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Blog post of the month: If using ‘Theories of Change’ cannot transform the way you operate, why bother?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In November 2015, the featured blog post is "If using ‘Theories of Change’ cannot transform the way you operate, why bother? " by Suvojit Chattopadhyay .

Learning computer skillsIn a new (and commendably short) paper, Craig Valters advocates ‘modest radicalism’ in the use of Theories of Change (ToC) as an approach to improving reflection and learning in the development sector. In this paper, Craig reflects on the role of the ToC in the context of the ‘results agenda’ and suggests four principles that could help development organisations develop knowledge and improve practice: Focus on processes; Prioritise learning; Be locally-led; and ‘Think compass, not map’. Do read the full paper!

In this post, I share some additional thoughts on the use of ToCs and how they might be improved. I start with two problems in the way we do things.

  • In development, failures are hard to detect: Often, organisations that fail find ways to mask failure – by either refusing to acknowledge failure, finding external factors, or moving on to a different desk officer/donor/location. So within the aid industry, we have a peculiar situation where it is real hard to fail – or at least, it is hard to know when a project has failed.
  • It’s harder still to ensure that projects that fail face significant consequences of failure: Organisations that implemented the failed projects should be required to make significant changes to key aspects of design or management.

Quote of the Week: Matteo Renzi

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Matteo Renzi"We’re a young team— we want to invest in the new generation— but we’re not simply a young team.  Youth is the man of whatever age who risks believing in the possibility of change.”
 

- Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy since February 2014. Previously, he was the President of Florence Province from 2004 to 2009 and the Mayor of Florence from 2009 to 2014. At the age of 39 years and 42 days, he is the youngest Italian Prime Minister since unification in 1861 (he was younger than Benito Mussolini when he took office in 1922 by 52 days).  He is also the first to be elected Prime Minister as a Mayor and the second youngest leader in the European Council.

Reframing democratic development — vision, strategy and process

Brian Levy's picture

No Easy Walk by Nelson MandelaHow,  in today’s complex and uncertain times, can those of us working at the interface between governance and development sustain  what the great twentieth century development economist, Albert Hirschman, called “a bias for hope”?

In two recent blog posts (click HERE and HERE), I took stock of the evidence as to the extent of governance improvement between 1998 and 2013 among 65 democratic countries (the large majority of which made their initial transition to democracy subsequent to 1990). The results left me feeling even more skeptical than when I wrote Working with the Grain as to the practical relevance of maximalist “good governance” agendas. We need an alternative approach.

To tease out an alternative, it is useful to begin with the classic three-part tripod for orchestrating change – clarifying the vision, developing a strategy for moving towards the realization of that vision, and delineating step-by-step processes for facilitating implementation. Using this lens, the classic 'good governance' discourse turns out to be all vision, empty of strategic content, and counterproductive vis-à-vis process.

#10 from 2014: Managing Risk for Development – Through a New World Bank MOOC

Sheila Jagannathan's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on June 23, 2014

 

In the past two decades while the world has experienced global integration, technological innovation, and economic reforms, there has also been financial turbulence and continuing environmental damage. As the world changes, a host of opportunities are constantly arising, and with them, appear risks both new and familiar. These risks range from the possibility of job loss and disease, to the potential for social unrest and natural disasters. This is the topic of a new World Bank Group MOOC illustrating how risk management can be used as a tool for development by helping to minimize crises but also unlocking important opportunities.

Managing Risk for Development – Through a New World Bank MOOC

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

In the past two decades while the world has experienced global integration, technological innovation, and economic reforms, there has also been financial turbulence and continuing environmental damage. As the world changes, a host of opportunities are constantly arising, and with them, appear risks both new and familiar.  These risks range from the possibility of job loss and disease, to the potential for social unrest and natural disasters. This is the topic of a new World Bank Group MOOC illustrating how risk management can be used as a tool for development by helping to minimize crises but also unlocking important opportunities.

Reformers vs. Lobbyists: Where have We Got to on Tackling Corporate Tax Dodging?

Duncan Green's picture

The rhythm of NGO advocacy and campaigning sometimes makes it particularly hard to work on complicated issues, involving drawn-out negotiations where bad guys have more resources and staying power than we do. Campaigns on trade, climate change, debt relief etc often follow a similar trajectory – a big NGO splash as a new issue breaks, then activists realize they need to go back to school (I remember getting briefings on bond contracts during the 1998 Asia financial crisis) or employ new kinds of specialists who can talk the new talk. And then for a while we get geeky, entering into the detail of international negotiations, debating with lobbyists and academics. When it works (as in the debt campaign), we contribute to remarkable victories or to stopping bad stuff happening (which I would argue was a big civil society contribution at the WTO).
 

