Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on August 15, 2013
It was a sunny, hot Saturday afternoon and I mingled with farmers, community leaders, coffee producers and handicrafts entrepreneurs who had traveled from all parts of Bolivia to gather at the main square of Cliza, a rural town outside of Cochabamba. The place was packed and a sense of excitement and high expectations was unfolding. It was to be anything but an ordinary market day.
Thousands of people had been selected from more than 700 rural communities to showcase their products and they were waiting for a special moment. President Evo Morales, Nemesia Achocallo, Minister for Rural Development, Viviana Caro, Minister for Development Planning, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, on his first official visit to Bolivia, would soon be meeting them.
While waiting among them, I felt their excitement, listened to their life stories and was humbled by the high expectations they had in their government, their leaders and the international community to support them in reaching their aspirations for a better future for their families and communities. From many I heard the need to improve the well-being of their families and communities and their goal of “Vivir Bien!”
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2013
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on January 24, 2013
It will soon be nearly four years since then San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom visited Twitter headquarters. He told Biz Stone (one of the Twitter founders) about how someone from the city had sent him a Twitter message about a pothole. A discussion about "how we can get Twitter to be involved in advancing, streamlining, and supporting the governance of cities," led to the creation of @SF311 on Twitter that would allow live reporting by citizens of service needs, feedback, and other communication. Perhaps the most innovative aspect at that time was that citizens would be able to communicate directly and transparently with the Government. San Francisco was the first US city to roll out a major service such as this on Twitter.
Twitter offers several advantages over phonecalls or written requests made by citizens, some of which I have mentioned before:
In the next few weeks, we will be running our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
Originally published on May 22, 2013
I attended a panel + booklaunch on the theme of ‘Citizens Against Corruption’ at the ODI last week. After all the recent agonizing and self-doubt of the results debate (‘really, do we know anything about the impact of our work? How can we be sure?’), it was refreshing to be carried away on a wave of conviction and passion. The author of the book, Pierre Landell-Mills is in no doubt – citizen action can have a massive impact in countering corruption and improving the lives of poor people, almost irrespective of the political context.
The book captures the experience of the Partnership for Transparency Fund, set up by Pierre in 2000. It summarizes experiences from 200 case studies in 53 countries. This has included everything from using boy scouts to stop the ‘disappearance’ of textbooks in the Philippines to introducing a new code of ethics for Mongolia’s judiciary. The PTF’s model of change is really interesting. In terms of the project itself:
- Entirely demand led: it waits for civil society organizations (CSOs) to come up with proposals, and funds about one in five
- $25k + an expert: the typical project consists of a small grant, and a volunteer expert, usually a retiree from aid agencies or governments, North and South. According to Pierre ‘the clue to PTF’s success has been marrying high quality expertise with the energy and guts of young activists’. (I’ve now added ‘Grey Wonks’ to my ‘Grey Panthers’ rant on why the aid world is so bad at making the most of older people).
- The PTF is tapping into a zeitgeist of shifting global norms on corruption, epitomised by the UN Convention Against Corruption (2003). The idea that ‘they work for us’ seems to be gaining ground.
- The PTF prefers cooperation to conflict – better to work with champions within the state (and there nearly always are some, if you can find them), than just to lob rocks from the sidelines (although some rock-lobbing may also be required).
- It also prefers action and avoids funding ‘awareness-raising’, ‘capacity building’ and other ‘conference-building measures.’
So what works? On the basis of the case studies (chapters on India, Mongolia, Uganda and the Philippines), and his vast experience of governance and corruption work, Pierre sets out a ‘stylized programme’ for the kinds of CSO-led initiatives that deliver the goods:
Are citizens receiving the greatest development impact for their development dollar? This is the same question I asked when the Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index was released in October 2013.
This week I found myself asking the same question as the 2013 World Bank Access to Information Report was released, highlighting how the Bank’s Access to Information Policy has provided the framework for the institution to emerge as a global leader in transparency and openness.
“Of course, data and knowledge are not an end in themselves,” President Jim Kim noted in the opening message of the report, “ultimately the true test of our effectiveness is how we use this evidence to change the lives of over a billion people in extreme poverty.”
