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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.

How Should INGOs Prepare for the Coming Disruption? Reading the Aid/Development Horizon Scans (so that you don’t have to)

Duncan Green's picture

Gosh, INGOs do find themselves fascinating. Into my inbox plop regular exercises in deep navel-gazing –both excessively self-regarding and probably necessary. They follow a pretty standard formula:

  • Everything is changing. Mobile phones! Rise of China!
  • Everything is speeding up. Instant feedback! Fickle consumers! Shrinking product cycles!
  • You, in contrast are excruciatingly slow, bureaucratic and out of touch. I spit on you and your logframes.
  • Transform or die!

Best Advice: Give It a Shot

Jim Yong Kim's picture

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received sounds pretty simple: Give it a shot.

Dr. Ted Alyea, a senior resident at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, gave me this advice in 1991 when I was the most junior of physicians, an intern.

We were standing outside a patient’s room in the Intensive Care Unit. Our team was discussing the plan for treating a very sick patient when Ted said to me, “Tell us what you think we should do next. Give it a shot.”

During patient rounds, interns take turns outside a hospital room presenting the patient’s background; reciting what is known about the patient and the disease or condition including careful recounting of symptoms, laboratory data, diagnostic studies and current treatment. Then the intern and senior resident go into the room to examine the patient and afterward the team decides on a plan for treatment.

Lant Pritchett on Why We Struggle to Think in Systems (and Look for Heroes and Villains Instead)

Duncan Green's picture

rebirth-education-lant-pritchettThis passage in Lant Pritchett’s new book, The Rebirth of Education, (reviewed here yesterday), had me gurgling with pleasure. It explains, in vintage Pritchett prose, why we all find it so hard to think in terms of systems, rather than agents (i.e. heroes and villains). He totally nails the origins of that glazed look I see in the eyes of my Oxfam colleagues when I start going on about systems, complexity, emergence etc:

“I am going on at length about this because this book is about explaining and fixing poor learning outcomes by fixing broken systems, not fixing people. But I have to go on about this because system explanations just have no appeal to people, myself included. Agent-centered explanations are powerfully appealing to us, on a very deep level. Believe me, if your child says, “Daddy, tell me a story,” you can be sure he or she wants a story with agents, heroes and villains who have goals and make plans and overcome obstacles.

How do We Move from Getting Kids into School to actually Educating Them? Provocative New Book by Lant Pritchett

Duncan Green's picture

rebirth-education-lant-pritchettI approached Lant Pritchett’s new book ‘The Rebirth of Education’ with glee and trepidation. Glee because Lant is one of the smartest, wittiest and best writers and thinkers on development. Trepidation because this issue is an intellectual minefield of Somme-like proportions (remember the epic Kevin Watkins v Justin Sandefur battle?). And sure enough, Lant took me into all kinds of uncomfortable places. Allow me to share my confusion.

First the book. Based on a data-tastic summary of a lot of research and case studies, Lant argues, in the words of the book’s subtitle, that ‘Schooling Ain’t Learning’:

  • In India less than half of children surveyed in grade 5 could read a story for second graders (and over 1 in 4 could not read a simple sentence), and only slightly more than half could do subtraction. Results over several years were getting worse, not better. See graphic for more examples.
  • In Tanzania over 65 percent of students who sat the 2012 examination for secondary school (Form IV) completers failed, with the worst possible results.
  • A majority of 15 year-olds in low- and middle-income countries have only learned enough to reach the bottom 5 percent of their peers in high-income countries.

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