I told a friend about a book I was reading about social behaviour experiments. The book is a couple decades old but a delight to read. My friend’s response was ‘It’s an interesting read, but most of the theories have not be repeatable.’ Turns out students in US based universities are not respresentative of the world and many other flaws were discovered in the years post publication.
This is not to discourage experiments. In fact, it is the opposite. In order to find new ideas, new understanding, we need more experiments and tests, not less. For every experiment that is repeatable, that leads to new understanding, there usually are hundreds that don’t work. We need to think of these like Edison, not as failures, but as learning – ‘I did not fail, I simply learned 10,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.’
This is true in science, in social behaviour theory, and in data governance. We are stuck in one way of approaching data governance. However, we know it is no longer working, no longer fit for purpose in most places humanitarians operate. But we don’t have a natural new approach. And perhaps there won’t be one, but there will be many. However, to get to the future, we need experiments in the present to help find a way forward.
We need more experiments, not less.