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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.

Hawthorne effects: Past and future

Heather Lanthorn's picture

Maseru Shining Centuary TextilesI have two main points in this blog. The first is a public service announcement in the guise of history. Not so long ago, I heard someone credit the Hawthorne effect to an elusive, eponymous Dr. Hawthorne, of which, in this case, there is not one directly tied to these studies. The second is a call to expand our conception of Hawthorne effects – or really, observer or evaluator effects – in the practice of social science monitoring and evaluation.
Hawthorne history

The Hawthorne effect earned its name from the factory in which the study was sited: the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant, near Chicago. These mid-1920s studies, carried out by MIT, Harvard, and the US National Research Council researchers were predicated on in-vogue ideas related to scientific management. Specifically, the researchers examined the effect of artificial illumination on worker productivity, raising and lowering the artificial light available to the women assembling electric relays (winding coils of wire) in a factory until the artificial light available was equivalent to moonlight.
The finding that made social science history (first in the nascent fields of industrial and organizational psychology and slowly trickling out from there) was that worker productivity increased when the amount of light was changed, and productivity decreased when the study ended. It was then suggested that the workers’ productivity increased because of the attention paid to them via the study, not because the light was altered.

Thus, the “Hawthorne effect” was named and acknowledged: the change in an outcome that can be attributed to behavioral responses among subjects/respondents/beneficiaries simply by virtue of being observed as part of an experiment or evaluation.

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

Policy Implementation: A Research Agenda

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
The components of a bureaucracy are defined not by individuals but by positions that make up the structure
A common notion in public policy is that policy-making and implementation are divorced from each other, in the sense that politics surrounds decision-making activities (to be carried out by the elected political leadership) while implementation is an administrative activity (to be handled by bureaucracies). However, researchers have found that such distinctions are not helpful in understanding policy implementation in developing countries.
An ideal bureaucracy is an efficient implementation machine. Bureaucracies comprising appointed officials are supposed to possess technical knowledge and the skills for professional organisation. The components of a bureaucracy are defined not by individuals, but by the positions that make up the structure. Max Weber conceptualised bureaucracy as the supreme form of organisation, where bureaucrats are expected to be true to their position and follow hierarchy and the rules that govern the organisation. Researchers such as Willy McCourt (University of Manchester) have also shown that a meritocratic and rewarding work environment and operational autonomy from the political leadership can help public bureaucracies deliver better than even the private sector.

What is a Theory of Change and How Do We Use It?

Duncan Green's picture

I’m planning to write a paper on this, but thought I’d kick off with a blog and pick your brains for references, suggestions etc. Everyone these days (funders, bosses etc) seems to be demanding a Theory of Change (ToC), although when challenged, many have only the haziest notion of what they mean by it. It’s a great opportunity, but also a risk, if ToCs become so debased that they are no more than logframes on steroids. So in internal conversations, blogs etc I’m gradually fleshing out a description of a ToC. When I ran this past some practical evaluation Oxfamers, they helpfully added a reality check – how to have a ToC conversation with an already existing programme, rather than a blank sheet of paper?

But first the blank sheet of paper. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll probably recognize some of this, because it builds on the kinds of questions I ask when trying to understand past change episodes, but throws them forward. Once you’ve decided roughly what you want to work on (and that involves a whole separate piece of analysis), I reckon it’s handy to break down a ToC into four phases, captured in the diagram.

Multistakeholder Initiatives: Are they Effective?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Kimberly Process, and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) are just a few examples of major Multistakeholder Initiatives (MSIs). Through comprehensive deliberative processes, involving a broad set of stakeholders from governments, private sector, and civil society, MSIs form and adopt new norms, which they seek to make part of the global agenda, and implement on the ground. MSIs gained traction in the late 1990’s, as a means of filling “governance gaps,” due to the failure of existing structures and processes, and as a means to solve problems through collective action. Lucy Koechlin and Richard Calland, have identified five functions of MSIs: 1) dialogue/forum, 2) institution building, 3) rule setting, 4) rule implementation and 5) rule monitoring.

As the use of MSIs is fairly recent, it might be too soon to question their effectiveness. However, Koechlin, Calland, and N.K. Dubash have identified challenges in their analysis of the EITI and the World Commission on Dams. These challenges, involving effectiveness, legitimacy and accountability, can impede a successful outcome.

Publish and the Problem Will Go Away?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Transparency International’s (TI) 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index provides a rather bleak picture of the current state of corruption around the world. With more than half of the 178 indexed countries scoring below five on a 10 point scale (with 10 being “very clean”), corruption remains a major impediment to development.  Thus, TI is now advocating for stricter implementation and monitoring of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), a global legal framework that came into force in 2005 to help curb corruption. The Convention’s 140 signatories’ will be under review for the next three years for their efforts in fighting corruption.  TI further recommends that focus should be given to areas such as, “strengthening institutions; strengthening the rule of law; making decision-making transparent; educating youths and setting up better whistle-blower protection schemes.”  As a matter of fact, anti-corruption measures will be discussed at the G-20 summit taking place in Seoul next week.  However, Christiaan Poortman, TI’s Director of Global Programmes, is skeptical as to whether it will produce any major changes at the governance level. 

At The Cutting Edge of Governance: Final Day

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The third and final day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance' (Cape Town, South Africa) looked to the future. But, in a sense, it was not possible to look ahead without looking back at the same time. Again and again, participants reflected on the amazing road already travelled. Stories were told of the time when the World Bank and other donors would not discuss the terrible scourge of corruption in developing countries, let alone the role of politics and political institutions in either enabling or hampering development results. Yet now, all these things are part of not only the agenda but concrete practice in the field. A director summed up the state of play succinctly:

Development in an Imperfect World: Lessons from the Field Part 2

Rajeev Ahuja's picture

To follow up on my last entry, I'd like to highlight a few more lessions I've learned in my five years at the Bank and share some aspects of the "inner workings" of my job in development. Click here to read the introduction and the first three lessons.

Let me spell out a few more of these lessons that I've learnt as a Health Economist.

4. Don’t be “means” wise and “ends” foolish
No matter where you are along the results chain at any given time, it’s important to keep an overall perspective and stay focused to reap the payoffs at the end. This is necessary so that no input, activity or process blocks or slows down your movement along the chain. The further you go along the chain, the more compelling it becomes to cover the remaining distance. For example, having achieved a policy change for introducing new technology, hired the personnel, provided them training, straightened out logistics and supply issues, it becomes all the more necessary not to hold up supplies for some silly procurement procedure.

When you do win, then the hard work starts

Scott Poynton's picture

I’ve been reflecting on further lessons learned from our project that I could share with everyone. I’ve come up a number and they’re all interlinked. The first is that inevitably when you’re implementing innovative projects in complex contexts, you’re going to need to work with partners.