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The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development: important new book

Duncan Green's picture

The results/value for money steamroller grinds on, with aid donors demanding more attention to measurement of impact. At first sight that’s a good thing – who could be against achieving results and knowing whether you’ve achieved them, right? Step forward Ros Eyben, Chris Roche, Irene Guijt and Cathy Shutt, who take a more sceptical look in a new book, The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development, with a rather Delphic subtitle – ‘playing the game to change the rules?’

Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development book coverThe book develops the themes of the ‘Big Push Forward’ conference in April 2014, and the topics covered in one of the best debates ever on this blog – Ros and Chris in the sceptics corner took on two gung-ho DFID bigwigs, Chris Whitty and Stefan Dercon.

The critics’ view is suggested by an opening poem, Counting Guts, by P Lalitha Kumari after she attended a meeting about results in Bangalore, which includes the line ‘We need to break free of the python grip of mechanical measures.’

The book has chapters from assorted aid workers about the many negative practical and political consequences of implementing the results agenda, including one particularly harrowing account from a Palestinian Disabled People’s Organization that ‘became a stranger in our own project’ due to the demands of donors (the author’s skype presentation was the highlight of the conference).

But what’s interesting is how the authors, and the book, have moved on from initial rejection to positive engagement. Maybe a snappier title would have been ‘Dancing with Pythons’. Irene Guijt’s concluding chapter sets out their thinking on "how those seeking to create or maintain space for transformational development can use the results and evidence agenda to better advantage, while minimising problematic consequences". Here’s how she summarizes the state of the debate:

"No one disputes the need to seek evidence and understand results. Everyone wants to see clear signs of less poverty, less inequity, less conflict and more sustainability, to understand what has made this possible. Development organizations increasingly seek to understand better what works for who and why – or why not. However, disputes arise around the power dynamics that determine who decides what gets measured, how and and why. The cases in this book bear witness to the experiences of development practitioners who have felt frustrated by the results and evidence protocols and practices that have constrained their ability to pursue transformational development. Such development seeks to change power relations and structures that create and reproduce inequality, injustice and the non-fulfillment of human rights.
 

Geek Heresy, by Kentaro Toyama: a book review

Duncan Green's picture

Gawain KripkeGuest post by Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s Director of Policy, on Kentaro Toyama's book Geek Heresy.

Geek Heresy book coverI love my smart phone. It’s awesome and it makes me more awesome. I honestly think that my life is much better with it than without. It makes me a better worker – able to review documents, communicate with colleagues, keep projects moving smoothly even when I’m out of the office.   It makes me a better citizen – I”m able to read news and events, can report emergencies and contribute to public safety and knowledge by feeding in through networks.  I think I’m a better parent – or at least it makes parenting easier.  All the logistics of picking up kids and changing schedules are greatly assisted by having my mobile phone.  It’s not cool to say so, but I think my mobile phone is a fundamentally empowering technology that helps make me a better person and helps me live a better life.

So, why shouldn’t mobile phones do the same for other people, including poor ones?  In researching this idea, I came across Kentaro Toyama.  I called him up, and in a long conversation, he batted down my fumbling ideas effortlessly and gracefully.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Toyama has emerged as a leading skeptic of technology-led concepts of development.  He’s now published Geek Heresy, a book that is worth reading, both for proponents and skeptics of technology in development.

Quote of the Week: Niall Ferguson

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Niall Ferguson at a Chatham House event on 9 May 2011"Politically, most of the world has never been more boring. Instead of the alarms and excursions of the past, we now have technocrats versus populists. Any violence is verbal and the technocrats nearly always win."

Niall Ferguson, a British historian from Scotland, who specializes in international history; economic history, particularly hyperinflation and the bond markets; and British and American imperialism. Ferguson's books include Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest. He is also the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, University of Oxford; a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University; and visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities.

Quote of the Week: Matteo Renzi

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"I’m the scrapper. I’m cleaning up the swamp."

- Matteo Renzi, in response to political opponents who call him il rottamatore, the demolition man. Renzi was elected Prime Minister of Italy in February 2014 and was referring to the waste, bureaucracy, high unemployment (40% among Italy's youth), slow pace of the Italian judicial system, culture of cronyism, tax evasion, and other areas of reform that he is hoping to change.

 

Why I’d like to believe that a robot cannot do what I do

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Human-Cyborg HandshakeWhat follows is something that arrested my attention the other day. Around the febrile atmosphere that has developed between officials from Greece and officials from partner EU states and other institutions, an anonymous diplomat made the following point to the Financial Times:
 

In diplomacy, national interests set the stage, but human emotions determine the script. The longer the negotiations take, the more sympathy, love, rancor, jealousy and exasperation come into play. It’s the one profession that robots are least likely to take over.” (FT 20 June/21 June 2015, “Months of Greek debt talks yield bad blood but no deal”).

In other words, if your job involves understanding and working with, and through, human emotions, then it is reasonably safe from the growing imperialism of robots.  When I read that, I chuckled. Then the thought hit me: if that is the yardstick maybe the business I am in – the business of aligning stakeholders, winning friends and influencing people – is also one that robots are least likely to take over. Let me explain.

Blog post of the month: 5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal

Vinay Bhargava's picture

South Sudanese prepare for independenceEach month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. For June 2015, the featured blog post is "5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal" by Vinay Bhargava, the chief technical adviser and a board member at Partnership for Transparency Fund

On May 27, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist at an event organized by the Governance Thematic Group of 1818 Society of the World Bank Group (WBG) Alumni.

