Under what conditions is information empowering?

FeedbackLabs: “A 72% increase in students ceasing to abuse drugs. A 57 percentage point jump in vaccination rates. Fourteen percent higher odds of adults quitting smoking. The improvements in outcomes that people can achieve for themselves when armed with information can be striking.

Yet the above examples and many more show that information alone rarely empowers people to make their lives better. Information empowers when social and emotional factors induce people to reinterpret that information, and act on it. In this report, we draw on 44 real-life examples and 168 research papers from 10 fields to develop 7 general principles that seem to underlie information initiatives that successfully empower people. Principles 1, 2, and 3 speak to how information empowers through reinterpretation, and Principles 4 to 7 speak to how we can support that reinterpretation—and get people to act. Based on the 7 principles, we then provide a checklist of questions a team can use to increase the likelihood that their initiative will empower the people they seek to serve.

Throughout, we provide concrete illustrations from a wide range of fields to show how applying these principles in practice has led to substantially better outcomes. We also consider examples with outcomes we might consider to be negative. The 7 principles are broadly applicable to how information empowers people to perceive, make and act on choices—but they are agnostic about whether the outcomes of those choices are positive or negative.

The way that the principles are applied in one context may not always work in another. But from the context-specific evidence summarized in this report we have extrapolated a framework that can be applied more broadly—in both theory and practice, for both funders and implementers. Although many of the in-depth case studies presented stem from the US, the principles are based on a wide range of examples and evidence from around the world. We believe the framework we construct here is powerful and can be applied globally; but it’s also clear that much more remains to be understood, so we hope it also sparks ideas, experimentation, and new discoveries….(More)”.