The case for investing in pandemic preparedness is –or at least, should be - completely compelling. Few things could kill as many people as an influenza pandemic. Few threats can cause as much economic disruption as the contagion of fear triggered by a rapidly escalating epidemic. Reinforcing capabilities such as disease surveillance, diagnostic laboratories and infection control would be more effective and cost far less than spending money to contain outbreaks when they occur. Yet, so far, the global community has demonstrably not invested enough in preparedness. As a result, too many lives have been lost and too many livelihoods damaged, and the world remains scarily vulnerable.
Courts must expeditiously, but fairly, adjudicate corruption cases, and the penalties imposed on those convicted must be sufficient to dissuade others from similar acts. To ensure that anti-corruption laws are indeed being effectively enforced, governments need to monitor the enforcement process.
Doing so can provide performance measures to inform and guide policy design and implementation. These performance measures also serve as indicators of corruption. In the short run, policy makers may not be able to do much to change these indicators, but measures, focused on performance, can provide a country something more concrete to act upon, helping policy-makers to prioritize.
For example, if the number of completed corruption investigations in a particular country is low because of difficulty in obtaining evidence, it can identify changes in policy and procedures which expand or strengthen investigators powers and tools such as providing it with subpeona powers or access to financial records.
Performance budgeting (PB) has a deep and enduring appeal. What government would not want to allocate resources in a way that fosters efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability? However, such aspirations have proven poor predictors of how performance data are actually used.
The potential benefits of identifying and tracking the goals of public spending are undeniable, but have often justified a default adoption of overly complex systems of questionable use. Faith in PB is sustained by a willingness to forget past negative experiences and assume that this time it will be different. Without a significant re-evaluation, PB’s history of disappointment seems likely also to be its future.
A swelling chorus of the development community has been advocating for more flexible and adaptive programming that can respond to the twists and turns of political reform processes. They argue that in order to achieve better aid outcomes, we need to do development differently. As part of this agenda, ODI and The Asia Foundation, with the assistance of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, tracked and analysed three programmes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Mongolia. These programmes explicitly sought to work politically in practice, using a relatively small amount of money, a relatively short timeframe, and a focus on tangible changes. We followed attempts to achieve environmental compliance and increase exports in the leather sector in Bangladesh, and to improve solid waste management in Cambodia and Mongolia; issues identified for their potential to make important contributions (economic, health, environmental, etc.) to the wellbeing of citizens. Two of our case studies were released this month, telling the story of how the reforms unfolded and shifted strategy to better leverage the incentives of influential stakeholders, as well as the mechanics of how the Foundation supported adaptive ways of working.
How adaptation worked in practice
In each case, the programme teams (led by staff in the Foundation’s local office, and supported by a variety of contracted partners and a wider uncontracted reform network reaching both inside and outside of government) made significant changes to strategy during the implementation phase that helped to address difficult, multidimensional problems. In Cambodia, the team faced a complex and often opaque challenge in which waste collection is characterized by a single company with a long-term confidential contract that is difficult to monitor, a fee structure that does not encourage improved household waste collection, garbage collectors whose conditions do not incentivize performance, and communities that are difficult to access and do not always understand the importance of sanitary waste disposal. With a small Foundation team and limited funding, the approach relied on working with individuals selected as much for personal connections, disposition, and political know-how in working politically and flexibly, as for technical knowledge. The team began by cultivating relations between City Hall and the single contractor providing solid waste management services, then moved to work with the sole provider to improve their delivery, and finally, resolved to end the single contractor model in favour of competition.
There is much (potentially) to be excited about here. Few would argue against having greater access to more learning opportunities, especially when those opportunities are offered for 'free', where there is latent unmet demand, and where the opportunities themselves are well constructed and offer real value for learners. As with MOOCs at the level of higher education, however, we perhaps shouldn't be too surprised if these new opportunities at the high school level are first seized upon *not* by some of the groups with the greatest learning needs -- for example, students in overcrowded, poorly resourced secondary schools in developing countries, or even students who would like a secondary education, but for a variety of reasons aren't able to receive one -- but rather by those best placed to take advantage of them. This has been largely been the case for initial adopters of MOOCs. (One of the first studies of this aspect of the 'MOOC Phenomenon', which looked at MOOCs from the University of Pennsylvania, found that students tended to be "young, well educated, and employed, with a majority from developed countries.")
