The 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Behind a Pattern of Global Unrest, a Middle Class in Revolt
For months now, protestors have gathered in the capitals of many developing nations—Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Cambodia, among others—in demonstrations united by some key features. In nearly all these places, protestors are pushing to oust presidents or prime ministers they claim are venal, authoritarian, and unresponsive to popular opinion. Nearly all these governments, no matter how corrupt, brutal, and autocratic, actually won election in relatively free polls. And in nearly all these countries the vast majority of demonstrators hail from cosmopolitan areas: Kiev, Bangkok, Caracas, Istanbul, and other cities. The streets seem to be filled with the very people one might expect to support democracy rather than put more nails in its coffin.
Where Did Press Freedom Suffer Most in 2013? Online.
PBS Media Shift
This month the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual analysis of Attacks on the Press, including a “Risk List” of the places where press freedom suffered most in 2013. As you might expect, conflict areas filled much of the list — Syria, Egypt, Turkey — but the place on the top of the list was not a country. It was cyberspace. In the past, the list has focused on highlighting nations where freedom of the press are under attack, but this year CPJ wrote, “We chose to add the supranational platform of cyberspace to the list because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet a critical sphere for journalists worldwide.” Including cyberspace is a recognition that, at least in terms of press freedom and freedom of expression, the web is not virtual reality, it is reality.
-Margaret Hodge, a British Labour politician, who has represented Barking, a district in East London, since 1994. On 9 June 2010, she was elected Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which is responsible for overseeing government expenditures to ensure they are effective and honest.
The last decade has witnessed unprecedented Internet diffusion in India. Over the past three years alone, Internet usage in India increased from 100 to 200 million people, growing far more rapidly than the decade it took to raise Internet users from 10 million to 100 million. A report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) estimates that by June 2014, India will have 243 million Internet users, at which point in time it is expected to overtake the US as the second largest Internet base in the world. This report further observes that the mobile Internet is going to be the next game changer for the Internet in India, with Indian mobile Internet users experiencing huge growth reaching 155 million in March and 185 million in June 2014 (IAMAI, 2013). With this rapid growth, scholars adopting a normative perspective present the Internet as a friend, philosopher and guide across different localities and communities in India. One such scholar, Adulkafi Albirini, articulates one possibility of the Internet as an emerging, “…utopian, egalitarian and empowering tool with the potential of ushering in a new era of development, democracy, and positive cultural change” (2008, p. 49).
Spent an enjoyable couple of days last week with the ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) crew, first at a follow up to the Delhi meeting (nothing earth shattering to report, but a research agenda is on the way – I’ll keep you posted), and then at a very moving memorial conference for the late Adrian Leftwich (right), who is something of a founding father to this current of thought.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of this line of thinking: understanding and engaging with the underlying issues of power and politics should be the heart of any serious work on development.
But based on last weeks exchanges, I’ve got some concerns too – here are some reflections:
First some choice quotes:
"Cynics who say power is all that counts in politics forget that power without ideas is just improvisation."
- Michael Ignatieff, Canadian author, academic, and former politician