I’ve always been intrigued by the challenge of coming up with new solutions for everyday problems – kind of like 3D-puzzles for adults. Problems that seem simple from the outside but that are really difficult to crack once one focuses on them, like the development challenges countries face. Whether it’s access to basic services such as education or health, or building the infrastructure needed to connect producers to markets, or providing drinkable water to all, a broad range of sound and proven technical solutions already exists. But millions of kids continue to suffer from poor quality education, mothers continue to die while giving birth, and poor families spend a good chunk of their day walking just to get drinkable water.
Why is it so difficult to get solutions to reach those who need them the most? Many times, the almost automatic answer is that while the knowledge is there, countries lack the necessary resources to address these problems. But too quickly, more money is thrown at these problems without changing the fundamental issues, resulting in limited success at best. In other cases, we spend millions of dollars to build capacity and share knowledge, but it is hard to see results because the institutional support for a solution is lacking.
Much of the development, governance and more general international affairs literatures speak of failed or fragile states when describing a breakdown of governance capacity. In Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood Gregor Walter-Drop of the Freie Universität Berlin and I use a different formulation. We provide a more nuanced conceptual foundation for thinking about the nature of statehood and how digital technologies might serve to ameliorate the effects of what we call limited statehood. Following Max Weber, statehood is characterized by a monopoly on the means of violence, the ability to make and impose binding rules, and by the effective provisioning of public goods. An area of limited statehood is defined by the absence of some or all of these qualities.
As Thomas Risse and his colleagues have argued, limited statehood has at least three manifestations. It can be territorial, limited to a particular geographical space within the larger context of the sovereign borders of an otherwise consolidated state. The urban slums of Nairobi, Lagos, or Rio are territorial areas of limited statehood, confined spaces where basic public goods – clear water, sanitation, security, and infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks — are missing. Limited statehood can also be sectoral, limited to specific policy areas where the governance capacity of the state falls short. And it can be temporal, where an otherwise fully consolidated state suffers a temporary loss of governance capacity. Disasters in this respect constitute a governance stress test, measuring the governance capacity of state institutions. When Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines in November, destroying everything in its path, the Philippines government was overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge found in restoring order and providing for basic public services. In much the same way, the Japanese government was overwhelmed by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The tsunami added to the burden when it caused level 7+ meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans fits this category “in the sense that U.S. authorities were unable to enforce decisions and to uphold the monopoly over the means of violence for a short period of time.” These examples make clear that even fully consolidated states such as Japan and the United States can experience periods of limited statehood.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim has started a conversation about development and the private sector on Oxfam’s blog.
The evolving discussion isn’t so much about whether to harness the private sector to cut poverty, but how to do it.
In an Oct. 28 blog post, Kim said the Bank needs to work with many partners to help meet the goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Private sector investment “is needed to stretch scarce development resources.”
“Engaging the private sector is not about how we feel about business; it’s about how high our aspirations are for poor people. If we rely only upon foreign aid, then our aspirations are far too low.”
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The Future of News from 3 Silicon Valley Executives
The Dish Daily
"In a world transformed by the Internet and overrun by tech giants, the news industry has been irrevocably changed. Some lament, but few would argue. Those on the news side of things have been vocal for some time – analyzing and brainstorming, discussing and arguing – but we’ve not often heard what those behind the flourishing tech companies have to say.
Three notable Silicon Valley figures discussed the news industry with Riptide, a project headed by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz and Paul Sagan and published by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab." READ MORE
Local participatory development is a strategy that is being deployed by governments in developing countries to achieve a variety of socio-economic goals. These include sharpening of poverty targeting, improving service delivery, expanding livelihood opportunities and strengthening the demand for effective governance. Without doubt, an engaged citizenry involved in achieving these goals, especially in rural hinterlands, could hold the government more accountable.
According to the World Bank there are two major modalities for inducing local participation- community development and decentralization. While the former supports the efforts to bring villages, neighbourhoods or household groupings in the process of managing resources without relying on formally constituted local governments, the latter refers to efforts to strengthen village and municipal governments on both the demand and supply sides.
However, what is critical for effective as well as inclusive governance is a state- nongovernmental organization partnership wherein the ‘demand side’ enables citizen participation through access to information and empowerment. Further, that it fosters outcome oriented mechanisms for deliberative decision making at the grassroots.
“Kefaya!” (“Enough!” in Arabic), was one of the main slogans in 2011 as people took to the streets and called for social justice. Although change has taken various forms across the region, the quest for social justice remains prevalent throughout.
One of the key ways to promote social justice is through better public services. As surveys suggest, social justice for citizens largely means equal access to quality public services such as healthcare and education.