The Cost-Benefit Revolution

Book by Cass Sunstein: “Why policies should be based on careful consideration of their costs and benefits rather than on intuition, popular opinion, interest groups, and anecdotes.

Opinions on government policies vary widely. Some people feel passionately about the child obesity epidemic and support government regulation of sugary drinks. Others argue that people should be able to eat and drink whatever they like. Some people are alarmed about climate change and favor aggressive government intervention. Others don’t feel the need for any sort of climate regulation. In The Cost-Benefit Revolution, Cass Sunstein argues our major disagreements really involve facts, not values. It follows that government policy should not be based on public opinion, intuitions, or pressure from interest groups, but on numbers—meaning careful consideration of costs and benefits. Will a policy save one life, or one thousand lives? Will it impose costs on consumers, and if so, will the costs be high or negligible? Will it hurt workers and small businesses, and, if so, precisely how much?

As the Obama administration’s “regulatory czar,” Sunstein knows his subject in both theory and practice. Drawing on behavioral economics and his well-known emphasis on “nudging,” he celebrates the cost-benefit revolution in policy making, tracing its defining moments in the Reagan, Clinton, and Obama administrations (and pondering its uncertain future in the Trump administration). He acknowledges that public officials often lack information about costs and benefits, and outlines state-of-the-art techniques for acquiring that information. Policies should make people’s lives better. Quantitative cost-benefit analysis, Sunstein argues, is the best available method for making this happen—even if, in the future, new measures of human well-being, also explored in this book, may be better still…(More)”.

What is mechanistic evidence, and why do we need it for evidence-based policy?

Paper by Caterina Marchionni and Samuli Reijula: “It has recently been argued that successful evidence-based policy should rely on two kinds of evidence: statistical and mechanistic. The former is held to be evidence that a policy brings about the desired outcome, and the latter concerns how it does so. Although agreeing with the spirit of this proposal, we argue that the underlying conception of mechanistic evidence as evidence that is different in kind from correlational, difference-making or statistical evidence, does not correctly capture the role that information about mechanisms should play in evidence-based policy. We offer an alternative account of mechanistic evidence as information concerning the causal pathway connecting the policy intervention to its outcome. Not only can this be analyzed as evidence of difference-making, it is also to be found at any level and is obtainable by a broad range of methods, both experimental and observational. Using behavioral policy as an illustration, we draw the implications of this revised understanding of mechanistic evidence for debates concerning policy extrapolation, evidence hierarchies, and evidence integration…(More)”.

Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Are Changing Our World

Book by Andrew Leigh: “Experiments have consistently been used in the hard sciences, but in recent decades social scientists have adopted the practice. Randomized trials have been used to design policies to increase educational attainment, lower crime rates, elevate employment rates, and improve living standards among the poor.

This book tells the stories of radical researchers who have used experiments to overturn conventional wisdom. From finding the cure for scurvy to discovering what policies really improve literacy rates, Leigh shows how randomistas have shaped life as we know it. Written in a “Gladwell-esque” style, this book provides a fascinating account of key randomized control trial studies from across the globe and the challenges that randomistas have faced in getting their studies accepted and their findings implemented. In telling these stories, Leigh draws out key lessons learned and shows the most effective way to conduct these trials….(More)”.

SAM, the first A.I. politician on Messenger

 at Digital Trends: “It’s said that all politicians are the same, but it seems safe to assume that you’ve never seen a politician quite like this. Meet SAM, heralded as the politician of the future. Unfortunately, you can’t exactly shake this politician’s hand, or have her kiss your baby. Rather, SAM is the world’s first Virtual Politician (and a female presence at that), “driven by the desire to close the gap between what voters want and what politicians promise, and what they actually achieve.”

The artificially intelligent chat bot is currently live on Facebook Messenger, though she probably is most helpful to those in New Zealand. After all, the bot’s website notes, “SAM’s goal is to act as a representative for all New Zealanders, and evolves based on voter input.” Capable of being reached by anyone at just about anytime from anywhere, this may just be the single most accessible politician we’ve ever seen. But more importantly, SAM purports to be a true representative, claiming to analyze “everyone’s views [and] opinions, and impact of potential decisions.” This, the bot notes, could make for better policy for everyone….(More)”.

