To Be Decided #4

post by Ian David Moss · 2019-12-16T18:41:27.983Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW · None comments

Contents

  On Stories vs. Data
  What I've Been Reading
  Stuff You Should Know About
  Join the Improving Institutional Decision-Making Community 
  That's all for now!
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TBD is a quarterly-ish newsletter about deploying knowledge for impact, learning at scale, and making more thoughtful choices for ourselves and our organizations.

On Stories vs. Data

The reason stories work for us as human beings is because they are few in number. We can spend two hours watching a documentary, or a week reading a history book, and get a deep qualitative understanding of what was going on in a specific situation or in a specific case. The problem is that we can only truly comprehend so many stories at once. We don’t have the mental bandwidth to process the experiences of even hundreds, much less thousands or millions of subjects or occurrences. To make sense of those kinds of numbers, we need ways of simplifying and reducing the amount of information we store in each case. So what we do is we take all of those stories and we flatten them: we dry out all of the rich shape and detail that makes up their original form and we package them instead in a kind of mold: collecting a specific and limited set of attributes about each so that we can apply analysis techniques to them in batch. In a very real sense, data = mass-produced stories.

It sounds horrible when I put it like that, right? But make no mistake: stories are never incompatible with data. When you or someone you know has an indelible experience at a spiritual retreat, or when a child’s life is saved through involvement with your nonprofit, or when people are brought together who wouldn’t otherwise meet because of an event you organized, those are all great stories — and they’re also data.

(Keep reading)

What I've Been Reading

Fostering Government Evidence Use in the Global South
Our first item is a celebration of Results for All, a global initiative to improve the use of evidence in government decision-making led by Abeba Taddese. Over the course of four years, Results for All produced a panoply of information resources worth checking out, including a landscape analysis of 100+ government initiatives to accelerate evidence use in policymaking, case studies of some very creative incentive programs to encourage better evidence use, a collection of 50+ evidence-sharing networks, a survey of funders who support evidence in international development, and more. Sadly, Results for All shut down and laid off its staff earlier this fall and is among several evidence synthesis and use initiatives that I have heard are struggling to obtain and sustain funding. In the meantime, I'm sharing some of my key takeaways from their work.
(Keep reading)

Fortune Telling is an Essential Decision-Making Skill One of the most fundamental insights I've had since beginning my exploration of the decision-making space is that all decisions are predictions. Every time you decide anything, you're making a judgment about what's going to happen as a result of the action(s) you take. Which means that if you can get better at predicting the future, you will get better at decision-making! Luckily, the past decade has seen some tremendous advances in our understanding of forecasting performance and how to improve it, many of which are chronicled in Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner's book Superforecasting. The book describes the remarkable results of a massive, multiyear geopolitical forecasting tournament conducted by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence in which thousands of regular folks competed against career intelligence analysts with access to classified information—and won. (Keep reading)

Stuff You Should Know About

Join the Improving Institutional Decision-Making Community

Over the past year, inspired by Jess Whittlestone's problem profile for 80,000 Hours, I've been putting a substantial amount of volunteer time towards cultivating a community of changemakers interested in improving decision-making practices at important civic and social institutions. We had our first in-person meetup in October at the EA Global conference in London – it was the best-attended meetup of the entire event – and organizing has only continued and intensified since then. If you'd like, you can join nearly 500 colleagues in lively conversations about contemporary issues in the space on the Facebook group, or if you're ready to dive right in to helping organize (and/or just don't like Facebook), you can request to join the Slack channel.

That's all for now!

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