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Judith Tendler and learning from ‘good government’

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

On 24th July 2016, Judith Tendler, former Professor at the Department of Urban studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, passed away. She was 77. A Ph.D holder from Columbia University, Judith Tendler spent several years at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) before a long career as a Professor in MIT. A significant share of Prof. Tendler’s work focused on the Americas, but she also studied South Asia and parts of Africa over her long career.

Prof Tendler’s book: ‘Good Government in the Tropics’ (1997) is one of the most influential books in the field of international development — an essential reading for students of governance and public policy studies. In the book, Prof Tendler and her research associates studied four cases of successful government in Ceara, a relatively poor state in north-eastern Brazil. In each of the cases, the government at different levels played an effective role, facilitating and brokering relationships, and submitting itself to mechanisms which could be used to hold themselves accountable. Those were rare, but rich, examples of ‘good government’.

These cases highlighting the achievements of ‘good governments’ challenged the dominant pessimistic thinking about governance in the so-called ‘third world’. Prof Tendler argued that much of the advice from international development agencies to developing countries was based on an analysis of poor performance of the public sector and governments. This resulted in a tendency to ‘import’ good practices from the successful developed countries, as well as a resistance to looking deeply into poor countries to identify variations in performance. In many ways Prof Tendler consistently challenged the pre-suppositions that development agencies and policy advisors nurtured and which, as a result, shaped the advice they dispensed into narrow straitjackets often unfit for the context in which they were to be applied.

Holding the state to account

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

women at a community meeting, Mumbai IndiaIn a democracy, a critical element in the engagement between citizens and state is “accountability”. There are several definitions—one among them from the World Bank reads: “Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions”.

Citizens and civil society organizations seek accountability from the state. Where this builds on broad-based civil society engagement, we hear of “social accountability” whose advocates believe that a regular cycle of elections alone are not enough to hold the state to account. For instance, a decline in the quality of public services or cases of denial of (social) justice call for mobilization outside of the electoral cycle. But how does the state respond?

When the state is under sustained pressure to reform, it could take one of these positions: (1) respond to civil society using physical force and/or its legal prowess; (2) stoically “do nothing”; (3) formulate a response that emphasizes form over function; and (4) undertake genuine reform. These options represent a sliding scale of state response, and on any given issue, the state might change its position over time, depending on how the context evolves.

The reality is that more often than not, status quo rules: the space for citizens seeking accountability relies primarily on the willingness of the state. It is not in the nature of states to do this of their own volition, and often, a sustained campaign by a strong coalition of interests is required to influence them.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 

World Humanitarian Summit: three tests for success
Thomson Reuters Foundation
After months of feverish consultation, preparation and speculation, the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) will finally kick off in Istanbul on May 23. The two-day Summit will convene 6,000 aid leaders to decide on how better to respond to today’s defining crises. So, what will mark the difference between an anti-climactic letdown and a rallying achievement? Here are my three measures of success.

World Employment and Social Outlook
ILO
Over the past two decades, significant progress has been made in reducing poverty in the majority of countries. In emerging and developing countries, taken as a whole, it is estimated that nearly 2 billion people live on less than $3.10 per day (adjusted for cost-of-living differences across countries). This represents around 36 per cent of the emerging and developing world’s population, which is nearly half the rate that was observed in 1990, when the initial international commitments to reduce poverty were undertaken. During the same period, extreme poverty – defined as people living on less than $1.90 per day – declined at an even faster rate to reach 15 per cent of the total population of emerging and developing countries in 2012, the latest available year

Stealthy protest: Collective identity and the affordances of social media

CGCS's picture

A computer class is conducted at the Female Experimental High School in HeratCGCS Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Emad Khazraee discusses his research project with Alison Novak on socio-political activism and women’s rights in Iran, featuring My Stealthy Freedom as a case study. Emad and Alison presented their project at the ICA on May 25, 2015. 

It is likely most Facebook users have come across a Facebook page supporting a socio-political cause. The popularity of these pages reinforces the need to better understand their affordances for socio-political activism. In an effort to address this issue, a recent research project I undertook with Alison Novak[1] studied campaign pages on Facebook advocating for women’s rights in relation to the dress code in Iran. One of the pages we analyzed, My Stealthy Freedom, acts as a strong case study. My Stealthy Freedom’s (MSF) page was created in April 2014 by Masih Alinejad, an expat Iranian journalist based in the United Kingdom. In an effort to digitally protest hijab laws that restrict women’s right to choose their own cover, Alinejad first shared a photograph of herself online, riding in a convertible without hijab, and then encouraged women inside Iran to share pictures of their own “stealthy freedom.” Soon women from inside Iran shared their own photos taken in a public space without hijab. These photos were often accompanied by a message providing the background stories, grievances, or opinions of the user. In the weeks that followed, MSF became an internationally recognized page and was followed by 500,000 users on Facebook, resulting in reactions both outside and inside Iran.

