Evidence, policy and badgers

Fascinating discussion on how evidence from a randomised trial should be used in policy making, on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  Summed up in this exchange…

Interviewee: ‘we have learned from the randomised trial’

Presenter: ‘yes, but what have we learned?’

in the middle of several minutes of really high-quality discussion about what, if anything, has been learned from the trial and subsequent introduction of badger culling in the UK.  The answer to the question ‘what have we learned’, turned out to be very different for the two sides of the argument. Leaving aside the cute little badgers, it’s partly a debate about the translation of evidence into policy when there are strong interests involved.  It’s not my area, but the evidence from the trial seems to be complex (as so often…), with different things going on and judgments required about tipping points, the relative importance of different factors, and the degree of latitude to be expected in translating from a trial situation into other environments. A bit of a masterclass in why it’s usually the politics and rarely the evidence that matters for decision making in the end.

You can hear the full exchange here (at about 2 hours 43 minutes)

Going postal

Dear reader, there is nothing make fun of here.  Nothing.

9 October

World Post Day is celebrated each year on 9 October, the anniversary of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1874 in the Swiss capital, Berne. It was declared World Post Day by the UPU Congress held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1969.

Awareness

The purpose of World Post Day is to create awareness of the role of the postal sector in people’s and businesses’ everyday lives and its contribution to the social and economic development of countries. The celebration encourages member countries to undertake programme activities aimed at generating a broader awareness of their Post’s role and activities among the public and media on a national scale.

 

OK, a small smile may be permissible…

A Fox News EXCLUSIVE on post-2015

This just in from Fox News:

EXCLUSIVE: The United Nations is planning to create a sweeping new set of “sustainable development goals”

Um… and we’ll have more from Fox News a bit later in the programme.

To be fair, though, their read of the implications – that the SDGs will “likely require trillions of dollars of spending on poverty and the environment, a drastic reorganization of economic production and consumption — especially in rich countries — and even greater effort in the expensive war on climate change” – hardly constitutes a distortion; it sounds pretty much spot on to me.

And tempting as it may be to chuckle, don’t forget how that the 1992 Earth Summit’s “Agenda 21″, became a bête noire for US conservatives, as David Steven observed here last year, quoting US right-wing author Nancy Levant among others:

Let me try to say it in one sentence: Agenda 21 is the end of America.

If they felt that strongly about Agenda 21 – about as inoffensive a sustainable development policy statement as I can think of – just imagine how much of a cause celebre the SDGs have the potential to be in US red states…

Where are the women? Gender imbalance in MY World mobile phone voting

This is a joint post with Frances Simpson Allen, of the UN Millennium Campaign

Women doing the MY World survey in Bangladesh

Women doing the MY World survey in Bangladesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The million votes – and counting – in the MY World survey will keep data geeks (like us) happy for years.  There’s lots of stories in there, but there’s one in particular which has us scratching our heads and we’d like to know what others think.  It’s this.

We have been experimenting with different ways of collecting data via mobile phones.  About a fifth of the votes come in via phone, mainly text messages or people calling a number and recording their answers.  And while overall the votes are pretty evenly balanced between men and women, the phone votes are strikingly male (all the data can be found here).

Globally, two men answer the survey by phone for every one woman. Of the fifteen countries where there are more than 2000 mobile phone votes, there were only two, Nicaragua and Kyrgyzstan, where women’s votes outnumbered men’s.  In India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia more than 90 per cent of phone votes come from men.  In another five countries: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Pakistan and Nepal, more than three quarters of phone votes come from men, while in Ghana, the DRC and South Africa, between 65 and 75 per cent of mobile votes came from men.  India and Nigeria also have large numbers of online votes, and there men also outnumber women though by a much smaller margin (around 60:40).

This imbalance is much higher than rates of phone ownership would suggest.  According to industry research, across Africa, 56 per cent of mobile phones are owned by men, and 44 per cent by women, while in South Asia the figures are 63 per cent men and 37 per cent women.  The Kenya figure is also particularly striking, given that a recent survey suggests there is very little difference in mobile phone usage rates between men and women.

The SMS MY World survey so far is not sampled (although we are doing sampled surveys through other means in a growing number of countries) and relies on people choosing to take part.  It’s clear that, under these conditions, women are less likely to offer information via mobile.  With one of our mobile partners we are testing female-specific messaging to see if more women opt-in when the question is phrased differently. We don’t have results from this pilot yet and we are keen to find out from others involved in similar exercises if the gender imbalance is a general finding or something specific to MY World.

There is huge optimism about the possibilities of using current technology to improve data collection, and through that to improved transparency and accountability.  Much of that is justified.  But the old problems – making sure that data is representative and doesn’t reflect existing biases and inequalities – apply to new technologies as much as to more traditional ways of collecting data.  The experience with MY World suggests that this may be a bit harder than we’d like to think.

What Have We Learned About Institutional Change?

institutional changeA number of noteworthy reports on institutional change, development, and foreign aid have been published recently. There is much agreement between them, suggesting that we have reached a tipping point in knowledge in this area. I will briefly summarize the results here and provide links for those who want to explore the subject further. Continue reading

Why US conservatives aren’t for turning

Ross Douthat in the NYT today is worth a read for a good discussion of US conservatives’ motivations in taking the US to the brink on debt. He starts by quoting David Frum on what small government conservatives thought of the 1980s:

However heady the 1980s may have looked to everyone else, they were for conservatives a testing and disillusioning time. Conservatives owned the executive branch for eight years and had great influence over it for four more; they dominated the Senate for six years; and by the end of the decade they exercised near complete control over the federal judiciary. And yet, every time they reached to undo the work of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — the work they had damned for nearly half a century — they felt the public’s wary eyes upon them. They didn’t dare, and they realized that they didn’t dare. Their moment came and flickered. And as the power of the conservative movement slowly ebbed after 1986, and then roared away in 1992, the conservatives who had lived through that attack of faintheartedness shamefacedly felt that they had better hurry up and find something else to talk about …

The point here, Douthat continues, is that

the deep, abiding gulf between the widespread conservative idea of what a true Conservative Moment would look like and the mainstream idea of the same … To liberals and many moderates, it often seems like the right gets what it wants in these arguments and then just gets more extreme, demanding cuts atop cuts, concessions atop concessions, deregulation upon deregulation, tax cuts upon tax cuts. But to many conservatives, the right has never come remotely close to getting what it actually wants, whether in the Reagan era or the Gingrich years or now the age of the Tea Party — because what it wants is an actually smaller government, as opposed to one that just grows somewhat more slowly than liberals and the left would like.

His conclusion:

if this attitude sounds more like a foolish romanticism than a prudent, responsible, grounded-in-reality conservatism — well, yes, unfortunately I think it pretty clearly is.

(And check out Martin Wolf in Monday’s FT for a good summary of just how foolish…)

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