This is the first post in a series of six in which Michael Woolcock, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, discusses critical ideas within the field of Social Development.Both globalization and international development bring a wide range of people into contact with one another, linking distant communities to transnational networks and opening up spaces to new ideas. Alongside the state, multilateral development banks (MDBs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), private contractors, and development professionals converge on project sites, often interacting directly with local communities.
This influx of people brings global values concerning trade, democratic governance, human rights, and environmental sustainability— among many others— in contact with local conceptions of these values. This can create friction when international actors push for global liberal values that local communities are unfamiliar with or when they disregard traditional patterns of discourse. The tussle over values also occurs within states as district and national communities debate how development should progress. Urbanization, immigration, and the arts, for example, can all be experienced differently by various groups within a society.
Michael Woolcock asserts that, “putting a very strong premium on the legitimacy of the change process” is critical to a credible and accountable development intervention. Further, he states that if multi-level stakeholder engagement can be sustained over time, “then a lot of the process of dealing with contention can be acquired and incorporated into the way in which systems get managed.”
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?
Dreams die hard. I was on the road for much of last fall, talking about my new book – which promotes (as I put it in a recent piece in foreignpolicy.com), the virtues of modesty in our approach to democratic development. While my message is a sober one, my aim is not to foster pessimism but rather to highlight pragmatic ways forward.
Yet, repeatedly, I come up against critics who bewail my seeming lack of ambition. “Why”, they ask, “do you sell short the possibilities of transformation? Isn’t what we need bold, decisive, ethical leadership which cuts through the messiness of present predicaments? Where governance is weak, bold leaders can and should make it strong – rapidly and systematically!”.
By now, there is plenty of scholarship that makes the case that changes in governance cannot be willed into being – but rather that ‘good governance’ is the cumulative consequence of a long, slow incremental process. Nobel-prize-winner Douglass North and colleagues have clarified conceptually how personalized bargains between contending elites can provide platforms for both stability and (perhaps) the slow evolution of formal rules of the game. Francis Fukuyama masterfully documents, over two volumes, the deep historical roots of the rule of law, and of the difficult challenges posed by democratization in settings where state capabilities remain weak.
For many, though, conceptual and historical perspectives remain unpersuasive. “We need change”, they insist. “Therefore good leaders should provide it.”
Is free speech a fundamental right and does it have appropriate limits? Pope Francis has provided the most memorable recent attempt at an answer. Yes, there is such a thing as a right to free speech but if you upset people you might have a punch travelling towards your face. But the Pope’s intervention is only one amongst many. In the wake of the recent terrorist outrages in Paris, and the massive responses to it globally, a debate has erupted about the nature of free speech and its appropriate boundaries. It is an intense and global debate, but, as often happens when human emotions are all aquiver, there has been more heat than light. In what follows, I will make an effort to untangle the issues before tackling the question I posed in the heading.
And in doing so, I am going to take two views of free speech. The first is what I call the internal view: free speech considered within the boundaries of specific countries and legal systems. The second is what I call the global view: free speech within the emerging global public sphere. I begin with the internal view.
I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week to help Oxfam Italia develop advocacy and campaign skills among local civil society organizations. They have their work cut out.
Firstly, there is a crisis of trust between the public and CSOs, which are poorly regulated, often seen as little more than ‘briefcase NGOs’, only interested in winning funding, and under constant attack from politicians. Many CSOs seem pretty disillusioned, faced with a shrinking donor pot and public hostility.
I think there’s a strong case for the CSOs to take the lead in putting their house in order, practicing what they preach on transparency and accountability, and working with government to sort out the legitimate organizations from ones that have registered (there are some 10,000 in the country) but do nothing, (or worse).
Meanwhile, Oxfam is working with some of the more dynamic ones to develop the advocacy and campaign skills of what is still a maturing civil society network (after decades of state socialism, followed by a devastating war, and then an influx of donor cash that had mixed results). Two days of conversation and debate with some great organizations working on everything from disability rights to enterprise development to youth leadership identified some big issues and dilemmas:
The word “social” tends to be associated with the softer side in the world of economics and development policy. The “social” is generally less well measured, and in the current world of effectiveness thus less actionable. However the “social” does frequently pop up on the dashboard of policy makers and development practitioners, often when things go wrong, when social unrest erupts, and when economic policies do not have the intended consequences. No wonder, hence, that after the Arab Spring and after the global financial crisis with the loss of legitimacy of previous arrangements, social inclusion or cohesion has come to the forefront of the debate.
The reason the “social” is less well defined and measured internationally (although the Indices of Social Development is starting to change this) is similar to the reason it’s difficult to measure what glue or cement does or is in isolation from the pieces it connects. Sociologist are primarily interested in how people relate to each other and to larger societal structures such as public institutions, clubs, elections, etc., and how norms, trust and values alongside interests are of critical importance in guiding individuals’ behaviour. For non-economists, it is heartening to see how Akerlof and Kranton’s Identity Economics is trying to insert identity, norms, and social categories into (economists’) ways of understanding people’s decisions – one hopes that this will lead to a blossoming of inter-disciplinary research that is critical to understand most of not all development challenges.
The internet has certainly changed the process of how information and news is filtered and by whom. A process that was carried out by traditional media for decades is today largely managed by a few internet companies through algorithms. In this new role, they are not only filtering information but also helping us navigate a widely scattered information landscape through their products and services. In a new report by the Center of International Media Assistance, Bill Ristow discusses the role of these new information gatekeepers and the implications they face in protecting policies and practices across borders, such as openness of information and freedom of expression. Setting universally accepted norms on what is good behavior on the internet and what is not, is a major challenge. The question is who should be making these kinds of decisions? How are the new information gatekeepers held accountable?
I just returned from an intense but inspiring week in London with my team, to meet with the open contracting steering group and other committed practitioners, to shape how we will take open contracting forward.
As someone who has worked on procurement and contracting his whole life, it has been heartening for me to see such strong interest and engagement around open contracting. Now that I am back from London, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the inspiring conversations that I had over the last few days and to share some important decisions that the open contracting steering group has made.
Let me begin with the heart of open contracting – the open contracting principles. At the first global meeting for open contracting in South Africa, October 2012, practitioners called for overarching principles to define how open contracting will work in practice.
I’ve been thinking a bit about norms recently – how do the unwritten rules that guide so much of our behaviour and understanding of what is acceptable/right/normal etc evolve over time? Because they undoubtedly do – look at attitudes to slavery, women’s votes, racial equality or more recently child rights.
So in advance of International Women’s Day, I ploughed my way through a really important new World Bank study, On Norms and Agency: Conversations about Gender Equality with Women and Men in 20 Countries. Like the Bank’s path-breaking Voices of the Poor or the more recent Time to Listen, it’s an attempt to take the global temperature on a big topic through a process of rigorous and deep listening involving 4000 women and men around the developing world.
Such studies are lengthy, complex and expensive, but are incredibly revealing and useful, especially as they start to accumulate. We’re trying a mini version with the Life in a time of Food Price Volatility listening project – first year results out soon.
The report is 150 pages and pretty heavy going – subtle, nuanced and complex, and very hard to extract easy headlines. A close reading will yield much more than a skim, but for the time-poor blog reader, here are some of the findings that jumped out at me.