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January 12th, 2019

↳ New_researchers

Worldviews

SOFT CYBER

Another kind of cybersecurity risk: the destruction of common knowledge

In a report for the Berkman Klein center, Henry Farrell and Bruce Schneier identify a gap in current approaches to cybersecurity. National cybersecurity officials still base their thinking on Cold War-type threats, where technologists focus on hackers. Combining both approaches, Farrell and Schneier make a wider argument about collective knowledge in democratic systems—and the dangers of its diminishment.

From the abstract:

"We demonstrate systematic differences between how autocracies and democracies work as information systems, because they rely on different mixes of common and contested political knowledge. Stable autocracies will have common knowledge over who is in charge and their associated ideological or policy goals, but will generate contested knowledge over who the various political actors in society are, and how they might form coalitions and gain public support, so as to make it more difficult for coalitions to displace the regime. Stable democracies will have contested knowledge over who is in charge, but common knowledge over who the political actors are, and how they may form coalitions and gain public support... democracies are vulnerable to measures that 'flood' public debate and disrupt shared decentralized understandings of actors and coalitions, in ways that autocracies are not."

One compelling metaresearch point from the paper is that autocratic governments receive analysis of information trade-offs, while democratic governments do not:

"There is existing research literature on the informational trade-offs or 'dictators' dilemmas' that autocrats face, in seeking to balance between their own need for useful information and economic growth, and the risk that others can use available information to undermine their rule. There is no corresponding literature on the informational trade-offs that democracies face between desiderata like availability and stability."

Full paper available on SSRN here.

  • Farrell summarizes the work on Crooked Timber: "In other words, the same fake news techniques that benefit autocracies by making everyone unsure about political alternatives undermine democracies by making people question the common political systems that bind their society." Many substantive comments follow. Link.
  • Jeremy Wallace, an expert on authoritarianism, weighs in on Twitter: "Insiders, inevitably, have even more information about the contours of these debates. On the other hand, there's a lot that dictators don't know--about their own regimes, the threats that they are facing, etc." Link to Wallace's work on the topic.
  • Related reading recommended by Wallace, from Daniel Little, a 2016 paper on propaganda: "Surprisingly, the government tends to pick a high level of propaganda precisely when it is ineffective." Link.
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January 5th, 2019

Aunt Eliza

PROCESS INTEGRATION

Bringing evidence to bear on policy

Happy 2019. We’re beginning with a report from Evidence in Practice, a project from the Yale School of Management. The report focuses on how to integrate rigorously researched evidence with policy and practice, with an emphasis on international development. The needs numerous stakeholders involved in research and policymaking are enumerated, along with their own needs and priorities: funders, researchers, intermediaries, policymakers, and implementers each receive consideration. One of the strengths of the report is its quotations from dozens of interviews across these groups, which give a sense of the messy, at times frustrating, always collaborative business of effecting change in the world. As to the question of what works:

"The most successful examples of evidence integration lessen the distinction between evidence generation and application, and focus on designing approaches that simultaneously generate (different types of) rigorous evidence and develop an iterative process for integrating evidence into practice. These projects turn the need to negotiate evidence generation and integration into an asset rather than a roadblock. In that sense, the best examples of evidence integration resulted from programs with robust, explicit learning and evidence sharing agendas. This commitment to learning opens the door for different types of linkages and information flows across stakeholders to share experiences, perspectives, and insights with the explicit (and non-threatening) goal of learning."

Another key point is that academic researchers and implementers have different definitions of evidence: Academics have a "tendency to think of evidence as abstract, 'universal' knowledge, while implementers have learned that knowledge is always and necessarily enacted and situated in practice, where few universal principles seem to hold across multiple complex contexts."

Full report, by Rodrigo Canales et al, here.

  • In October, Ruth Mayne, Duncan Green, Irene Guijt, Martin Walsh, Richard English & Paul Cairney published a paper detailing Oxfam's experience with promoting research-uptake in the policy sphere: "Academic studies of the politics of evidence-based policymaking suggest that policymaking can never be 'evidence based' (Cairney, 2016). At best, it is evidence-informed." Link.

  • At the World Bank’s Development Impact Blog, David Evans summarized the Oxfam paper into eight key points, including: "Great research is informed by engaging with people outside of our academic circles. We learn from people and policymakers (and people in other disciplines) what big new/unsolved problems are out there, and how institutions (formal and informal) really work." Link. ht Tim Ogden

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December 22nd, 2018

Frohes Fest | Year in Review

The JFI Letter has grown and morphed over the past twelve months; thank you to our readers for opening, skimming, clicking, and writing us every week. We'll be offline until January 5. In the meantime, here's a list of our favorite spotlights from last year and a list of favorite researchers to watch in the next.

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