The panelists were: Mr. Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution; Ms. Heike Gramckow, Acting Practice Manager, Rule of Law and Access to Justice at the Governance Global Practice at the World Bank Group; Mr. Brian Levy, Professor of the Practice, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University; Mr. Jerome Sauvage, Deputy head of UN Office in Washington DC. Mr. Fredrick Temple, currently Adviser at the Partnership for Transparency Fund, moderated the workshop. 
 
The panel presentations and discussion were hugely informative and insightful. I am pleased to share with you my five takeaways that anyone interested in governance and development interactions ought to know.

The C Word: How should the aid business think and act about Corruption?

Duncan Green's picture

Corruption is perceived by many to be an impediment to development. But, it can be difficult to tackle since it is often a systemic problem. Duncan Green recently attended a seminar on corruption and development and provides some impressions.

Went to a seminar on corruption and development on Monday – notable in itself as corruption is something of a taboo topic in aid circles. Aid supporters often cite framing – George Lakoff’s ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’ or Richard Nixon’s ‘I am not a crook’ (below)- as justification for avoiding the topic; even if you raise it to dismiss it, the connection between aid and corruption will be established in the public mind.
 
VIDEO: Richard Nixon- "I'm not a crook"


Unfortunately ignoring it/leaving it to the Daily Mail hasn’t worked too well – David Hudson’s research (still unpublished, but previewed here) shows that the % of the UK public agreeing with the decidedly clunky (DFID-drafted) statement ‘corruption in poor country governments makes it pointless donating money to help reduce poverty’ has risen rapidly from 44% to 61% since 2008. He also found that talking to members of the public about how aid is trying to tackle corruption can undo the damage of raising the issue in the first place (and help immunise people against the barrage of press reports).

Have technology and globalization kicked away the ladder of ‘easy’ development? Dani Rodrik thinks so

Duncan Green's picture

Dani RodrikEconomic transformation is necessary for growth that can lead to poverty reduction. However, economic transformation in low-income countries is changing as recent evidence suggests countries are running out of industrialization options much sooner than once expected. Is this a cause for concern? What does the past, present, and likely future of structural transformation look like? Read on to find out why leading economist Dani Rodrik is pessimistic and what some possible rays of light are. 

Dani Rodrik was in town his week, and I attended a brilliant presentation at ODI. Very exciting. He’s been one of my heroes ever since I joined the aid and development crowd in the late 90s, when he was one of the few high profile economists to be arguing against the liberalizing market-good/state-bad tide on trade, investment and just about everything else. Dani doggedly and brilliantly made the case for the role of the state in intelligent industrial policy. But now he’s feeling pessimistic about the future (one discussant described it as ‘like your local priest losing his faith’).

The gloom arises from his analysis of the causes and consequences of premature industrialization. I blogged about his paper on this a few months ago, but here are some additional thoughts that emerged in the discussion. He’s also happy for you to nick his powerpoint.

Dani identified two fundamental engines of growth. The first is a ‘neoclassical engine’, consisting of a slow accumulation of human capital (eg skills), institutions and other ‘fundamental capabilities’. The second, which he ascribed to Arthur Lewis, is driven by structural differences within national economies – islands of modern, high productivity industry in a sea of traditional low productivity. Countries go through a ‘structural transformation’ when an increasing amount of the economy moves from the traditional to the modern sector, with a resulting leap in productivity leading to the kinds of stellar growth that has characterized take-off countries over the last 60 years.

Simulated Manufacturing Employment SharesManufacturing has been key to that second driver. It is technologically dynamic, with technologies spreading rapidly across the world, allowing poor countries to hitch a ride on stuff invented elsewhere. It has absorbed lots of unskilled labour (unlike mining, for example). And since manufactures are tradable, countries can specialize and produce loads of a particular kind of goods, without flooding the domestic market and driving down prices.

But that very dynamism has produced diminishing returns in terms of growth and (especially) jobs. Countries are hitting a peak of manufacturing jobs earlier and earlier in their development process (see graph). And it could get much worse – just imagine the impact if/when garments, the classic job-creating first rung on the industrialization ladder, shift to automated production in the same way as vehicle production.
 

Quote of the Week: Hélder Pessoa Câmara

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Hélder Câmara“When I give food to the poor, I am considered a saint.  But when I ask why they are poor, I am called a communist."

Hélder Pessoa Câmara, the Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, serving from 1964 to 1985 during the military regime of the country. He was an advocate of liberation theology, and is remembered for the above aphorism.

Quoted in the Financial Times on June 20, 2015, "A rock-star Pope puts his faith in science" by David Gardner

 

You leak, but I brief. Who is the scoundrel?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Secret meetingJames Callaghan, Labor Party Prime Minister of Great Britain (1976-1979), is reported to have quipped: “You leak, but I brief”. In other words, while the politician that he was addressing leaked official documents to the media (a wrong, probably illegal move) he merely briefed the media. His practice, he was implying, was less blameworthy. The question is: is it?

Leaks of official documents and the leakers involved are in the news a lot these days. Some of these leakers are leaking documents on an epic scale, exploiting the weaknesses of modern electronic document management systems. Documents that in the past you would have had to break into safes in a thousand different locations around the world to access you can now find in a single online repository…if you have the right hacking or document stealing skills. While in the past a leaker would send a single document by mail to the editor of a leading newspaper, now we are getting thousands of pages stolen and shared all at once.

There is a romantic, Hollywood view of the epic leakers, and movies are also being made about them, usually hagiographies. The epic leakers are seen as heroic figures, doughty champions acting in the overall public interest. Perhaps. I have no doubt that there are leakers who are genuine whistle blowers, determined to expose wrong doing by public officials. But one also suspects that some of these leakers are complexly motivated individuals. And some of the epic leakers are egomaniacs who fancy themselves as world-historic figures.


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