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.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
More people in less space: rapid urbanisation threatens global health
The global population looks set to rise to 9.7 billion people by 2050, when it is expected that more than two-thirds of humanity will be living in urban areas. The global health community is bracing itself. Compared to a more traditional rural existence, the shift in lifestyle and inevitable increase in exposure to pollution will lead to significant long-term rises in non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Worrying as this prospect may be, current population trends are already altering the global health landscape even faster than we realise, and that could pose far bigger and more immediate problems. When population growth is combined with other pressures, such as climate change and human migration, some parts of the world are likely to experience unprecedented levels of urban density.
How Being Stateless Makes You Poor
For the first 24 years of his life, third-generation Palestinian refugee Waseem Khrtabeel rarely noticed any difference between himself and his Syrian neighbors. Like his parents, Khrtabeel was born and raised in Damascus. He speaks with a distinct Syrian accent, just like that of his many Syrian friends. But Khrtabeel is not like other Syrians. He’s stateless.The first time Khrtabeel, 30, grasped the magnitude of that word was in early 2010, after graduating from Damascus University with a mechanical engineering degree. Khrtabeel was elated when he secured an interview with the Saudi Binladin Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent construction companies. On an unseasonably warm day in January, he arrived at the company’s recruiting office in southwestern Damascus promptly at 2 p.m., energized and confident. He was shown the door less than seven minutes later.
- Weekly Wire
- Social Entrepreneurship
- Human Trafficking
- Trafficking in Persons Report
- Social Progress Index
- Access to Technology
- Digital Technology
- Public Goods
- global public goods
- Citizenship Rights
- Global Health
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Urban Development
Global Commission on Internet Governance
Internet governance is one of the most pressing global public policy issues of our time. Some estimates put the economic contribution of the Internet as high as $4.2 trillion* in 2016.1 The Internet of Things (IoT) could result in upwards of $11.1 trillion in economic growth and efficiency gains by 2025.2 And, the Internet is more than simply a system of wealth generation; it also acts as a platform for innovation, free expression, culture and access to ideas. Yet across multiple levels, the Internet’s basic functionality and the rights of users are under strain.
The Lopsided Geography of Wikipedia
Think about how often, in the course of a week, you visit Wikipedia. Maybe you’re searching for basic information about a topic, or getting sucked into a wiki-hole where you meant to study up on the “Brexit” but somehow find yourself, several related pages later, reading about the carbonic maceration process for making wine (to take just one example that has totally never happened to me). Now imagine you can’t access Wikipedia. Or you can, but not in your native language. Or there are plenty of entries in your language, but few on the subjects that are part of your daily life. Or those entries exist, but they’re not written by locals like yourself. You certainly have other ways of getting information. But Wikipedia is one of the most ambitious information clearinghouses in human history. How would these challenges shape your understanding of the world? And how would that understanding differ from the worldview of those who don’t face such challenges?
The call for an international set of guidelines came from many quarters between 2008 and 2010, but was largely driven by concerns raised in international fora by civil society, member states, development partners, and the private sector. These concerns primarily pertained to food security (and specifically food price spikes) and access, and rights to land and other resources by small, medium and large scale producers as they impact investments in food production systems.
One of the more notable concerns driving the development of the Guidelines was related to large scale land acquisitions (including what some organizations may sometimes refer to as “land grabbing”). Through a technical process FAO developed the initial draft of the Guidelines, and then initiated a process of input and consultation over two years before the document was given to the UN Committee for World Food Security (UN CFS) for negotiation.
As the subject of land rights can be very political (no international guidance can address the plethora of land challenges from Latin America to Africa to Asia and beyond with one-solution fits-all-problems), and civil society organizations, member states, and the private sector often have different views and needs in achieving their respective objectives, you can imagine it was not an easy task for CFS to agree to a set of guidelines.
Often, the stark reality facing the seekers-of-the-brave-new-PDIA-world is this:
But the Donor needs a Logframe!
This would bee case, even in programmes that are committed to adopting the problem-driven-iterative-adaptation (PDIA) approach. Let’s assume that high-level commitments from the donor is in place. Even so, where the rubber meets the road, a logframe is an item in the checklist of requirements for those funds to flow.
