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Can there be too much data to inform policy and what skills are needed for the policymaking of tomorrow

One of the things I enjoy doing during the summer in Finland is to work in the garden, in the late afternoon, and listen to a LSE public lecture podcast.

Last week I listened to two really interesting ones.

In the first podcast, Tracking the Rise in Global Economic Inequality: new evidence from the world inequality report 2018Lucas Chancel presented the main findings of the first World Inequality Report for 2018.  The report provides the first systemic assessment of globalization in terms of income and wealth inequality since 1980. The discussants were Duncan Green, Paul Segal, and Rebecca Simson.

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In one sentence, the main finding of the report is that ‘income inequality has increased in nearly all world regions in recent decades, but at different speeds. The fact that inequality levels are so different among countries, even when countries share similar levels of development, highlights the important roles that national policies and institutions play in shaping inequality.’

To me,  these findings highlight the importance of developing the state capabilities for monitoring inequality at country, regional, and global level to inform national and  international policy decisions. The report’s webpage makes also available a rich set of data that can be accessed by researchers, practitioners, and civil servants to do some more analysis if they need or want. Will they?

Duncan Green, during his round of comments, made the point that while to have access to the data and the findings of the the report is important, it is also true that today there is a lot of data, analysis, and reports which are produced to inform public policy, maybe even too much.  There is plenty of data produced by development programme to inform government decisions. In other words, there is a lot of supply of evidence.  What is seems to be missing,  is a better understanding of the politics of change and the politics of policy decision making which by nature are very context specific.

To me this does not reduce the importance of producing data and analysis but is more like a call for researchers and practitioners and development agencies to get into the politics and uncertainties of policymaking.



Nick Clegg (Wikipedia)

In the second podcast, Flying the Flag for Openness: why liberalism still matter,  Sir Nick Clegg sets out the case for liberal values at a time of stark social and generational divisions. Towards the end of the Q&A, Clegg was asked by Professor Tony Travers, what skills should a school of public policy (such as the LSE) teach to the policy makers of tomorrow. Clegg said that based on his experience in government as deputy Prime Minister, one of the most critical skills is the understanding  of the trade-offs of any public policy decisions, big or small. Civil servants and policy makers are faced on a daily basis with many choices they have to make. Research, analysis, data, etc. can provide some help. However, the skill that often is most useful (and should be taught more) is about understanding the trade-off of those decisions: less budget for some programmes, the need to increase taxes, policies in some parts of the country but not in other, etc. The skill of understanding and managing trade-offs, according to Nick Clegg, is the one of the most important skills required in the future as the complexity of society and policy decisions continues to increase.

An interesting point, I thought.