Occupy Wall Street movement, a leaderless movement that has been largely ineffective in bringing about policy change, compared with the Tea Party movement, which has been able to engage political institutions.

Libbie Prescott, strategic advisor to the US Secretary of State on science and technology, noted that the subject of political will arose several times during the workshop. Not all policymakers are comfortable with data and methodologies, she observed, and the information gathered through sensing may not be as self-evident to those who need to express the political will to act. Policymakers have preexisting agendas, and just presenting them with data does not guarantee a response. Presentations may need to be adapted to the individual. “The same data will not convince [different] people of the same outcome regardless of how accurate the data is. I don’t know if there is a technological fix for that, but it’s something to keep in mind.”

Prescott added that political will depends on a combination of the perceived certainty of information, the perceived cost of action, and the perceived cost of inaction. Data measurement and transparency can strongly influence these perceptions. As Secretary Clinton has said, data not only measure progress but inspire it. “Providing data in these environments allows for better accountability and greater governance,” Prescott said.

Prescott also asked whether a society is better off being able to detect something if it has no ability to change that thing. Surveillance is useful when there is a clear way to act on the information gathered. When policymakers receive information, they typically want to know what to do next, and asking for more money to study the situation further is typically not a satisfactory answer. If specific recommendations for action are lacking, policymakers may distance themselves from those who put them in an awkward situation, she said.

Neil Levine, director of the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation at USAID, elaborated on this point by observing that early warnings often present decision makers with the difficulty of uncertain information and high costs. Sensing can help by clarifying the certainty or uncertainty of the information. Also, to the extent that sensing provides information further in advance of the onset of violence, it broadens the choices for policymakers and often reduces the cost.

Also on the issue of political will, Sanjana Hattotuwa noted that an emerging information landscape will make it more difficult for policymakers not to act when presented with actionable information. Information about atrocities such as ongoing genocides will inevitably reach the rest of the world rather than staying in a particular region, as might have happened in

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement