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.
A while back I was working for a small education foundation in Bangalore. Every day I took the bus to the office along a road that had so many pot holes it felt like the driver had decided to take a short cut across the surface of the moon. About a month before I left the whole stretch was covered by a smooth layer of gleaming tarmac and a series of huge posters appeared – announcing the hard work and successful lobbying conducted by our local city councillor.
Evidence is piling up on the need to revisit the standard ‘supply’ versus ‘demand’ concept of how to improve governance for development. This is pointing to an exciting set of new priorities for reform in sub-Saharan Africa.
Recently, at a community meeting I attended at Robina clinic in Tonkolili district, Sierra Leone, facilitators asked a group of young women to rate the quality of health service delivery using what they coined the “mango test.” As part of this “test” community members decide how many hypothetical mangos, on a scale from 0 to 5, they would give a nurse as thanks for the quality of her care.