis, plays a crucial role in dissecting and dismantling complex power structures that often undermine peace initiatives and governance reforms. This analytical approach is crucial for revealing and disrupting the entrenched networks that sustain ongoing conflicts or obstruct peace processes. From the experiences in Guatemala, three significant lessons have been learned regarding the need for analytics for regional and thematic priorities in such operations (Waxenecker, 2019). These insights are vital for understanding how to tailor analytical strategies to address specific challenges in conflict-affected areas.

  1. The effectiveness of the International Commission CICIG in dismantling criminal networks was constrained by its lack of advanced analytical tools. This limitation prevented a deeper exploration of the conflicts’ roots and hindered the assessment of the long-term impacts of its strategies. While the CICIG had a systematic approach to understanding criminal networks from a contextual and legal perspective, its action plans lacked comprehensive statistic analytics methodologies, leading to missed opportunities in targeting key strategic players within these networks. High-level arrests were based on available evidence and charges that prosecutors could substantiate, rather than a strategic analysis of actors’ roles and influences within the networks’ dynamics.
  2. Furthermore, the extent of network dismantlement and the lasting effects of imprisonment and financial control of the illicit groups’ assets remain unclear, highlighting the need for predictive analytics to anticipate conflicts and sustainability. Such tools could enable operations to forecast potential disruptions or stability, allowing for data-driven proactive measures to prevent violence or bolster peace.
  3. Lastly, insights derived from network analysis suggest that efforts should focus on enhancing diplomatic negotiations, promoting economic development and social capital, and balancing punitive measures with strategic interventions. By understanding the dynamics and modeling group behavior in conflict zones, negotiations can be better informed by a deep and holistic comprehension of the underlying power structures and motivations. This approach could also help in forecasting recidivism, assessing risks of network reorganization, and evaluating the potential for increased armament, workforce, or empowerment, thereby facilitating more effective and sustainable peacebuilding initiatives.

2. Advancing Legal and Institutional Reforms

Utilizing data sciences in conflicted environments offers unique insights into the behavior of illicit networks and their interactions within the public and private sectors (Morselli et al., 2007Leuprecht and Hall, 2014Campedelli et al., 2019). This systematic approach, grounded in the analysis of years of illicit activities in Guatemala, highlights the necessity of rethinking traditional legal and institutional frameworks…(More)”.

The Future of Peacebuilding: Why Investing in PeaceTech is Essential in Today’s Geopolitics

Article by Artur Kluz and Stefaan Verhulst: “In today’s geopolitical landscape, marked by escalating tensions and technological advancements, there is a significant opportunity for technology to contribute to conflict prevention and peacebuilding: i.e. peacetech. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his recent speech on Technology and the Transformation of US Foreign Policy, emphasized the crucial role technology plays in geopolitical contests and its potential as an “engine of historic possibility — for our economies, for our democracies, for our people, for our planet.” His assertion that “security, stability, prosperity — they are no longer solely analog matters” underscores the necessity to urgently focus on and invest in technological innovations that can support peacebuilding in the digital age.

Peacetech is an emerging field that describes a range of technologies that can be used for peacebuilding. From satellite internet constellations and early warning systems to AI-driven conflict prediction models, peacetech has the potential to transform the landscape of peacekeeping and conflict prevention. With its diversity of applications, it can support institutions’ peacebuilding or conflict prevention activities by providing insights faster and at scale. It can empower local populations to promote their safety and security and help observers predict future conflict…(More)”.

Private Thought and Public Speech

Essay by David Bromwich: “The past decade has witnessed a notable rise in the deployment of outrageous speech and censorship: opposite tendencies, on the face of things, which actually strengthen each other’s claim. My aim in this essay is to defend the traditional civil libertarian argument against censorship, without defending outrageous speech. By outrageous, I should add, I don’t mean angry or indignant or accusing speech, of the sort its opponents call “extreme” (often because it expresses an opinion shared by a small minority). Spoken words of this sort may give an impetus to thought, and their existence is preferable to anything that could be done to silence them. Outrageous speech, by contrast, is speech that means only to enrage, and not to convey any information or argument, in however primitive a form. No intelligent person wishes there were more of it. But, for the survival of a free society, censorship is far more dangerous.  

Let me try for a closer description of these rival tendencies. On the one hand, there is the unembarrassed publication of the degrading epithet, the intemperate accusation, the outlandish verbal assault against a person thought to be an erring member of one’s own milieu; and on the other hand, the bureaucratized penalizing of inappropriate speech (often classified as such quite recently) which has become common in the academic, media, professional, and corporate workplace. …(More)”.

How the war on drunk driving was won

Blog by Nick Cowen: “…Viewed from the 1960s it might have seemed like ending drunk driving would be impossible. Even in the 1980s, the movement seemed unlikely to succeed and many researchers questioned whether it constituted a social problem at all.

Yet things did change: in 1980, 1,450 fatalities were attributed to drunk driving accidents in the UK. In 2020, there were 220. Road deaths in general declined much more slowly, from around 6,000 in 1980 to 1,500 in 2020. Drunk driving fatalities dropped overall and as a percentage of all road deaths.

The same thing happened in the United States, though not to quite the same extent. In 1980, there were around 28,000 drunk driving deaths there, while in 2020, there were 11,654. Despite this progress, drunk driving remains a substantial public threat, comparable in scale to homicide (of which in 2020 there were 594 in Britain and 21,570 in America).

Of course, many things have happened in the last 40 years that contributed to this reduction. Vehicles are better designed to prioritize life preservation in the event of a collision. Emergency hospital care has improved so that people are more likely to survive serious injuries from car accidents. But, above all, driving while drunk has become stigmatized.

This stigma didn’t come from nowhere. Governments across the Western world, along with many civil society organizations, engaged in hard-hitting education campaigns about the risks of drunk driving. And they didn’t just talk. Tens of thousands of people faced criminal sanctions, and many were even put in jail.

Two underappreciated ideas stick out from this experience. First, deterrence works: incentives matter to offenders much more than many scholars found initially plausible. Second, the long-run impact that successful criminal justice interventions have is not primarily in rehabilitation, incapacitation, or even deterrence, but in altering the social norms around acceptable behavior…(More)”.

On the Meaning of Community Consent in a Biorepository Context

Article by Astha Kapoor, Samuel Moore, and Megan Doerr: “Biorepositories, vital for medical research, collect and store human biological samples and associated data for future use. However, our reliance solely on the individual consent of data contributors for biorepository data governance is becoming inadequate. Big data analysis focuses on large-scale behaviors and patterns, shifting focus from singular data points to identifying data “journeys” relevant to a collective. The individual becomes a small part of the analysis, with the harms and benefits emanating from the data occurring at an aggregated level.

Community refers to a particular qualitative aspect of a group of people that is not well captured by quantitative measures in biorepositories. This is not an excuse to dodge the question of how to account for communities in a biorepository context; rather, it shows that a framework is needed for defining different types of community that may be approached from a biorepository perspective. 

Engaging with communities in biorepository governance presents several challenges. Moving away from a purely individualized understanding of governance towards a more collectivizing approach necessitates an appreciation of the messiness of group identity, its ephemerality, and the conflicts entailed therein. So while community implies a certain degree of homogeneity (i.e., that all members of a community share something in common), it is important to understand that people can simultaneously consider themselves a member of a community while disagreeing with many of its members, the values the community holds, or the positions for which it advocates. The complex nature of community participation therefore requires proper treatment for it to be useful in a biorepository governance context…(More)”.