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Why those promoting growth need to take politics seriously, and vice versa

Duncan Green's picture

Nicholas Waddell, a DFID Governance Adviser working on ‘Governance for Economic Development’ (G4ED) explores the links between governance and economic growth. 

Should I play it safe and join a governance team or risk being a lone voice in a sea of economists and private sector staff? This was my dilemma as a DFID Governance Adviser returning to the UK after a stint in East Africa. I gambled and joined the growth specialists in DFID’s newly created Economic Development arm.  A year in, I now think differently about the relationship between growth and governance.

Man working inside a large reinforced steel tube, PhilippinesEradicating poverty will not be possible without high and sustained growth that generates productive jobs and brings benefits across society. Historically, this has included boosting productivity within existing sectors as well as rebalancing economies towards more productive sectors (e.g. from agriculture to manufacturing). Such structural change or economic transformation has lifted millions from poverty.

Economic transformation can have a strong disruptive effect on political governance – giving rise, for example, to interest groups that push for accountable leaders and effective institutions. As countries get richer, more effective institutions also become more affordable. Over time, economic transformation can therefore advance core governance objectives.

But this is easier said than done. Economic development is an inherently political process that challenges vested interests. Often the surest ways for elites to hold onto power and profit aren’t in step with measures to spur investment, create jobs and foster growth. Shrewd power politics can be bad economics.

3 big problems with how we think about results and development

Craig Valters's picture

How useful is 'focusing on results' for development work? It may make an organization more cost-efficient but not necessarily more effective as it is usually unrealistic, time-consuming and misleading.  

Justine Greening sees the building of Kerry Town Ebola treatment centre in Sierra LeoneHow do donors aim for “results” without setting up a counterbureaucracy that disrupts rather than encourages good development programs?

A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact report has taken the U.K. Department for International Development to task for doing just that, which in turn demands a serious reconsideration of how DfID thinks about results and accountability.

Of course, these critiques are hardly new. However this isn’t another nongovernmental organization or academic report slating the “results agenda,” but an independent body that has specifically been set up to ensure the effectiveness of aid and — based on 44 previous reports — is providing evidence about how the results agenda unfolds in practice.

In a nutshell, ICAI argues that DfID today knows better than ever before when and where taxpayers’ money is being spent, but not what that spending actually achieves. ICAI found that the results agenda has tended to prioritize short-term economy and efficiency over long-term, sustainable impact. It has brought “greater discipline” and “greater accountability for the delivery of aid” but also a focus on quantity of results over quality.

Not everything ICAI has to say is bad news; but most of it is. The ICAI findings undoubtedly hold broader relevance for other donors who are taking a similar approach to their result agenda.

Living with the ‘results agenda’, redux

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

What is the 'results agenda' and how does it relate to transformational change within development? The recent publication of a report from The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), which scrutinizes UK aid spending, has brought these questions to life once again.  Here are some takeaways on the report and the need for systems thinking, accountability, and flexibility from Suvojit Chattopadhyay.

ash transfer payments to women in Freetown, Sierra LeoneCraig Valters’ Devex post, based on yet another newsworthy ICAI report, seems to have somewhat revived the debate over the ‘results agenda'. The criticism is sharper, castigating DFID for the “unintended effect of focusing attention on quantity of results over their quality” – but also one that clearly implies that the ‘results agenda’ is not well-understood or widely shared within donors like DFID. Focusing on ‘results’ cannot mean a divorce from long-term outcomes. What ICAI describes sounds more like an outputs agenda that is transactional (what your money can buy) rather than transformative (the good change).

The consequence of this bean-counting is that complex problems risk being ignored: donors and the partners they fund will tend to focus on projects, rather than systems. Also, genuine accountability along the aid-chain takes a hit due to a general break-down of trust between the different actors. So what can we do about this?

Politics, Economists and the Dangers of Pragmatism: Reflections on DFID's Governance and Conflict Conference

Duncan Green's picture

DFID really is an extraordinary institution. I spent Monday and Tuesday at the annual get together one of its professional cadres – about 200 advisers on governance and conflict. They were bombarded with powerpoints from outside speakers (including me), but still found time for plenty of ‘social loafing’, aka networking with their mates. Some impressions:

They are hugely bright and committed, wrestling to get stuff done in some of the most difficult places on the planet, familiar with all the dilemmas of ‘doing aid’ in complex environments that I talk about endlessly on this blog. A visitor muttered about the quality and nuance of discussion compared to the uncritical can-do hubris of much of what they hear in Washington.
In fact, since the Australians and Canadians wound up their development departments, DFID looks pretty well unique in the international scene – heroic keeper of the flame or aid’s Lonesome George heading for species extinction? We’ll find out over the next few years.

