Supporting evidence-based policy making and implementation by governments in the emerging Asia Pacific is an important part of LIRNEasia’s raison d’etre. This support is extended in many ways. The latest is the acceptance of the Sri Lanka government’s invitation extended to founder chair Rohan Samarajiva to serve as Chairman on the countries apex ICT Agency. Rohan was a member of the original Board of the ICT Agency, which was established in 2003 to implement a pioneering integrated ICT development initiative called e Sri Lanka. He contributed to its design.
The Young Scholars’ Program conducted alongside the annual CPRsouth conference has been offered eleven times since January 2007, with the support of IDRC. The purpose of both events is to develop policy intellectuals in the global south. A tracer study conducted in 2016 found that those who had participated in the Young Scholars’ Program before presenting papers at the conference were the most policy engaged. The program was re-conceptualized accordingly, and the Young Scholars’ Program placed firmly in the foreground starting August 2017. View the full report here.
Sri Lanka has not one, but two, government-owned TV channels. They tend to be used for propaganda, but there are occasions when they act like normal news channels, serving the public interest in understanding what is going on. Last week, for example, I was happy to be on a talk show in the midst of a breakdown of fuel supplies debating the issues with a leader of a trade union combine that is trying its hardest to roll back even the current nominal liberalization and restore some kind of retrograde state monopoly. This week, I was invited to come on the show again to discuss the budget. I am generally supportive of the thrust of the 2018 budget proposals, which may be why they invited me.
Christoph Stork of Research ICT Africa/Research ICT Action gave a master class in how to communicate complex research findings to policy makers, based on the policy briefs submitted by the presenters in the CPRsouth 2017 Conference Session 8 “ICTs to achieve broader public-policy objectives.” Here is the slideset.
Tomorrow, we start the CPRsouth Young Scholar Program at the Inya Lake Hotel, Yangon. I was asked to begin the program with a new topic, “What is policy research? What is special about communication policy research?” That proved more interesting than I thought. The slides are below.
My talk at the International Research Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Sri Jayawardenepura has been published in a newspaper. I described two critical issues facing our country and highlighted the dearth of good evidence. In the concluding part, from which the excerpt is taken, I discussed the challenge of maintaining quality. We must do these hard things, subjecting ourselves to the highest levels of quality control. Because the only thing worse than not being engaged with the policy process is its pollution by the introduction of bad research into it.
The University of Sri Jayewardenepura is organizing an International Conference on Humanities and the Social Sciences, 10-11 November 2016. A principal focus is taking research to policy. That was why I accepted their invitation to be the Chief Guest and to moderate the media symposium. Here is a short excerpt from what I plan to say tomorrow. Hopefully the full speech will be published.
There appeared to be a problem with loading the slideset, so I went to Plan B. I was just about to do a big data talk with no slides. That is the first learning: always have a Plan B and be ready to improvise. This being Oxford, I thought they could access the slides off the Internet. But then the technical problem was solved and I gave a conventional talk.
I did not have to go looking for them. They came up to me and fondly spoke of what they had learned at previous CPRsouth events. In some cases the interactions had happened more than five years ago. I was gratified. The objective of CPRsouth is not to equip young people for the academic industry; it is to encourage and equip them to take research to policy.
Few days back, I was part of a panel discussing the Sri Lanka RTI Bill that has gone through Constitutional Review. This was on Rupavahini, the government-owned channel. The Deputy Minister in charge of shepherding the bill through Parliament and a lawyer who had intervened in the Constitutional Review were the other members. The first time I engaged with the topic was in 2007. Then I went into high gear in 2011.
We’ve been promoting time-sensitive tariffs to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka since 2013. They were available to commercial customers, but we wanted them made available to residential customers as well. Three years down the road, it looks like the dam has broken. CEB is offering a low-user tariff effective from 2230 to 0530. This will help address CEB’s baseload problem but of course it will also help those who run electric cars.
At the Young Scholars’ program at CPRsouth10 in Taipei today, I was privileged to interview Grace Mirandilla Santos, a CPRsouth alumna (Young Scholar at CPRsouth 1; paper presenter at CPRsouth 2, 3, 4 and 10). The slides that I used to set up the talk are here. When describing how she managed to become a critical player in the Philippines broadband quality debates, she emphasized the role played by senior colleagues such as Jaime Faustino and Al Alegre in opening doors. But she was able to make use of these opportunities only because she had done the research, could leverage her networks to supplement what she knew and communicate what she knew effectively. She exploited the policy window using skill, but chance played a role too.
Companies are increasingly relying on business analytics to extract value from the large volumes of computer-readable and analyzable (or “datafied”) data in their possession. Big data for development (BD4D) seeks to apply these techniques to big data held by both government and private entities to answer development-related questions. Given low levels of “datafication” of transactions and records in developing countries, analysis of credit-card use or even social-media use is unlikely to yield coverage approaching n=all as in developed countries. Mobile transaction-generated data (including Call Detail Records or CDRs) are an exception. Because they can yield information on movement of people, they have great potential to inform a host of policy domains: urban and transportation planning, health policy by enabling the modeling of the spread of infectious diseases, socio-economic monitoring, etc.
The Open University of Sri Lanka invited me to deliver the sixth in a series of distinguished lectures on the 10th of April 2015. Looking through the titles of the previous lectures, I saw that the common theme is the university and higher learning. Therefore, I proposed “Making the university relevant” as the topic and described the content as follows: In an increasingly complex world where difficult decisions have to be made by those in government, there is demand for evidence to support political and policy choices. The university is the default source where one looks for evidence or for those who can generate evidence. But on most occasions, scholars and policy makers do not connect.
The “twittersphere” has been abuzz, with claims of anti-intellectualism and a few admissions of fault since Nicholas Kristof’s philippic appeared. “Political science Ph.D.’s often aren’t prepared to do real-world analysis,” says Ian Bremmer, a Stanford political science Ph.D.
At the Infosys training campus in Mysore, ably served by a subset of the 7,000 employees who keep this place ticking like clockwork, we are running the pre-conference CPRsouth8 tutorials. Close to 30 young scholars (we lost several Iranian students who had applied well in time due to the obduracy of the Indian visa authorities) from Asia and Africa are engaging with the challenges of doing policy-relevant ICT research. The slidesets are downloadable here.