Friday, September 01, 2023

LSE Events Autumn 2023

 As well as the wider world session I have spoken about here before, there is obviously a very active public events programme here. Details available here with most available either in person or online. There are 60+ events already from September to October, including several involving colleagues from our Department. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Epistemic injustice and mental health research: A pragmatic approach to working with lived experience expertise

A fascinating paper by Celestin Okoroji and colleagues Tanya Mackay, Dan Robotham, and Davino Beckford. Abstract below. I posted recently on the lecture by Sanjay Pandey on the centrality of subjective experience for public administration research. There are clearly many streams converging on the idea that public policy research needs to have a more direct engagement with those affected by the consequences of decisions arising from advice. I won't try to untangle all of the knots involved in bringing the various intellectual traditions together but it is obvious that there are many interesting intersections that will come together increasingly in the next few years.

“Epistemic injustice” refers to how people from marginalized groups are denied opportunities to create knowledge and derive meaning from their experiences. In the mental health field, epistemic injustice occurs in both research and service delivery systems and particularly impacts people from racialized communities. Lived experience involvement and leadership are often proposed as methods of combatting epistemic injustice, a tool for ensuring the views of people at the center of an issue are heard and can inform decision-making. However, this approach is not without challenges. In this paper, we draw on our work as intermediary organizations that center lived experience perspectives to challenge epistemic injustice. We highlight two problems we have identified in working in the mental health research field: “elite capture” and “epistemic exploitation”. We believe that these problems are barriers to the radical and structural change required for epistemic justice to occur. We propose a pragmatic approach to addressing these issues. Based on our work we suggest three considerations for researchers and our own organizations to consider when involving people with lived experience. These include reflecting on the purpose of creating knowledge, with a focus on impact. Embedding lived experience roles, with appropriate employment, support and remuneration, and acknowledging that it may be necessary to work alongside existing systems as a “critical friend” while developing new spaces and structures for alternative forms of knowledge. Finally, the mental health research system needs to change. We believe these three considerations will help us better move toward epistemic justice in mental health research.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Everyday Administrative Burden and Inequality

The print version of our paper "Everyday Administrative Burden and Inequality" (with Lucie Martin and Orla Doyle) is available now at Public Administration Review. Abstract below. I posted recently about a fascinating paper arguing that subjective experience will/should take greater precedence in public administration research. This is one methodological approach for advancing this. 

Administrative burdens create costly experiences for citizens, especially disadvantaged groups. Research to date focuses on how burdens affect outcomes in specific policy contexts, thus little is known about cumulative experiences of burdens in everyday life and their distribution in society. This is the first study to document everyday administrative experiences, accounting for time and well-being costs across 10 domains: tax, retirement, government benefits, bills, goods and services, savings, debt, health, child care, and adult care. Survey results from 2243 UK adults show that administrative tasks are a significant part of everyday life, with time and well-being costs that vary by domain. Benefits-related tasks are particularly costly. There is evidence of distributive effects. Those in poor health and financial insecurity are more likely to engage in salient tasks, such as benefits, but less likely to engage with longer-term tasks including savings and retirement. They experience higher well-being costs, especially during salient tasks.

The nature of the administrative tasks that we surveyed in the UK population are delineated below and the paper gives details of the percentage of people who engaged in these tasks over a day or month (some important design details are provided in the method section) and the amount of time they spent. We also elicited positive and negative emotions during these events using a modified day reconstruction survey. 

The associated well-being during each task is shown below, with the coefficients coming from within-person regression models.  The paper provides greater detail on how these well-being coefficients are distributed across age, health status, income, and financial well-being, with those in poor health and with lower financial well-being, in general, experiencing high levels of negative affect and lower levels of positive affect during admin tasks compared to other groups.  

There are other projects associated with the paper, including a forthcoming paper we have worked on examining the role of administrative burdens in decision-making, using choice experiments. Lucie is currently completing a separate paper on gender aspects of these well-being differences across tasks and is working with the Psychology of Administrative Burdens project to conduct versions of the survey internationally. In our Department at LSE, many colleagues are working on well-being in the context of public policy environments, including a number of projects specifically on the experience of time. Some other specific directions relevant to the current paper include the use of subjective ethnography to dive deeper into the experience of administrative tasks. As noted by Panday in the article I mentioned in the opening paragraph, moving from analysis of lived experience to more direct involvement of people with lived experience of these contexts is another area that many people here have been pursuing. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Accounting for the Widening Mortality Gap Between Adult Americans with and without a BA

Anne Case and Angus Deaton continue to unpick what is one of the industrialised world's most stark demographic trend - the growing disparity in health and mortality between university-educated and non-university educated Americans. 

