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Stakeholder Analysis

Building State Capability: Review of an important (and practical) new book

Duncan Green's picture

Jetlag is a book reviewer’s best friend. In the bleary small hours in NZ and now Australia, I have been catching up on my reading. The latest was ‘Building State Capability’, by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock, which builds brilliantly on Matt’s 2013 book and the subsequent work of all 3 authors in trying to find practical ways to help reform state systems in dozens of developing countries (see the BSC website for more). Building State Capability is published by OUP, who agreed to make it available as an Open Access pdf, in part because of the good results with How Change Happens (so you all owe me….).

But jetlag was also poor preparation for the first half of this book, which after a promising start, rapidly gets bogged down in some extraordinarily dense academese. I nearly gave up during the particularly impenetrable chapter 4: sample ‘We are defining capability relative to normative objectives. This is not a reprisal of the “functionalist” approach, in which an organization’s capability would be defined relative to the function it actually served in the overall system.’ Try reading that on two hours’ sleep.

Luckily I stuck with it, because the second half of the book is an excellent (and much more accessible) manual on how to do Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation – the approach to institutional reform that lies at the heart of the BSC programme.

What does it mean to do policy-relevant research and evaluation?

Heather Lanthorn's picture

Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researchers upload the data to see the resultsWhat does it mean to do policy-relevant research and evaluation? How does it differ from policy adjacent research and evaluation? Heather Lanthorn explores these questions and offers some food for thought on intention and decision making.

This post is really a conversation with myself, which I started here, but I would be happy if everyone was conversing on it a bit more: what does it mean to do research that is ‘policy relevant’? From my vantage point in impact evaluation and applied political-economy and stakeholder analyses, ‘policy relevant’ is a glossy label that a researcher or organization can apply to his/her own work at his/her own discretion. This is confusing, slightly unsettling, and probably dulls some of the gloss off the label.

The main thrust of the discussion is this: we (researchers, donors, folks who have generally bought-into the goal of evidence- and evaluation-informed decision-making) should be clear (and more humble) about what is meant by ‘policy relevant’ research and evaluation. I don’t have an answer to this, but I try to lay out some of the key facets, below.
 
Overall, we need more thought and clarity – as well as humility – around what it means to be doing policy-relevant work. As a start, we may try to distinguish work that is ‘policy adjacent’ (done on a policy) from work that is either ‘decision-relevant’ or ‘policymaker-relevant’ (similar to ‘decision-relevant,’ (done with the explicit, ex ante purpose of informing a policy or practice decision and therefore an intent to be actionable).
 
I believe the distinction I am trying to draw echoes what Tom Pepinsky wrestled with when he blogged that it was the “murky and quirky” questions and research (a delightful turn of phrase that Tom borrowed from Don Emmerson) “that actually influence how they [policymakers / stakeholders] make decisions” in each of their own idiosyncratic settings. These questions may be narrow, operational, and linked to a middle-range or program theory (of change) when compared to a grander, paradigmatic question.
 
Throughout, my claim is not that one type of work is more important or that one type will always inform better decision-making. I am, however, asking that, as “policy-relevant” becomes an increasingly popular buzzword, we pause and think about what it means.

Communication for Water Sector Reform

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The water sector is very much a matter of supply and demand – and you better not forget about the demand side. Reform in any sector depends on public support. A new Learning Note on “Communication for Water Sector Reform: Obstacles and Opportunities,” published by the World Bank’s Operational Communications department, showcases the role of strategic communication in making water sector reform successful and sustainable.

From One-Way to Two-Way Exchanges: Gearing Up to Use Communication in Support of Decentralization in Mongolia

Sunjidmaa Jamba's picture

Since Mongolia shifted to a multi-party political system and market economy in the early 1990s, it has become a young and vibrant democracy. Debates among politicians, policymakers, civil society organizations, political and social commentators, and other stakeholders are now an integral part of Mongolian society. These happen through local newspapers and on the TV channels, at citizens’ hall meetings, as well as during cultural events, particularly in rural areas as nomadic herders gather for such event and authorities take that opportunity to communicate with them.

However, these debates may not always be particularly effective in getting to a consensus. Indeed, the heritage of the socialist system can still often be felt: public authorities, particularly at the local level, see communication as a way to disseminate and diffuse information through a traditional media approach. There is much to do to transform communication from a one-way dissemination tool to an instrument for two-way engagement.  

Executive Course in Communication and Governance Reform Kicks Off

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Yesterday CommGAP started on a new endeavor: Yesterday we kicked off our Executive Course in Communication and Governance Reform. Over ten days we're working with our partners to build capacity in communication for governance in Africa and the Middle East. The goal is to enable senior communication experts to support governance reform in their home countries.

Together with our partners from the World Bank Institute, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania we have worked for more than a year to put together a cutting-edge program. In the first three days, we link communication and governance and talk about coalition building and political economy analysis. In seven days dedicated to communication our faculty will discuss strategic communication and how to utilize it for governance reform, media metrics and media research, social media, and organizational change.