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Is experimentation just the latest policy buzzword?

Experimentation is emerging as a distinctive public policy sub-field, with a new vocabulary and toolkit. It’s about learning what works and what doesn’t.

February 19, 2018

The term experimentation in the public policy context can sometimes have a negative connotation – bringing to mind everything from uncertainty and risk to failed social experiments. But experimentation shouldn’t be scary. In government, experimentation is the deliberate use of methods that seek to explore, test, and compare the effects and impacts of policies, interventions and approaches, in order to inform and support decision-making. Simply put, experimentation is about systematically learning what works and what doesn’t, and integrating the acquired knowledge into policy- and decision-making processes to arrive at the best outcomes for citizens.

This notion has started to coalesce under the “What Works” banner in places like the United Kingdom and the United States , supported by complementary evidence-focused initiatives, including the US-based Results for All and UK’s Alliance for Useful Evidence .

Elsewhere, governments have recognized the importance of experimentation and have set up policy units devoted to it. In Finland, for example, experimentation is one of the five priorities of the prime minister and the Experimental Finland team is placed squarely within the prime minister’s office. Denmark and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also have such self-declared units, and speak openly about engaging in experimentation.

In Canada, the federal government has committed to devote a fixed percentage of program funds to experimenting with new approaches to policies and programs and measuring impact. To that end, several departments have already begun systematically developing experimentation frameworks, units or funding streams.

For example, the Mental Health Commission conducted a number of experiments to test Housing First , an approach that focuses on providing housing for homeless people with complex needs as a first priority, before addressing other challenges. Participants were randomly placed into either a Housing First group or a group that continued to receive typical services provided to high-needs homeless persons. These experiments demonstrated that prioritizing housing before other interventions offered better outcomes, in terms of both financial savings for government and improved quality-of-life metrics for participants. The strength of the experimental evidence helped cement Housing First as a favoured practice by governments to tackle homelessness.

Just as citizens expect instant, on-demand services, the policy cycle — and indeed the gathering and use of evidence to inform policy decisions — is increasingly expected to occur equally fast, despite widely cited reports that, in some contexts, such as health care, there might be a 17-year lag before research is translated into on-the-ground changes. The Canada Beyond 150 initiative inside the federal public service is in the midst of training public servants in the new methodologies to make them resilient in the face of change.

“I was personally there when he was taken away. I tried to ask what was the problem and I was rebuffed with their guns. I was threatened to be shot if I come any closer. Everybody was scared,” Angese recalled.

The allegations against him

Two days after his arrest, the SSS on 23 July 2016 released a statement alleging Jones is a militant named General Akotebe Darikoro, operating under the nom-de-guerre 'General Kill and Bury', the leader of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, “which has been furthering separatist tendencies in connivance with other criminal gangs in the Niger Delta region”.

The SSS said Jones “confessed and owned up” to vandalising and bombing oil pipelines belonging to international oil companies Agip and Shell in early July 2016, sending threat messages to management of both oil companies demanding a total of N750m payment, threatening to launch missile attacks against the Presidential Villa and selected targets in Abuja, and masterminding the rumour in 2016 that the military was planning a coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.

Weekly Source, a local tabloid which operated by mostly sourcing and publishing critical stories of the government culled from online and national newspapers, had in its last edition dated 10 July 2016 published as its lead a story originally published by the online pointblanknews . com titled 'Rumble In The Military: Inside The Coup Plot Story... Militants' Warning Alters Plot'. The story elaborated an alleged conspiracy that top military officers working with politicians had approached the JNDLF militant group to intensify bombing pipelines as a justification to overthrow President Buhari. The military denied the allegations.

Weekly Source in the same edition published another story sourced from pointblanknews . com on how President Buhari's loyalists, including the director general of the SSS, were blocking investigations into an oil and gas company implicated by the anti-graft Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in syphoning billions of dollars in fraudulent oil deals. The story claimed that the company donated heavily towards President Buhari's 2015 presidential campaign through the loyalists.

Jackson Ude, the publisher of pointblanknews . com based in the U.S., in an interview in 2016, said he had received threats, from proxies of the SSS, asking him to pull down stories from his website which local based journalists like Jones were re-publishing in their newspapers and tabloids. He said he had been warned of possible arrest whenever he came to Nigeria.

Jones' family heads to court Jones Abiri's sister

Jones' family heads to court

In August 2016, Jones family filed a fundamental rights enforcement lawsuit against the SSS asking the Bayelsa State High Court to declare Jones arrest and continued detention without trial unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, null and void, and order the SSS to release Jones on bail, and direct the SSS to open Weekly Source newspaper's office.

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