icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an 

ongoing web column by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

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Knowdging and visions of paradise

Language and rhetoric of behavioural economics. Part 1 of 3: Do we have a problem?

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2016). Knowdging and visions of paradise: language and rhetoric of behavioural economics. Part 1 of 3: Do we have a problem? icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 5.2 (February).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2016). Knowdging and visions of paradise: language and rhetoric of behavioural economics. Part 1 of 3: Do we have a problem? icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 5.2 (February).

London, 24 May 2016 - With the neologism knowdging (fusion of knowledge and nudging) I refer to the influence of experimental, often simplistic and paternalistic ideas, coming mainly from the current generation of behavioural economists, on the way in which we process, manage and deliver data and information in the public discourse, in advertising and in a number of data workflows, decision making and judgment situations.

If you think of knowdging as pushing data and narratives in the direction of your audience and scope in a meaningful way, you are absolutely on the right track: that encompasses a wide range of activities and media, from education to public relations and politics. Knowdging does not differ too much in the 21st Century from pre-historic shamans’ practices but for the aspiration, intention or pretence to be scientifically driven. In sum, librarianship, advertising and even computing were mostly speculative fields of practice, belonging to the arts and crafts. Knowdging is science and it is based on falsifiable (id est, repeatable and not refutable) evidence.

In previous articles of this column I have expressed criticism towards trends and examples in data, information and knowledge management that do not seem to me offering a fertile route in spite of being exemplar cases of knowdging, where decisions have been made producing, reading and sharing evidences compliant to some well defined processes. And yet, it takes a certain degree of intelligence, education and forward thinking to understand that both processes and evidences can be faked up with the sole purpose of serving the interests of shamans, crooks and criminals, producing inequalities and unfairness.

In this and in the following two articles I would like to address the specific points of language and rhetoric of knowdging, making more positive suggestions for its development as a field of interdisciplinary professional practice.

Do we have a problem?

First of all, it may seem pleonastic but it is a very good point to define what the problem consists of, and indeed if we have such problem - actual or perceived.

We have a potential problem every time people pick up from different contexts and languages the wrong data and make the wrong, unfair or illegal use of information to influence, make or justify decisions and actions.

This problem is part of everyday intellectual and social life and it is true in science, medicine, finance and in any negotiation or exchange but of course it is an even greater problem when the wrong data are chosen deliberately, ignoring or obfuscating the consequences of deception, falsehood and antisocial behaviours. In computer mediated environments, where transparency and accountability of information are in a certain sense qualities embedded in the data, wrong data or wrong usages of the data generate further unintended consequences.

Previous articles of this column have offered examples of disgraceful usages of data in public policies, project management methodologies and corporate strategies.

First, in icm2re 4.10, Changing minds, I considered the hypothesis that open data policies can deter finance professionals from misleading customers, bringing more data science and therefore transparency and accountability into a field notoriously infiltrated with corruption practices and systematic errors made by what the financial regulators call “approved persons”. It seems to me that a pretence of incompetence and other engineered patterns of negligence allows these people to get easily away with fraudulent behaviours. Knowdging would simply mask these exercises in even further sophisticated ways, propagating the risk of more deceiving externalities.

Secondly, the approved persons article reminded me another, completely different, meaning of the word "personas". That is a method for gathering and defining requirements known as "design personas". Increasingly accredited by information interaction designers and project management teams even in large corporate environments, the method has controversial aspects particularly if applied within native and behavioural advertising. The icm2re 4.11 article, Personas in search of an author and the ecstasy of agile requirements deals with such dubious developments that derive in my opinion from the excessive value assigned to constructive and experiential tactics.

And finally, talking about "what's works" for requirements gathering in this crazy digital world, in icm2re 4.12 I speak out about the responsibility of information and the public utility of "new" behavioural economics as I feel time has come to directly question what is the real contribution of the discipline for information management, decision making and problem solving purposes. The article, Do you know the value of your life?, is accessible here.

Other two excellent examples and ways to look at the “wrong data” problem and the consequences that arise from mismanagement of data and information in digital formats come the first from data and knowledge experts active in disparate fields, from the humanities to engineering, and the second from the development of the same international community of behavioural economists.

Psychologists and engineers have addressed knowdging issues in very technical terms. Richard Nisbitt, for instance, has recently called for a “crusade against multiple regression”, effectively pointing a finger to the growing number of researchers and practitioners who apply multiple regression analysis to the most variegated datasets, jumping to the wrong conclusions about causal relations. Blame the easy of use of “software as a service” products and online tools that share visually compelling nonsense or the lack of intelligence? Professional acquaintances will read in such emphasis on language my obsessive consideration for learning and developmental matters: that is undoubtedly true so much so that I think we should learn to abandon even the most sophisticated and precise language in some circumstances and try to adopt alternative means of communication. Precision could in fact become, or be perceived, as an obstacle to comprehension among people and communities interested in understanding and solving problems and bringing about change, as I anticipated in What is the essence of data science?.

On the other end, the worldwide community of behavioural economists seems to have entered a phase of self-awareness and introspection: both academics and professionals realize they themselves are part of the picture they would like to build upon new knowledge and new behavioural insight. A more careful attitude about generalization of their conclusions and policy implications seems highly advisable as well as more “contaminations” with other fields, or - somebody suggests - why not simply more studying across different disciplines? Or, perhaps, we should practice more participatory design and less manipulative exercises? Experiments - with either mice or human beings - have never been the only (and perhaps not even the most important) way forward for science advances and communication.