What did Americans tweet about the TRIPS Waiver? U.S. Policy Narratives & Global Public Goods

Miranda Zhang

Miranda studied Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago. She is currently exploring how she can best contribute to building the capacity of the Effective Altruism community.

Author’s Note

What was your thesis topic?

The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines was not only a bottleneck on effective global response but also an example of persistent inequity. One way of conceptualizing such items is the ‘global public goods‘ framework. One proposal to improve vaccine distribution involved waiving intellectual property around COVID-19 medical technology: the TRIPS Waiver. This Waiver was hotly debated for several months after India and South Africa proposed it in October 2020, by both experts and laypeople. A few months after the Biden-Harris Administration came into office, they ended up supporting the Waiver, which I found curious considering how contentious the issue was.

Using the Biden-Harris’s decision on the TRIPS Waiver as a case study for domestic policymaking on global public goods, I used the Narrative Policy Framework to analyze the content of tweets related to the TRIPS Waiver that had been posted in between the inauguration of the Biden-Harris Administration and their approval of the TRIPS Waiver. In doing so, I uncovered distinct characteristics of pro- and anti-waiver messages, showing that successful pro-waiver narratives overwhelmingly used universalizing language and frames of equity.

In what ways do you think your topic improves the world?

I hope that this can inform advocates – including EA actors – on how to most effectively construct narratives to improve the provision of global public goods. I also think that my thesis is one of the first papers in the narrative analysis and policymaking process spheres to ask how we can analyze the narratives surrounding domestic policymaking processes for global policies, and this is a move towards using narrative analysis to better understand global problems.

What do you think the stronger and weaker parts of your thesis are?

I think my thesis clearly shows the disparity between the narrative strategies taken by pro- and anti-waiver advocates, though this means I couldn’t analyze more neutral or nuanced tweets as in-depth.

In what ways have you changed your mind since you finished writing it?

I am fairly confident that a lot of anti-waiver narratives were not posted on Twitter, and perhaps were conveyed to policymakers behind closed-doors. To analyze the effect of those advocates, then, it might be more useful to focus on evolving narratives from policymakers or even the media. While I think Twitter was a great platform for exploring the pro-waiver campaigns, I would have liked to draw from other sources to be able to find a fuller picture.

What recommendations would you make to others interested in taking a similar direction with their research?

Getting your data might be the hardest part. Start with a clear research topic but refine your question based on what data is available to you!

Published 13/04/22

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