The evidence movement, long championed by the Royal Statistical Society, is achieving real progress. Five new ‘What Works Centres’, in crime reduction, local economic growth, education, ageing better and early intervention have now opened and are linked in a 'What Works Network'. The centres’ overall aim is to improve the use of high quality evidence when government makes decisions about public services.
Web companies have been doing human subjects research for a while now. Companies like Facebook and Google have employed statisticians for almost a decade (or more) and part of the culture they have introduced is the idea of randomised experiments to identify ideas that work and that don't. They have figured out that experimentation and statistical analysis often beat out the opinion of the highest paid person at the company for identifying features that 'work'. Here 'work' may mean features that cause people to read advertising, or click on ads, or match up with more people.
Is Britain a better place than the United States? Or France? Or Sweden? To answer that question objectively, the most widely used benchmark is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or some other similar measure of economic output. Certainly, when our politicians want to claim that they are doing a good job they will, as our government is doing now, point to the rate of increase of GDP, economic growth.
Since the term 'data revolution' was brandished in the high-level Panel report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, there has been a flurry of activity to define, develop and drive an agenda to transform the way development statistics are collected, used, and shared the world over. But nowhere in the world is the need for better data more urgent than in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite a decade of rapid economic growth in most countries in the region, the accuracy of basic data - for instance GDP, number of kids attending school, and vaccination rates - remains low, and improvements have been sluggish.
I was at an interesting meeting recently regarding privacy concerns of use of personal data by private sector and government organizations. I was there to talk about Georgetown University (where I am Provost) building the McCourt School Massive Data Institute and the issues that we see in trying to use new data resources for the common good to build a better society and a better world.