DFID is Changing its Approach to Better Address the Underlying Causes of Poverty and Conflict – Can it Work? Guest Post from two DFID Reformers

Duncan Green's picture

Aid donors are often maligned for bureaucratic procedures, a focus on short-term results at the expense of longer-term, riskier institutional change, and a technical, managerial approach to aid with insufficient focus on context, power and politics. Are these institutional barriers insurmountable? Can aid agencies create an enabling environment to think and work politically? 

Tom WingfieldTom Wingfield (top) and Pete Vowles (bottom) from DFID’s new ‘Better Delivery Taskforce’ have been trying to do just that. Here’s where they’ve got to.

For the past year DFID has been focussing on these issues and how we can both guard taxpayer’s money and have transformational impact in the countries where we work. The result has been the introduction of a comprehensive set of reforms targeting our process, capability and culture. Pete VowlesThis is about creating the conditions that allow us to better address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict, and respond effectively to the post-2015 agenda. At the heart of the reform is a revamp of DFID’s operating framework (ie the rules and principles which govern our work). Known as the ‘Smart Rules’, it can be downloaded here.

Like any institutional reform, this is a long term change process.  The next 12 months provide a real opportunity to strengthen our partnerships with a wide range of partners and enhance our collective effectiveness.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

Mobile Devices will Outnumber People by the End of the Year

“By the end of 2013, there will be more mobile devices on Earth than people, a new report suggests.

According to Cisco's Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, consumers' mobile appetite has grown a lot in the past year, and it shows no signs of slowing. In fact, Cisco predicts global mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold by 2017, with more than 10 billion mobile-connected devices by then. It also believes mobile network speeds will grow by seven times what it is now.”  READ MORE

What Do DFID Wonks Think of Oxfam’s Attempt to Measure its Effectiveness?

Duncan Green's picture

More DFIDistas on the blog: this time Nick York, DFID’s top evaluator and Caroline Hoy, who covers NGO evaluation, comment on Oxfam’s publication of a set of 26 warts-and-all programme effectiveness reviews.

Having seen Karl Hughes’s 3ie working paper on process tracing and talked to the team in Oxfam about evaluation approaches, Caroline Hoy (our lead on evaluation for NGOs) and I have been reading with considerable interest the set of papers that Jennie Richmond has shared with us on ‘Tackling the evaluation challenge – how do we know we are effective?’.

From DFID’s perspective, and now 2 years into the challenges of ‘embedding evaluation’ in a serious way into our own work, we know how difficult it often is to find reliable methods to identify what works and measure impact for complex development interventions.  Although it is relatively well understood how to apply standard techniques in some areas – such as health, social protection, water and sanitation and microfinance – there are whole swathes of development where we need to be quite innovative and creative in finding approaches to evaluation that can deal with the complexity of the issues and the nature of the programmes.  Many of these areas are where NGOs such as Oxfam do their best work.

Can Theories of Change Help Researchers (or their funders) Have More Impact?

Duncan Green's picture

Got dragged into DFID this week for yet another session on theories of change. This one was organized by the DFID-funded Research for Development (R4D) project (sorry, ‘portal’). A lot of my previous comments on such sessions apply – in DFID the theories of change agenda seems rather dominated by evaluation and planning (‘logframes on steroids’), whereas in Oxfam, it is mainly used to sharpen our work in programmes and campaigns. But the conversation that jumped out at me was around ‘how do we influence the researchers that we fund to use theories of change (ToCs) to improve the impact of their research?’

It’s risky to generalize about ‘academics’, but I'm going to do it anyway. Let’s apply some ToCs thinking to academia as a target. Applying ToCs to try and understand why academics don't use ToCs may feel a bit weird (like the bit in Being John Malkovich where Malkovich enters his own brain), but bear with me.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Raise Your Voice Edition

“Internet activists in India are fuming over the country’s sweeping new Internet restrictions on objectionable content, and are beginning to take extreme action to combat the law. This week we recognize Aseem Trivedi and Alok Dixit from Save Your Voice, who have begun a hunger strike in protest of the ‘Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011’ which were quietly issued by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in April 2011.

One of the flaws of the new rules is that they mandate that website or domain owners must take down material within 36 hours when a third party issues a complaint, without giving a chance for content owners to defend the material. The Bangalore-based advocacy group Centre for Internet & Society also pointed out that the rule leads to a general chilling effect on freedom of expression over the Internet.”  READ MORE

Au Revoir! CommGAP Says Goodbye

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

That's it - CommGAP is closing shop. October 31 will be the last day of the program. We look back on five years of research, advocacy, capacity building, and operational support in communication for governance reform. And yes, we are a little proud. As a friend of CommGAP told us last week, this end is an occasion to celebrate. And never fear - the blog stays on! The World Bank's External Affairs Operational Communication department will take over, with Sina Odugbemi and Diana Chung at the helm. Look forward to some new bloggers who will share with us new ideas and experiences from new areas of operational communication in development. CommGAP's many resources will remain accessible on our website.