Article / Policy Innovation
Published: 29.09.2021

Key Insights

  • Statistics are essential in policy-making, but what is even more vitally important is the understanding of human lives behind the numbers. Without the understanding, any statistics are meaningless.
  • The more complicated the statistics are, the more perplexing human lives become. Understanding social and cultural dimensions along with the statistics, and communicating them to the public will always make a policy more efficient.

If one has died because of the pandemic, who will bear the brunt? Certainly, it is the families, friends, your beloved ones, street diners in your neighbourhood, or even the country. The death toll from Covid-19 is not just some distant, depressing statistic; a life that has been lost causes greater impact than one could imagine. In terms of economics, there is the ‘Value of Statistical Life’ or the value of human life. An American citizen is worth around 7-9 million dollars or around 224-288 million baht.

Question 1

What do you think is the Value of Statistical Life of a Thai citizen?

เฉลย 20 million baht

20 million baht is the estimated value of the life of a Thai citizen. When you take the lost 10,000 lives attributed to Covid19 into calculation, you will find that the country has lost more than 200,000 million baht. Not to mention the mental stress that the families have to face which causes an impact on their productivity, the children who lost their parents, and families that lost their breadwinners. Statistics are never simply numbers. They refer to lives that need to be cared for before it is too late.

In these past few years people have started to question the true value of Big Data since they are often detached from social contexts. Thailand, for instance, has 3.7 people with disabilities (who are registered.) But do we know the causes of disabilities and their struggles? The current policies may not help them and are wasting time and resources.

Question 2

Which country is exemplary in utilizing data?

เฉลย The Netherlands

Several countries across the globe have turned to data-driven policy-making. They learned that every number is a human life. The Netherlands is one such example; they calculated teachers’ work hours to find out whether there will be enough teachers in the future. They also calculate the working hours of people with disabilities to forecast their survivability. Recently, the Netherlands just implemented a curriculum on social and emotional skills in every school to reduce school absence and violence since they found that in the past few decades students live under significantly more stress due to intensive competition in the economic system.

Question 3

“It is most profitable to invest in children”: which of the following best explains the saying?

เฉลย It is most profitable because it is good in the long run.

The USA is among the countries that have implemented policies based on data for a long time. Data-driven policy-making is convenient for a country with a large population and a strong democracy that insists everyone is entitled to benefit from its policies. Their education policies are a clear example of this : several studies have confirmed that investing in children is the most profitable investment in the long-run. Still, some governments choose not to invest in children, seeing that they cannot vote hence cannot yield political interests, and choose to implement policies for adults only.

Raj Chetty from Harvard University explored the data of kindergarteners in the past 50 years, focusing on their tax rates when growing up. It was found that having quality education since the early childhood years results in adults who pay higher tax rates. Investing in children means investing in quality education which means more income for the nation; it also helps reduce social problems such as crime rates which relate to the work of the Ministry of Justice and many others.

A study which was awarded a Nobel Prize discovered that what improved school attendance was deworming drugs. They gave the drugs to a lot of schools and found that school attendance rates were significantly higher. The research was beneficial to both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Health, and as such could lessen the health care burden.

Another study from Stanford University explored the quality of education in rural China and found that the problem in access to education was not about the curriculum but the eye health. Around 25 percent of students from 20,000 samples were short-sighted; the team gave reading glasses to the children and in the next six months, their test results improved by 16%. However, some Chinese parents believe that eyeglasses are the origin of bad eye health, and would rather their children exercise their eyes every morning. It is evident here that every policy-making action needs to fully be aware of cultural beliefs in order for it to work effectively.

Question 4

In the future, AI will be able to analyze everything, thus we no longer need humans to do most of the work. Is this true?

เฉลย True and Untrue

Us human beings have our own algorithms; consequently, we can use our own processes to evaluate what we should and should not do based on our past experiences. Still, habits cause us to falter. A researcher from Chicago University who was interested in social justice issues questioned the capacity of New York judges: the less transparent the justice system was, the more problems it would cause. The researcher analyzed the judges’ work from 700,000 cases in the database. It was found that there were 40% of repeated offenses; consequently, he used AI to evaluate preliminary risks and also had the judge evaluate it all again. It was a cooperation between humans and machines that reduced the workload, resources, and crime rates.

Question 5

If the government wants to use data in policy-making, at which stage should data be utilized?

เฉลย Tool

Restaurant owners will not know what kind of ingredients they should buy if they do not see past records. Data is a tool designed to solve pertinent problems, and quality data paves the way for efficient solutions. There are several alternatives to solve educational problems, such as providing funds, buying up-to-date equipment, reducing study hours as well as teachers’ workload. However, no one can do all this at the same time. Data will help prioritize the alternatives and see which option is the best for sustainability. Data that understands humans effectively helps to solve social issues in the long-run.

Seeing the importance of lives behind statistics, policymakers in this day and age recognize that policymaking is not just about searching for information and calculating numbers. It is about understanding lives, and understanding social and cultural dimensions that take us beyond the horizon we see. Understanding humans in policy-making takes us to the right sources, to the right persons to talk to, and takes us to the road of effective policies.

Effective policies are simply the understanding of human lives.


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