2018 Walter Gordon Symposium

The Ethics of Counting – Keynote Address

March 22, 2018 6:00 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre
93 Charles Street West
Toronto ON Canada
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Contrary to what you learned in kindergarten, counting is as much an imaginative process as literature and art. In order to count a group of things, you first have to decide which things are similar enough to belong in the same group. From that simple idea springs a host of ethical issues that go way deeper than “how to lie with statistics.” Whose interests get counted in any measure? How can modes of counting actually change the way we think and relate to each other, for better and for worse? Should statisticians be held accountable for the uses to which their numbers are put?

Lecturer Dr. Deborah Stone specializes in analyzing the politics of policymaking in advanced industrial states as well as developing countries. She is most known for her textbook on the topic, Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, which has had four editions over 25 years and has been translated into five languages. Her research focuses on health policy, disability policy, caregiving, but also addresses a wide range of policy issues. She is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brandeis University.



Making Policy Count: The Social Implications of Data-Driven Decision-Making

March 23, 2018 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Munk School of Global Affairs
Vivian and David Campbell Conference Facility
1 Devonshire Place
Toronto ON Canada
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Panel 1: The Uses and Abuses of Counting in Contemporary Policing and Surveillance

9:15am -10:30pm

The panel will focus on the social implications of counting as it relates to the law and its enforcement. The proliferation of data analytics within police departments and related law enforcement agencies presents important ethical questions for the contemporary relationship between the state and its citizens. We would encourage exploration of the following central questions, among others: who is ‘counted’ in the eyes of the law; when and how does ‘counting’ violate civil liberties or disproportionately target marginalized communities; are there legitimate ways in which ‘counting’ can improve the administration of justice?

Panel 2: Who and What Counts? Data and Decision-making in Health Policy

10:45am – 12pm

What types of evidence do researchers and policymakers consider important for informing health policy? What types of evidence should be considered important? What types of evidence are overlooked? Such questions persist across the spectrum of ‘counting’ in health policy–whether it is in designing methods to measure and evaluate, or applying different types of data in decision-making. In examining such questions, this panel will explore innovative ways of conceptualizing who or what is ‘counted’ and other considerations of ‘counting’ that address limitations associated with contemporary methods and approaches to health assessment and evaluation.

 Lunch 12pm – 1pm

Panel 3: Consumers in a New Age of Business: Having a say over data

1pm – 2:15pm

This panel will focus on the changing relationship between consumers and businesses, and where governments fits in. ‘Big data’ allows businesses to carry-out market differentiation akin to hand picking their targeted consumers. Such market differentiation creates power asymmetries that gives room for governments to step-in to protect consumer interests. Moreover, businesses are making decisions that rely on software trained by consumer data, which brings-up the issue of whether the business remains entirely responsible for such decisions.

Some central issues we encourage this panel to explore are: as businesses determine which consumer is ‘counted’ and which is not, by offering products in a highly differentiated market, should governments step-in to protect consumers?; from an ethical perspective, when data is generated by consumers on a business platform, who owns the data, the consumer or the business?; and when ‘counting’ decisions are carried-out by software in businesses, where does the responsibility for ethical ramifications lie?

 Panel 4: Solving for X:  Selecting data for decisions in education

2:15pm – 4:00pm

When it comes to education policy and curricular decisions, collecting evidence is crucial for deciding on a course of action. We want to explore ground-breaking ways of conceptualizing who or what is ‘counted’ and other considerations of ‘counting’ that affect decisions made regarding education policy and curricula. Who is accounted for in our education system? Whose voices are reflected in curricula? How does our current system interact with those left absent from its design process?

As we reflect on historical concerns present in education policy, we also hope to challenge the existing systems and hear examples of alternatives approaches. How can the education system best address the challenges it is facing? We welcome discussions of examples relating to methods, projects, policies and curricula.



The Walter Gordon Series in Public Policy is named after the Honourable Walter Gordon, who was a Senior Fellow of Massey College until his death in 1987. The series, which began in 1990 under the leadership of then head of the College, Ann Saddlemyer, was designed to present annually a top of immediate Canadian significance to an interested audience drawn from academic, corporate and government worlds. Consequently, the series has discussed important issues such as the future of public broadcasting, the possibility of a North American culture, the state of feminism, the possibility of replacing welfare with guaranteed basic income, the looming shape of Canadian economic planning set against global integration and the changing nature of eco-politics. Some years a panel of speakers is featured and at other times an individual lecturer.