‘Let’s Put the People Back in Policy’: The PDSP Framework is Needed Now More than Ever

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Can we really trust data to always be accurate?

John Snow and Cholera.

These are perhaps two words one would not expect to see in the same sentence, but the context is in fact extremely relevant to the present times. No, it is not the ‘Jon Snow’ you are thinking of; instead, this John Snow was the father of Epidemiology and his esteemed research on the spread rate of viruses during pandemics is vital even in an era where technology is able to process data at faster and faster rates. He invented the ‘bottom-up’ approach to tracking the spread of a virus, plotting the locations of where outbreaks occurred on a map, and then determining where those clusters of infection occurred. Of course, this method was not perfect, nor was John Hopkins’ eventual improvements that were near-real-time in terms of detection (though not widespread), but it indicated the value of quality data and how it could save millions of lives when utilized well.

Data-collection, machine learning, and AI usage is at an all-time high, and their functions will continue to become more complex and involved in society as time goes on. Many countries would have not been able to track COVID-19 cases without employing the usage of these technologies, and casualties would have undeniably skyrocketed without them. But now, there is a new challenge that has yet to be addressed properly by the world over, a challenge that is already proving how deadly its consequences are when left unchecked; what happens when we rely too heavily on the tools afforded to us by technology for decision-making purposes, and how do we know where to draw the line?

Distinguished researchers and policy analysts Rashi Khilnani, Matt Leger, and Jean-François Barsoum have pooled their resources together to answer those very questions in the hope that through the development of a framework they have coined as “People-Driven Smart Policy” (PDSP), overreliance on technology and data in terms of policy-making will be mitigated and that people are “put back in the driver’s seat” when it comes to determining policies that affect their lives greatly.

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Khilnani and Leger’s presentation gives real-world examples of how over-relying on data for decision-making purposes can spell disaster.

Khilnani and Leger’s recent DotsLive discussion delved deeply into everything mentioned thus far, giving some more comprehensive information to their article published in Harvard University’s Kennedy School Review, as well as providing relevant case studies of the pitfalls that occur when the human element is left out of these overly data-driven decisions. The following Q + A had the speakers revealing their strategies when approaching policy-makers to get on board with their line of thinking, their hopes for the framework, and even a glimpse into the roadmap they plan to follow in order to make PDSP as accessible and as easy to understand as possible.

It is difficult to change something that has already been set in motion, but when human lives are actively being harmed, as is the case with many minorities and protected groups who are not being served well by current data-driven policies, then that change is a necessity.

For the full presentation of the PDSP, watch the FREE and INTERACTIVE discussion on DotsLive: https://beta.dotslive.com/#/replay/4yLA_lp1MZM

Read the team’s in-depth article in the Kennedy School Review: https://ksr.hkspublications.org/2020/07/25/people-driven-smart-policy-a-new-public-policy-approach-for-pandemics-and-beyond/?fbclid=IwAR1rs9uf0U6SoRccE5ihwo-JVqV-241wsvgjVpnTuAFFo4JDYDCyp61I5pY

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