Well, fear no more, and watch this Matt Andrews video:
Over at the Center for Global Development, Charles Kenny wants comments on the draft of his book on Aid and Corruption (deadline end of May). Let’s hope this becomes standard practice – it worked brilliantly for me on How Change Happens – more varied voices can chip in good new ideas, spot mistakes or contradictions, and it all helps get a buzz going ahead of publication.
But let me take it one step further. As a contribution to the corruption summit, hosted by David Cameron on 12 May 2016, I thought I would summarize/review the book. Charles gave the green light, provided I stress the ‘preliminary, drafty, subject-to-revisiony nature of the text’. Done.
The summit is about a lot more than aid – for example the rich countries putting their houses in order on tax havens. Which is just as well, because the book poses some real challenges to the whole ‘anti-corruption’ narrative on aid. What’s more, it is erudite, engagingly written and upbeat – as you’d expect given Charles’ optimistic previous takes like Getting Better. He’s got a great eye for telling research and ‘man bites dog’ surprise findings. Example: ‘Taking a cross section of countries and comparing current income (2010) to corruption perceptions in 2002 and income in 2002, results suggests more corrupt countries in 2002 have higher incomes in 2010.’
His core argument is pretty striking – when it comes to aid and corruption, corruption does indeed matter, but the cure is often worse than the disease: ‘an important and justified focus on corruption as a barrier to development progress has led to policy and institutional change in donor agencies that is damaging the potential for aid to deliver development.’ Ouch.
Is payment by results just the most recent over-hyped solution for development, or is it an effective incentive for accelerating change?
When reading up on payment by results (PbR) recently I was struck by the contrast between how quickly it has spread through the aid world and how little evidence there is that it actually works.
In a way, this is unavoidable with a new idea – you make the case for it based on theory, then you implement, then you test and improve or abandon. In this case the theory, ably argued by Center for Global Development (CGD) and others, was that PbR aligns incentives in developing country governments with development outcomes, and encourages innovation, since it does not specify how to, for example, reduce maternal mortality, merely rewards governments when they achieve it.
Those arguments have certainly persuaded a bunch of donors. The UK government (pdf) says that this “new form of financing that makes payments contingent on the independent verification of results ... is a cross government reform priority”. The UK’s department for international development (DfID) called its 2014 PbR strategy Sharpening Incentives to Perform (pdf) and promised to make it “a major part of the way DfID works in future”. David Cameron, the British prime minister, waxes lyrical on the topic.
But I seem to be coming up against a long list of potential problems with PbR. Let’s start with Paul Clist and Stefan Dercon: 12 Principles for PbR in International Development (pdf), who set out a series of situations in which PbR is either unsuitable or likely to backfire. For example if results cannot be unambiguously measured, lawyers are going to have a field day when a donor tries to refuse payment by arguing they haven’t been achieved. They also make the point that PbR makes no sense if the recipient government already wants to achieve a certain goal – then you should just give them the money up front and let them get on with it.
Have you ever been in an argument that ended badly, after which you expected to receive an apology? Did the apology come or was the other side also expecting one? Have you ever done an audit or technical assessment and wondered how a team of professionals could have come to such seemingly erroneous conclusions? How can that be? How is that people can have such different views of the same thing?
One reason misunderstandings occur is that people tend to be naïve realists. That is, we believe that we see social interactions as they truly are. Anyone else who has read what we have read or seen what we have seen will naturally perceive them the say way as we do… that is, assuming they’ve pondered the issue as thoughtfully as we have. In short, our own reality is true, so those who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased.
However, one of the most enduring contributions of social psychology is the understanding that two people can interpret the same social interaction in very different ways, based on their own personal knowledge and experiences.
Tim Harford, the Undercover economist at the Financial Times, recently wrote about naïve realism, calling it the, “seductive sense that we’re seeing the world as it truly is, free of bias.” He goes on to say that this is such an attractive illusion that whenever we meet someone that contradicts our own view, we instinctively believe we’ve met someone who is deluded rather than question our own rationale.