Despite the Growth, India Needs its Activists

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Activists are under attack in India. Columns such as this one on how misguided activism has created a “mess (that) will take some time to be sorted out” are not uncommon in the popular press these days. Part of this is mainstream journalists trying to make sense of a field where the motivations and incentives of the primary actors is hard to fathom. It is far easier to paint everyone as disruptive and regressive.

I am not an activist myself. However, the space for constructive activism in India is one that I care about. I will therefore, attempt to present a contrarian argument, advocating for greater space for activism in India.

It is still fashionable to present growth and development as a dichotomy. This is at a time when income inequality qualifies as possibly the biggest threat to India’s future. An aspiring global super power, we have the unenviable burden of literally hiding our poor behind make-shift screens every time we organise an international event or an important dignitary visits us. Many of those who are left out of the growth story also simultaneously suffer from disadvantageous social status and lack basic capabilities, due to an inability to access quality education, healthcare and the like. The experience of the past seven decades has shown that neither the state not the market on their own can empower citizens to exercise “individual preferences” that will pull them out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

What Agha the Pakistani Street Child Thinks About Terrorism Will Surprise You

Susan Moeller's picture
A small boy ekes out a daily meal of naan and curry by picking up garbage in the streets of Lahore. That’s the premise of “I am Agha,” a short documentary film posted by three Pakistani filmmakers on a site called Pakistan Calling.
 
Watch the film to find out what Agha says about his life and what he thinks about terrorism.  Then reconsider what you think are Pakistan’s greatest problems. 
 
I Am Agha

 

The Things We Do: How (not What) Movies Inspire Us

Roxanne Bauer's picture

At the basis of communication and public policy are assumptions about human beings- their rationality or irrationality, their foibles, wants and preferences. A lot depends on whether these assumptions are correct. In this feature, we bring you fascinating examples of human behavior from across the globe.

A recent article in The New York Times, “Divining Why One Film Spurs Activism, While Others Falter” highlights the work of Participant Media, an entertainment company that produces film, television, publishing and digital content that inspires social change. According to Participant Media’s website, the company “launches campaigns that bring together government entities, foundations, schools, and others to raise awareness and drive people to take action on issues from each film or television show.” 

But all of this begs the question: are these films successful in doing what they set out to do? Do people learn from the films and change their ways?  What pushes us beyond social media activism to stand up and do something about our outrage?

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Behind a Pattern of Global Unrest, a Middle Class in Revolt
Bloomberg BusinessWeek
For months now, protestors have gathered in the capitals of many developing nations—Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Cambodia, among others—in demonstrations united by some key features. In nearly all these places, protestors are pushing to oust presidents or prime ministers they claim are venal, authoritarian, and unresponsive to popular opinion. Nearly all these governments, no matter how corrupt, brutal, and autocratic, actually won election in relatively free polls. And in nearly all these countries the vast majority of demonstrators hail from cosmopolitan areas: Kiev, Bangkok, Caracas, Istanbul, and other cities. The streets seem to be filled with the very people one might expect to support democracy rather than put more nails in its coffin.

Where Did Press Freedom Suffer Most in 2013? Online.
PBS Media Shift
This month the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual analysis of Attacks on the Press, including a “Risk List” of the places where press freedom suffered most in 2013. As you might expect, conflict areas filled much of the list — Syria, Egypt, Turkey — but the place on the top of the list was not a country. It was cyberspace. In the past, the list has focused on highlighting nations where freedom of the press are under attack, but this year CPJ wrote, “We chose to add the supranational platform of cyberspace to the list because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet a critical sphere for journalists worldwide.” Including cyberspace is a recognition that, at least in terms of press freedom and freedom of expression, the web is not virtual reality, it is reality.

Weekly Wire:the Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

World Press Freedom Index 2014
Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE

Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater
Global Integrity
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE

Looking for Silver Linings in a Cloud of Corruption

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

There is much to be discouraged by in Transparency International’s recently-released 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, the biennial global survey that gauges popular perceptions about the extent of corruption in public life. More than half of 114,000 people in 107 countries polled for the 2013 survey believe that corruption has increased over the last couple of years. And 27 per cent of the respondents reported having paid a bribe when accessing public services and institutions, an increase from the 10 per cent that reported similar incidents in the 2009, 2007, and 2005 surveys.
 
The intransigence of the challenge might not be news to international agencies, but it is certainly a cause for introspection. For a few decades now, aid agencies (including the Bank following the 1997 Cancer of Corruption speech by then President Wolfensohn), have aimed to help stem corruption through regulatory tools such as codes of conduct, access to information laws, standards for procurement and public financial management, conflict of interest and asset disclosure regulations, and by establishing oversight institutions such as anti-corruption agencies, audit institutions, and parliamentary oversight committees. More recently, in response to a recognition that such technical fixes are only half a solution, the “demand side” of governance has received much attention, and there are several examples of successful programs, as chronicled, for instance, by retired Bank staffer, Pierre Landell-Mills, in a recent compendium.


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