(Preface: This is the first edition of a quarterly email newsletter I started earlier this year called To Be Decided. I'm posting this as an experiment; if response here is positive, I'll post the two issues that have gone out since then as well as future issues as they come out. Feedback welcome!)
Welcome to the inaugural edition of To Be Decided, a quarterly newsletter about smarter decisions for a better world! TBD is all about deploying knowledge for impact, learning at scale, and making more thoughtful choices for ourselves and our organizations. Each edition will feature short and sweet reviews of important publications you don't want to miss but don't have time to read, along with a brief roundup of major developments in the world of learning and decision-making since last time.
Why Your Hard Work Sits on the Shelf—and What to Do About It
We've all been there. The time when the client seemed to forget the project ever happened as soon as the final check was cut. The time when your report stuffed full of creative recommendations got buried by risk-averse leadership. The time when stakeholders really did seem engaged by the findings, had lots of conversations, and then...nothing changed.
If you suspect these stories are more the rule than the exception, the evidence suggests you're right. And if the trend continues, chances are it's eventually going to catch up to those of us who generate and spread knowledge in the social sector. If we really want our work to be useful, we have to continue supporting decision-makers after the final report is delivered, working hand-in-hand with them to ensure whatever choices they make take into account not only the best information available but also other factors that matter to them, including their values, goals, and perceived obligations. For this reason, knowledge providers who want to see their work have greater impact might find value in partnering with a decision consultant in the form of a "wrap-around" service for knowledge initiatives.
What I've Been Reading
Rethinking the Purpose of Measurement
Measurement is not a simple act of observation disconnected from any larger plan. Instead, it’s an optimization strategy for reducing uncertainty about decisions we need to make. That’s the central argument of Douglas Hubbard’s How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business, which remains one of the most important books on decision-making I’ve read since first encountering it more than seven years ago. This revolutionary reframing argues that measurement can only have value if it can reduce uncertainty about a decision that matters. It points toward an ultra-applied approach to evaluation and research that would represent a radical departure from the way these functions operate at most organizations today.
(Full review | Twitter thread)
Funders Learn Mostly from Each Other. Is that Dangerous? "Peer to Peer: At the Heart of Influencing More Effective Philanthropy," commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation with the goal of understanding how foundations access and use knowledge, raises the question of whether there are enough intellectually curious foundation leaders who both keep tabs on new studies and reports as they come out and proactively share that knowledge with their peers. (Twitter thread)
Stuff You Should Know About
- The very same day last December that negotiations to avoid the longest government shutdown in US history fell apart, President Trump signed into law one of the most important pieces of government performance legislation in 25 years. Among other reforms, it directs federal agencies to develop public learning agendas and hire senior evaluation officers. As improbable as it may seem, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy-Making Act was passed with broad bipartisan support by a Republican Congress following recommendations from an Obama-era presidential commission. (Side note: props to Bipartisan Policy Coalition's Nick Hart for braving Reddit to host a rowdy Ask Me Anything on this topic.)
- In a bid to accelerate the open science movement, the University of California system has declined to renew its $10 million annual contract with Elsevier, the world's largest publisher of scholarly research.
- The Open Philanthropy Project, one of the most interesting funders in the world right now, has placed its biggest bet to date: a $55 million grant to help establish the new Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University. The center, which will focus extensively on heading off threats from advanced artificial intelligence, will be headed by Jason Matheny, former director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) program at the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Fun fact: while at IARPA, Matheny managed the prediction tournament that helped establish the empirical basis for the advanced techniques described in Philip Tetlock's popular book Superforecasting. (More about forecasting in a future TBD.)
That's all for now!
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