As a practical matter, some of the first types of beneficiaries may, for example (and I am just speculating here), be homeschooling families in North America (while not necessarily comparatively 'rich' by local standards, such families need to be affluent enough to be able to afford to have one parent stay at home with the kids, and generally have pretty good Internet connectivity); international schools around the world (which can offer a broader range of courses to students interested in an 'American' education); and the families of 'foreign' students looking to apply to college in the United States (the edX course “COL101x: The Road to Selective College Admissions” looks, at least to my eyes, tailor made for certain segments of the population of learners in places like China, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.). In other words, at least in the near term, a Matthew Effect in Educational Technology may be apparent, where those who are best placed to benefit from the introduction of a new technology tool or innovation are the ones who indeed benefit from it the most.
Longer term, though, it is possible to view this news about movement of a major MOOC platform into the area of secondary education as one further indication that we are getting further along from the 'front end of the e-learning wave' (of which MOOCs are but one part) to something that will eventually have a greater mass impact beyond what is happening now in the 'rich' countries of North America and the OECD.
Learning with new technologies has of course been around for many decades but, broadly speaking, has not (yet) had the 'transformational' impact that has long been promised. "Gradually, then suddenly" is how one of Ernest Hemingway's characters famously describes how he went bankrupt. Might this be how the large scale adoption of educational technologies will eventually happen as well in much of the world?
I f so, one credible potential tipping point may be a 'black swan' event that could push all of this stuff into the mainstream, especially in places where it to date has been largely peripheral: some sort of major health-related scare. (For those unfamiliar with the term, which was popularized by Nicholas Taleb, a 'black swan' is a rare event that people don't anticipate but which has profound consequences). One of the first ever posts on the EduTech blog, Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics, looked at some of what had been learned about how teachers and learners use new technologies to adapt when schools were closed in response to outbreaks involving the H1N1 influenza virus: the 'swine flu' that afflicted many in Mexico about six years ago; and an earlier outbreak of 'bird flu' in China. I have recently been fielding many calls as a result of the current outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa asking essentially, 'Can we do anything with technology to help our students while our schools are closed?', and so I thought it might be useful to revisit, and update, that earlier post, in case doing so might be a useful contribution to a number of related discussions are occurring.
How can improved roads change peoples’ lives? How much do people benefit from road projects? Answering these seemingly simple questions is, in fact, much trickier than it appears.
We recently concluded an impact evaluation to measure the socio-economic impacts of World Bank-financed municipal road improvements on poor rural households in the state of Tocantins, Brazil. After 10 years of study, what were the results and lessons learned? And how did we go about conducting the evaluation?
The study followed a methodology traditionally used in impact evaluations in the social sector and was based on a precedent in Vietnam. Throughout the state, one of the least-developed and least-populated in Brazil, most municipal roads are unpaved with inadequate maintenance. The World Bank’s municipal roads project helped construct 700 concrete bridges and 2,100 culverts crossing rivers and streams, providing year-round access to remote populations that once couldn’t access municipal centers during rainy season.
The anticipated result chain of the project was as follows: improvement of physical accessibility would contribute to increase travel demand to markets, schools and health services. This would, in turn, contribute to improved education, better health and increased business opportunities. Finally, it would result in long-term household income growth.
Our study aimed at measuring these impacts through a “difference in differences with matching,” a method that compares a treatment group (population benefiting from the interventions) and a control group (population that does not), while ensuring similar socio-economic characteristics (or comparability) between groups. An “instrumental variables estimator” was then used to confirm the robustness of the results.
The results show positive socio-economic impacts to rural residents, as well as provides for several policy implications:
During his visit to Washington last week, China’s President Xi Jinping confirmed that the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, which has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity and reach a peak of overall emissions by 2030, will use a cap-and-trade market approach to help realize this.
China already has 7 pilot markets in cities and provinces in place that cover 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Under the national scheme, now to go live in 2017, this could increase to 4 billion tons according to Chinese researchers - making it the world’s largest national emissions trading system.
It’s an exciting step and demonstration of China’s commitment to achieve its low carbon goals.
Climate change is affecting us all, but its impacts are hitting the poorest and those in poor countries hardest. That means developing countries vulnerable to sudden and slow-onset impacts of climate change need reliable and accurate weather and climate data and information to help them know when and how to protect their economies and communities.
Sunny skies and beautiful beaches come to mind when you think about the Caribbean. But beyond the turquoise water lies a history of underage marriage, a practice that still lingers throughout the region.
My Nani (the Hindi word for maternal grandmother), came from a low-income family from the island of Trinidad. Growing up, she worked on a sugar plantation with her siblings. But poverty and manual labor didn’t compare with what she experienced after her mother died.
“I am drawn to that small space called a human being … a single individual. In reality, that is where everything happens.”
- Svetlana Alexievich, an investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time." She is the first writer from Belarus to receive the award.