We examine mortality differences between Americans with and without a four-year college degree over the period 1992 to 2021. From 1992 to 2010, both groups saw falling mortality, but with greater improvements for the more educated; from 2010 to 2019, mortality fell for those with a BA and rose for those without; from 2019 to 2021, mortality rose for both groups, but more rapidly for the less educated. In consequence, the mortality gap between the two groups rose in all three periods, unevenly until 2010, faster between 2010 to 2019, and explosively during the pandemic. The overall period saw dramatic changes in patterns of mortality, but gaps rose consistently, not only in all-cause mortality, but in each of thirteen broad classifications of cause of death. Gaps increased for causes of death whose rates have risen in the last thirty years, whose rates have fallen in the last thirty years, and whose rates fell and then rose. Gaps rose for causes where rates were originally higher for those without a BA, and where rates were originally lower for those without a BA. Although mechanisms and stories are different for each cause of death, the widening gap is seen throughout.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Mills et al: Dark patterns and sludge audits: an integrated approach

Very interesting new paper by Stuart Mills, Richard Whittle, Rafi Ahmed, Tom Walsh and Martin Wessel. Stuart developed this paper when he was an LSE fellow in our Department. Three of the co-authors are former LSE students who were undertaking various research options in the Department at the time, including Rafi Ahmed who was in the first cohort of our final year undergraduate research apprenticeship model. I am really glad to see the emphasis on ethical and regulatory aspects of behavioural science in the Department find these types of expression. 

Dark patterns are user interface design elements which harm users but benefit vendors. These harms have led to growing interest from several stakeholders, including policymakers. We develop a high-level analytical framework – the dark patterns auditing framework (DPAF) – to support policymaker efforts concerning dark patterns. There are growing links between dark patterns and the behavioural science concept of sludge. We examine both literatures, noting several worthwhile similarities and important conceptual differences. Using two ‘sludge audits,’ and the DPAF, we examine 14 large online services to provide a high-level review of the user experience of these services. Our approach allows policymakers to identify areas of the user ‘journey’ (dark paths) where sludge/dark patterns persist. For regulators with constrained resources, such an approach more be advantageous when planning more granular analyses. Our approach also reveals several important limitations, notably, within some of the tools for sludge auditing which we develop, such as the ‘equal clicks principle.’ We discuss these limitations and directions for future research.

The paper goes through the conceptual basis of dark patterns and sludge, and proposes taxonomies that are then used to conduct external user audits of a range of online services. In particular, they examine the ease of deactivating or deleting an online service compared to setting one up. See below for the amount of actions this takes for a range of online services and the figure below that for the steps in starting and deleting a facebook account. It is likely a range of information providers already know a lot of this in quite a lot of depth but to increasingly see these things publicly mapped and discussed and mapped to solid theoretical frameworks is great. 

This is really exciting and interesting work. They also have a very well-considered limitations section, in particular on the limits of constructing such audits as external users rather than having access to internal firm data. 

Some projects for Autumn 2023

A few things below that might be of interest to some readers. My day job since 2020 has been as head of the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, which I am scheduled to continue until end of 2025. It is a rewarding job in many ways as you basically get to see pretty much every side of academia but it is also intensive and sometimes intrusive, particularly as I joined at the height of covid and have also worked through a period of mass industrial action here in the UK. I will be teaching on executive courses on the development of behavioural science and policy and ethical appraisal on executive courses, a foundations of behavioural science course at graduate level, and advanced applications at undergraduate level, including continuing to work on our next-generation behavioural science policy simulation. I find it important to work on things like the below to keep energy levels up. 

The schedule for the wider world session is available here. It is still evolving but already has a nice shape with speakers from across different public and private agencies. Many people have offered excellent suggestions for which I am very grateful.

The Irish behavioural science and policy network has been revamped. Details here. I will post about this at a later stage. There is a really interesting and interconnected group of people working across behavioural and experimental economics, health psychology, social psychology, and broad-level behavioural science in Ireland. I am still involved as a visiting professor at UCD and continue to work with groups such as the Irish Central Bank and the Department of Health on various issues.

I hope to have a set of lunch events for people interested in developing particular areas of behavioural science in LSE. Some topics include regional networks in particular Global South, connections to AI, ethical technology development.

I have started the process of organising a workshop on the experience of a day to be held the week after Bloomsday in Dublin next year. We have talked about doing something like this for a long time motivated by the work many of us have conducted on day reconstruction methods and obviously by Joyce's great book. Truthfully, I know a lot more people working on things like experience sampling and day reconstruction than I do working on Joyce but we do hope to have a cross-over between social science and humanities, and perhaps natural sciences. Brainwaves by email welcome! 

I am working with some alumni and students on the development of a new agency exploring ideas around ethical influence in the 21st century. We were recently awarded an LSE Innovation award to develop this and I look forward to talking more to people about it over the year.