Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on February 21, 2013
There is a silent struggle going regarding how you do governance reforms in development. It is between the prevailing tendency and a small but growing band of practitioners saying things need to be done differently. The prevailing tendency is the packaging of experts-devised best practice packages that we take from country to country…model anti-corruption laws, model designs for the civil service, procurement systems, and financial management systems and so on. Our highly trained experts are invested in their solutions, and the modern global system has a growing array of policy networks on every issue under the sun, and they amass and disseminate norms of ideal practice. So, donors and their experts move from one country to another, offering money, loans, and these packages. So, how are things working out? Not very well is the answer. To use an Americanism; we are not getting stuff done that much when it comes to governance reforms, whatever the sector. Isn’t it high time we changed our ways?
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This summer, I made a project visit to a government clinic in northern Sierra Leone. It is a clinic pretty much in name only, being constructed as 1-bedroom living quarters for a teacher and subsequently converted into a health facility. The nurse took me on a tour, pointing out the problems: a broken scale to weigh infants, no waiting room for early stages of labor, animals grazing and
Governance issues are prominent on the development agenda - as exemplified by the recent G8 focus on transparency or in discussions of the post 2015 agenda. However, at least among most donors, the governance aspects are dealt with separately from discussions of social or environmental (or even economic) aspects. Is this a useful distinction? Or are we missing a trick from the financial and private sectors in not developing integrated environmental, social and governance (ESG) approaches?
About a month ago two colleagues (Greg Kisunko and Steve Knack) posted a blog on “The many faces of corruption in the Russian Federation”. Their post, based on the elegant analysis of the 2011/2012 Russian BEEPS, underscores a point that many practitioners and researchers are now beginning to appreciate because of the availability of new, disaggregated data: corruption is not a homogenous phenomenon, but rather a term that encompasses many diverse phenomena that can have profoundly different impact on the growth and the development of a country. If we delve deeper into this disaggregated data, we observe that within the same country can coexist significantly different sub-national realities when it comes to the phenomenon we label “corruption”.
What do discussions about aid modalities and institutional change have in common?
A lot, very little, would you expect them to? Clarifying these somewhat nebulous terms may be a first step to address this question.
An aid modality (or aid instrument), describes a way of delivering ODA. Different modalities are defined according to how funds are managed and disbursed: Is the funding ‘on budget’? Who signs off on the funding releases? The concept says nothing about the content of a given aid programme; it is purely concerned with the process used to transfer the funds. While budget support and project aid are the most common types of aid modality, the term also encompasses a host of other funding mechanisms, including funding for skills transfer.
There’s nothing like an impending meeting with the author to make you dig out your scrounged review copy of his book. So I spent my flight to Boston last week reading Limits (sorry the full title is just too clunky). And luckily for the dinner conversation, I loved it.
Limits is about why change doesn’t happen, and how it could. It synthesizes the ‘groundswell’ of disquiet about the failure of the governance and institutional reforms that have been promoted for many years now by aid agencies like the World Bank. And it’s not just a whinge – there are plenty of ideas for how aid agencies can do better. The book is particularly useful for those working on fragile states – lots of the positive examples (as well as some failures) come from Afghanistan, Ivory Coast and elsewhere, although there is a bit of ‘why can’t everywhere be more like Rwanda?’ in there too.
Overall, the approach reminded me of Dani Rodrik’s great book, In Search of Prosperity, and Matt says Rodrik (a fellow Harvard prof) was influential in pushing him to nail down the always-elusive ‘so whats’.
Limits summarizes research and thinking from disparate disciplines, with lots of fascinating case studies (he’s put in the legwork to build a serious empirical basis for his conclusions). His big idea is captured in a new acronym, PDIA (Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation), which, as he pointed out, is similar to the Participatory Institutional Appraisal idea I raised in a recent blog. I’m not sure if PDIA will catch on – it could have done with a snappier title, as could the book – but the content is really important if you are interested in aid, institutions or governance.
So what does it say? Firstly, that we have a big failure on our hands. The spate of projects and programmes around institutional reform has at best a mixed record of success; in many countries institutions have actually deteriorated in terms of effectiveness, corruption etc.
BEYOND PAY AS MOTIVATOR
Pay reform has been a mainstay of our public sector practice over many years. We have encouraged governments to ‘decompress’ pay, paying more to senior staff whose relative contribution to the public service, we have argued, is not reflected in their pay packets. We have sponsored job evaluation exercises, so that pay is aligned more closely with duties. We have tried to link pay to some measure of performance.
Today marks the conclusion of the final meeting of the Global Thematic Consultation on Governance and the Post-2015 Development Framework, held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
There is no doubt that governance can be complicated. It has been subject to extensive analysis and explanation by a variety of experts, with a corresponding variety of definitions. Competing philosophies are based on not only assumptions about the intersection of economic and political management, but also the relevance of institutions to development outcomes. Measurement of such complex concept can be an awkward tool in the midst of such ambiguity.
Good institutions matter for development. Institutions enable societies to address challenges – from managing irrigation and schools systems, to raising and spending revenues. In the terms of Nobel Prize laureate Elinor Ostrom, the right institutions enable effective collective action, while poor or missing institutions hinder problem-solving.