Randomized Controlled Trials: How Can We Know ‘What Works’?

Nick Cowen et al at Critical Review: “We attempt to map the limits of evidence-based policy through an interactive theoretical critique and empirical case-study. We outline the emergence of an experimental turn in EBP among British policymakers and the limited, broadly inductive, epistemic approach that underlies it. We see whether and how field professionals identify and react to these limitations through a case study of teaching professionals subject to a push to integrate research evidence into their practice. Results suggest that many of the challenges of establishing evidential warrant that EBP is supposed to streamline re-appear at the level of choice of locally effective policies and implementation…(More)”.

External validity and policy adaptation. From impact evaluation to policy design

Paper by Martin J. Williams: “With the growing number of rigorous impact evaluations worldwide, the question of how best to apply this evidence to policymaking processes has arguably become the main challenge for evidence-based policymaking. How can policymakers predict whether a policy will have the same impact in their context as it did elsewhere, and how should this influence the design and implementation of policy? This paper introduces a simple and flexible framework to address these questions of external validity and policy adaptation. I show that failures of external validity arise from an interaction between a policy’s theory of change and a dimension of the context in which it is being implemented, and develop a method of “mechanism mapping” that maps a policy’s theory of change against salient contextual assumptions to identify external validity problems and suggest appropriate policy adaptations. In deciding whether and how to adapt a policy in a new context, I show there is a fundamental informational trade-o↵ between the strength and relevance of evidence on the policy from other contexts and the policymaker’s knowledge of the local context. This trade-o↵ can guide policymakers’ judgments about whether policies should be copied exactly from elsewhere, adapted, or invented anew….(More)”

Governance Reforms: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; and the Sound: Examining the Past and Exploring the Future of Public Organizations

Ali Farazmand in Public Organization Review: “This paper addresses governance reforms of the last three and a half decades and looks into the future. This is done in three parts. The first part presents a birds-eye view of the massive literature on governance and governance reforms with a focus on the good, the bad, and ugly sides, then in part two argues for an alternative concept or theory of “sound governance” with characteristics and dimensions that overcome the deficiencies of other models of governance. As a consequence of reforms, the third part examines the past and explores the future of public organizations via “going home” as a conclusion with possible scenarios, challenges, and opportunities….(More)”

Implementing Randomized Evaluations in Government

J-Pal Blog: “The J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative supports US state and local governments in using randomized evaluations to generate new and widely applicable lessons about the effectiveness of their programs and policies. Drawing upon the experience of the state and local governments selected to participate in the initiative to date, this guide provides practical guidance on how to identify good opportunities for randomized evaluations, how randomized evaluations can be feasibly embedded into the implementation of a program or policy, and how to overcome some of the common challenges in designing and carrying out randomized evaluations….(More)”.

The role of eGovernment in deepening the single market

Briefing by the European Parliamentary Research Service: “This briefing recognises the role of cross-border and cross-sector use of electronic identification (eID) and trust services in advancing the digitisation of public services in Europe as well as the potential impact of the implementation of the ‘once-only’ principle in public administrations. The eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020 includes several concrete actions to help boost the Digital Single Market, underpinned by the ‘digital-by-default, ‘once-only’ and ‘cross-border by default’ principles. The publication comes at a relevant time, when Member States are preparing for a ministerial meeting and to sign a Ministerial Declaration (on eGovernment) early next month….The role of eGovernment in deepening the single market briefing is available and accesible through the link….(More)”.

A distributed model for internet governance

Global Partners Digital: “Across the world, increased internet adoption has radically altered people’s lives – creating the need for new methods of internet governance that are more effective, flexible, inclusive, and legitimate. Conversations about reforming the internet governance ecosystem are already taking place at the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, and within the wider IGF community.

A new paper by GovLab co-founder and GPD Advisory Board member Stefaan Verhulst – A distributed model for internet governance – seeks to contribute to this evolving debate by proposing a distributed yet coordinated framework for internet governance – one which accommodates existing and emerging decision-making approaches, while also enabling broader participation by a wider range of institutions and actors….(More)”