Is Advocacy Only Feasible in Formal Democracies? Lessons from 6 Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Vietnam

Duncan Green's picture

Andrew Wells-Dang (right) and Pham Quang Tu (left) on how multi-stakeholder initiatives can flourish even in relatively closed political systems such as Vietnam

How can NGOs be effective advocates in restrictive political settings? Global comparative research (such as this study by CIVICUS on ‘enabling environments’) often concludes that at least a modest degree of formal democracy is necessary for civil society to flourish…including, but not limited to NGOs. Yet our experiences in Vietnam, which is commonly thought to be one of those restrictive settings, have shown that there is somewhat more space to carry out advocacy than appears at first blush – if advocates have a clear understanding of the national context and appropriate advocacy strategies.

We’ve seen effective advocacy take place around environmental and health issues through the initiatives of networks of formal and informal actors. At times, such as the disputes over bauxite mining in the Central Highlands (see here and here), networks have gone beyond the ‘invited spaces’ of embedded advocacy to boundary-stretching strategies of blogging, petitions and media campaigns. These actions defy the standard state-society dichotomy, bringing together activists and officials, intellectuals and community groups from around the country. At base is a realisation that social and policy problems are too big and chaotic to be resolved by state or non-state actors alone.

Sustaining Accountability

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

During her primary contest with Barack Obama for the nomination of the Democratic Party, Hilary Clinton once remarked that one only needed to look at the two of them (a woman and an African American) to recognize that both represented change. One could say the same about India’s newest political party – the Aam Aadmi or Common Man Party, barely a year and half old, but being seen as a potentially transformational political force. Its members – unassuming middle class housewives, small time lawyers, IT professionals, college professors, journalists, and community organizers -- stand out in sharp contrast to the seasoned political operatives from established parties.
 
In fact, in an environment where opaque campaign financing, political lineage, and the politics of identity are accepted avenues to the corridors of governance, the Common Man Party has literally risen from the streets, taking on corruption at all levels, appealing to ethics and citizenship rather than caste or religious affiliation, and proving its independent credentials by making its funding (primarily small donations) transparent on its website.
 

Have Evidence, Will… Um, Erm (2 of 2)

Heather Lanthorn's picture

This is the second in a series of posts with suvojit, initially planned as a series of two but growing to six…

Reminder: The Scenario
In our last post, we set up a scenario that we* have both seen several times: a donor or large implementing agency (our focus, though we think our arguments apply to governmental ministries) commissions an evaluation, with explicit (or implicit) commitments to ‘use’ the evidence generated to drive their own decisions about continuing/scaling/modifying/scrapping a policy/program/project.

And yet. the role of evidence in decision-making of this kind is unclear.

In response, we argued for something akin to Patton’s utilisation-focused evaluation. Such an approach assesses the “quality” or “rigor” of evidence by considering how well it addresses the questions and purposes needed for decision-making with the most appropriate tools and timings to facilitate decision-making in particular political-economic moment, including the capacity of decision-makers to act on evidence.

Have Evidence, Will… Um, Erm?

Heather Lanthorn's picture

Commissioning Evidence

Among those who talk about development & welfare policy/programs/projects, it is tres chic to talk about evidence-informed decision-making (including the evidence on evidence-informed decision-making and the evidence on the evidence on…[insert infinite recursion]).

This concept — formerly best-known as evidence-based policy-making — is contrasted with faith-based or we-thought-really-really-hard-about-this-and-mean-well-based decision-making. It is also contrasted with the (sneaky) strategy of policy-based evidence-making. Using these approaches may lead to not-optimal decision-making, adoption of not-optimal policies and subsequent not-optimal outcomes.

In contrast, proponents of the evidence-informed decision-making approach believe that through their approach, decision-makers are able to make more sound judgments between those policies that will provide the best way forward, those that may not and/or those that should maybe be repealed or revised. This may lead them to make decisions on policies according to these judgments, which, if properly implemented or rolled-back may, in turn, improve development and welfare outcomes. It is also important to bear in mind, however, that it is not evidence alone that drives policymaking. We discuss this idea in more detail in our next post.


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