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Is Advocacy Only Feasible in Formal Democracies? Lessons from 6 Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Vietnam

Duncan Green's picture

Andrew Wells-Dang (right) and Pham Quang Tu (left) on how multi-stakeholder initiatives can flourish even in relatively closed political systems such as Vietnam

How can NGOs be effective advocates in restrictive political settings? Global comparative research (such as this study by CIVICUS on ‘enabling environments’) often concludes that at least a modest degree of formal democracy is necessary for civil society to flourish…including, but not limited to NGOs. Yet our experiences in Vietnam, which is commonly thought to be one of those restrictive settings, have shown that there is somewhat more space to carry out advocacy than appears at first blush – if advocates have a clear understanding of the national context and appropriate advocacy strategies.

We’ve seen effective advocacy take place around environmental and health issues through the initiatives of networks of formal and informal actors. At times, such as the disputes over bauxite mining in the Central Highlands (see here and here), networks have gone beyond the ‘invited spaces’ of embedded advocacy to boundary-stretching strategies of blogging, petitions and media campaigns. These actions defy the standard state-society dichotomy, bringing together activists and officials, intellectuals and community groups from around the country. At base is a realisation that social and policy problems are too big and chaotic to be resolved by state or non-state actors alone.

Quote of the Week: Ha-Joon Chang

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“We have been led to believe that the market is some kind of natural phenomenon. But in the end, the market is a political construct.”

- Ha-Joon Chang, a leading heterodox economist and institutional economist who specialises in development economics. Chang has written several widely-discussed books on policy, including Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective (2002).  Prospect Magazine ranked him as one of the top World Thinkers in 2013.

Understanding the Nature of Power: The Force Field that Shapes Development

Duncan Green's picture

I wrote this post for ODI’s Development Progress blog. It went up last week, closing a series of posts on the theme of Political Voice.

Women’s empowerment is one of the greatest areas of progress in the last century, so what better theme for a post on ‘voice’ than gender rights?

Globally, the gradual empowerment of women is one of the standout features of the past century. The transformation in terms of access to justice and education, to literacy, sexual and reproductive rights and political representation is striking.

That progress has been driven by a combination of factors: the spread of effective states that are able to turn ‘rights thinking’ into actual practice, and broader normative shifts; new technologies that have freed up women’s time and enabled them to control their own fertility; the vast expansion of primary education – particularly for girls – and improved health facilities.

Politics and power have been central to many, if not all, of these advances. At a global political level, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) appears to be one of those pieces of international law that exerts genuine traction at a national level, as it is ratified and codified in domestic legislation.

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 have We Learned on Getting Public Services to Poor People? What’s Next?

Duncan Green's picture

Ten years after the World Development Report 2004, the ODI’s Marta Foresti reflects on the past decade and implications for the futureMarta Foresti

Why do so many countries still fail to deliver adequate services to their citizens? And why does this problem persist even in countries with rapid economic growth and relatively robust institutions or policies?

This was the problem addressed by the World Bank’s ground-breaking 2004 World Development Report (WDR) Making Services Work for Poor People. At its core was the recognition that politics and accountability are vital to improve services and that aid donors ignore this at their peril. Ten years on, these issues are still at the heart of the development agenda, as discussed at the anniversary conference organised jointly by ODI and the World Bank in late February.

As much as this was a moment to celebrate the influence of the WDR 2004 on a decade of development thinking and practice, it also highlighted just how far we have to go before every citizen around the world has access to good quality basic services such as education, health, water and electricity.

The politics of service delivery

Bryn Welham's picture

Routes of accountabilityThe WDR 2004 report certainly puts politics centre stage. Ten years on, the picture remains the same: where there’s any form of accountability relationship, there is some form of politics. A key insight of the WDR 2004 report was the trio of accountability relationships for service delivery and demand for improvement involving citizens, service providers and the government.

Campaign Art: "Between Two Ferns" with Zach Galifianakis: President Barack Obama

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Last week, President Barack Obama appeared on comedian Zach Galifianakis’ Web-based show “Between Two Ferns.” The president’s purpose for doing the show was to promote HealthCare.gov. Julia R. Azari, a political scientist  of Marquette University, provides a interesting analysis on these types of appearances by political leaders; how they cultivate a less formal image and provide an opportunity to engage with the public through unconventional media channels. You can read her post here. But first, enjoy the show! Here's a link to the video.

Have Evidence, Will… Um, Erm (2 of 2)

Heather Lanthorn's picture

This is the second in a series of posts with suvojit, initially planned as a series of two but growing to six…

Reminder: The Scenario
In our last post, we set up a scenario that we* have both seen several times: a donor or large implementing agency (our focus, though we think our arguments apply to governmental ministries) commissions an evaluation, with explicit (or implicit) commitments to ‘use’ the evidence generated to drive their own decisions about continuing/scaling/modifying/scrapping a policy/program/project.

And yet. the role of evidence in decision-making of this kind is unclear.

In response, we argued for something akin to Patton’s utilisation-focused evaluation. Such an approach assesses the “quality” or “rigor” of evidence by considering how well it addresses the questions and purposes needed for decision-making with the most appropriate tools and timings to facilitate decision-making in particular political-economic moment, including the capacity of decision-makers to act on evidence.

The Civil Society Flashpoint: Why the Global Crackdown? What Can Be Done About It?

Duncan Green's picture
Carothers and Brechenmacher coverThis guest post comes from Thomas Carothers and Saskia Brechenmacher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, drawing from their new report, Closing Space: Democracy and Human Rights Support Under Fire.

When the concept of civil society took the international aid community by storm in the 1990s, many aid providers reveled in the alluring idea of civil society as a post-ideological, even post-political arena, a virtuous domain of nonpartisan organizations advancing a loosely defined notion of the public good. Funding civil society appealed as a way for aid providers to help shape the sociopolitical life of other countries without directly involving themselves in politics with a capital “P.” Power holders in aid-receiving countries, uncertain what to make of this fuss over civil society, were initially inclined to see it as a marginal enterprise populated by small, basically feckless groups of idealistic do-gooders.

Those days are long gone. Whether in Egypt, Turkey, Venezuela, or quite vividly in Ukraine during the final months of Yanukovych’s rule, a growing number of governments now treat the concept of civil society as a code word for powerful political subversives, usually assumed to be doing the bidding of the West. Power holders often fear NGOs more than they do opposition parties, seeing the former as nimble, technologically-savvy actors capable of activating sudden outbursts of mass protest.
 

Surprise, Perhaps the Only Way to Expand Reform Space Is…

Sina Odugbemi's picture
An important, new World Bank study has fascinating news. The study is Problem-Driven Political Economy Analysis: The World Bank’s Experience (Verena Fritz, Brian Levy, and Rachel Ort, Editors). Problem-driven political economy analysis is an approach that encourages those who want to implement governance reforms to:
  • Start the diagnosis with a focus on the problem to be solved, the challenge to be confronted (not general, big picture analysis for its own sake);
  • Probe why the bad equilibrium exists/persists by investigating the roles of (a) structural factors (b) formal and informal institutions…the rules of the game and (c) stakeholder interests, networks and power; and
  • Find a feasible path to reform/change in the specific context.

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