UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS IS INFORMATION EMPOWERING?

Armed with the right information, people can achieve striking improvements in their lives. Yet information alone does not empower -- information empowers only when social and emotional factors induce people to reinterpret it.

In this report, Feedback Labs, Omidyar Network and GlobalGiving unpack that process, drawing on hundreds of books, papers and real-life examples. Read the report

7 Principles

These are the key principles, based on the research and experience synthesized in this report, for understanding how the reinterpretation of information may—or may not—empower people to make their lives better. Read the full report.

 

1. Interpretation is social.

The meaning people attach to information depends on the mix of social groups to which they belong. Information initiatives rooted in or targeted at existing social groups can be successful. Leaders and authority figures can have a major effect on how information is interpreted and framed.

2. Reinterpretation is power.

Empowerment at scale depends on encouraging collective, conversation-based reinterpretation. Reframing the present circumstances as an injustice to be righted rather than a misfortune can help create wider movements that go beyond empowering people one by one.

3. Demand rules.

The most effective intermediaries are able to provide the specific information and social bonds that people are looking for; domain expertise alone is not enough to support empowerment.

4. Vivid narratives persuade.

Using vivid and emotional narratives and explanation to describe experiences can persuade people to interpret events and information differently. This dynamic can both unite and polarize social groups.

5. Information must rise above the noise.

Empowerment is built via dialogue, which competes for time and attention with other causes, choices, and distractions. Institutions, individuals, and algorithms can help focus attention on information.

6. Incentives and repetition cement new behaviors.

Incentives can spark new behaviors, and practice; repetition helps make behavior change stick. Persistence is critical. When support is removed, desired behavior change slows or stops (and sometimes even reverses).

7. Ice cream melts.

The effectiveness of information-related tactics intended to empower may not generalize across either contexts or time. Empowerment demands long-term commitment, regular re-appraisal of strategies, and ongoing tactical adjustment

Credits

The primary author of this report is Megan Campbell of Feedback Labs. Research was carried out by Keith Porcaro of SIMLab and Charlotte Ørnemark contributed to the case studies. Mari Kuraishi of GlobalGiving provided overall leadership for the project. Dennis Whittle of Feedback Labs contributed significant insights on content and structure. Support for the report was provided by Omidyar Network; we would like to acknowledge in particular the guidance and input provided by Jessica Kiessel, Masha Lisak, Roy Steiner and Mike Kubzansky.

An Advisory Panel comprised of experts from diverse fields provided invaluable guidance for the report. The Advisory Panel was comprised of Shaida Badiee, Zack Brisson, Harpinder Collacott, Damien de Walque, Duncan Edwards, Mizuko (Mimi) Ito, Jim Manzi, Bill Shapiro, Michael Silberman, Priyanka Singh and Banker White. David Bonbright, Michael Callen, Shawn Cole, Amb. Norm Eisen (ret.), Archon Fung, Leslie Groves, Frank Hauser, Stephen Kosack, Michael Norton, Doug Parkerson, Paolo de Renzio, Jean-Louis Sarbib and David Sasaki helped identify collaborators for this project.