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Holding the state to account

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

women at a community meeting, Mumbai IndiaIn a democracy, a critical element in the engagement between citizens and state is “accountability”. There are several definitions—one among them from the World Bank reads: “Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions”.

Citizens and civil society organizations seek accountability from the state. Where this builds on broad-based civil society engagement, we hear of “social accountability” whose advocates believe that a regular cycle of elections alone are not enough to hold the state to account. For instance, a decline in the quality of public services or cases of denial of (social) justice call for mobilization outside of the electoral cycle. But how does the state respond?

When the state is under sustained pressure to reform, it could take one of these positions: (1) respond to civil society using physical force and/or its legal prowess; (2) stoically “do nothing”; (3) formulate a response that emphasizes form over function; and (4) undertake genuine reform. These options represent a sliding scale of state response, and on any given issue, the state might change its position over time, depending on how the context evolves.

The reality is that more often than not, status quo rules: the space for citizens seeking accountability relies primarily on the willingness of the state. It is not in the nature of states to do this of their own volition, and often, a sustained campaign by a strong coalition of interests is required to influence them.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 
The Internet
Global Governance Monitor

The Internet has revolutionized communication and radically altered the conduct of business, politics, and personal lives. Information is now widely available and shared through instant message, email, and social media. Businesses can operate internationally with virtually no delay, enabling previously unimaginable opportunities such as providing medical advice across oceans. Moreover, the embedding of sensors, processors, and monitors in everyday products links the physical and virtual worlds, expanding vast streams of data and creating new markets. The Internet has also altered the relationship between governments and societies. Low-cost, nearly ubiquitous communication platforms allow citizens to mobilize and build transnational networks. The speed of communication can make governments more accountable, and open-data initiatives enable the participation of nongovernmental organizations and increased transparency. Though the technology has facilitated unprecedented economic growth, increased access to information, and delivered innovative solutions to historic challenges, the expansion of the Internet has also brought challenges and vulnerabilities.
 

The 2016 Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project Report, Advancing equitable financial ecosystems
Brookings Institution

The 2016 Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project (FDIP) evaluates access to and usage of affordable financial services by underserved people across 26 geographically, politically, and economically diverse countries. The 2016 report assesses these countries’ financial inclusion ecosystems based on four dimensions of financial inclusion: country commitment, mobile capacity, regulatory environment, and adoption of selected traditional and digital financial services. The 2016 report builds upon the first annual FDIP report, published in August 2015. The 2016 report analyzes key changes in the global financial inclusion landscape over the previous year, broadens its scope by adding five new countries to the study, and provides recommendations aimed at advancing financial inclusion among marginalized groups, such as women, migrants, refugees, and youth.

Media (R)evolutions: New Publications on Media Development around the World

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Twice a year, CAMECO, a consultancy specializing in media and communications, publishes a list of selected publications on media and communications in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. This rich resource includes 250 titles, covering recent media developments and project experiences in about 150 countries worldwide. Many of the titles can be downloaded directly.
 
The following topics are covered in the January – June 2016 edition:
 

> Audience Research & Media Use
> Children & Media, Youth & Media, Media Literacy
> Christian & Religious Communication
> Cinema & Media Entertainment
> Community Media & Citizen Journalism
> Conflicts, Media & Peacebuilding
> Democracy, Governance & Media, Political Communication
> Development Communication, Environmental Communication, Health Communication
> Disaster & Humanitarian Crisis Communication
> Economics & Management of Media
> Freedom of the Press, Media Policies, Media Legislation
> Gender & Media
> International Communication, Foreign News, Public Diplomacy
> Journalism & Journalism Training
> Media Assistance
> Media Landscapes, Media & Communication General, Media & Society

How do you make aid programmes truly adaptive? New lessons from Bangladesh and Cambodia

Duncan Green's picture
Lisa DenneyDaniel HarrisLeni Wild

Following on from yesterday’s post on adaptive aid, a guest piece from Lisa Denney (far left), Daniel Harris (middle) and Leni Wild (near left), all of ODI.

A swelling chorus of the development community has been advocating for more flexible and adaptive programming that can respond to the twists and turns of political reform processes. They argue that in order to achieve better aid outcomes, we need to do development differently. As part of this agenda, ODI and The Asia Foundation, with the assistance of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, tracked and analysed three programmes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Mongolia. These programmes explicitly sought to work politically in practice, using a relatively small amount of money, a relatively short timeframe, and a focus on tangible changes. We followed attempts to achieve environmental compliance and increase exports in the leather sector in Bangladesh, and to improve solid waste management in Cambodia and Mongolia; issues identified for their potential to make important contributions (economic, health, environmental, etc.) to the wellbeing of citizens. Two of our case studies were released this month, telling the story of how the reforms unfolded and shifted strategy to better leverage the incentives of influential stakeholders, as well as the mechanics of how the Foundation supported adaptive ways of working.
 

How adaptation worked in practice

In each case, the programme teams (led by staff in the Foundation’s local office, and supported by a variety of contracted partners and a wider uncontracted reform network reaching both inside and outside of government) made significant changes to strategy during the implementation phase that helped to address difficult, multidimensional problems. In Cambodia, the team faced a complex and often opaque challenge in which waste collection is characterized by a single company with a long-term confidential contract that is difficult to monitor, a fee structure that does not encourage improved household waste collection, garbage collectors whose conditions do not incentivize performance, and communities that are difficult to access and do not always understand the importance of sanitary waste disposal. With a small Foundation team and limited funding, the approach relied on working with individuals selected as much for personal connections, disposition, and political know-how in working politically and flexibly, as for technical knowledge. The team began by cultivating relations between City Hall and the single contractor providing solid waste management services, then moved to work with the sole provider to improve their delivery, and finally, resolved to end the single contractor model in favour of competition.

Quote of the Week: Svetlana Alexievich

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Svetlana Alexievich“I am drawn to that small space called a human being … a single individual. In reality, that is where everything happens.”

Svetlana Alexievich, an investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time." She is the first writer from Belarus to receive the award.
 

Transnational Companies as Actors in Global Health Outcomes: The Case of Maggi in Africa

Sonia Jawaid Shaikh's picture
Selling fortified Maggi cubes, NigeriaFor decades, health research, policy and outcomes for development work have been the turf of international organizations, local governments and the academia. However, times are changing. Transnational corporations with consumers in many developing countries are in position to affect health outcomes.

Increasing competition in local markets, growing access of low to middle income consumers to pre-made foods, and the advantage of selling popular products by the millions puts companies like Nestlé in a unique situation where they merge brand reputation management with development goals. The are several reasons behind merging a ‘cause’ with business outcomes, including the following:
  • The rise of the social media: When catering to global markets, a company like Nestlé sells of millions products every day. However, any crisis— either in terms of food quality or even an undesirable story— can set off a series of consequences via social media that may be detrimental to a product or brand’s image. This makes it difficult for companies to ignore complaints and inquiries, which could have been the case a decade ago. It also makes having a buffer of good reputation important so that when crises do hit, people give the company the benefit of the doubt.
  • There are more consumers – especially women: The increasing rate of female participation in the workforce increases access of low to middle income households to a greater variety of goods at the market. Further, when women are in control of family budgets, they tend to make more pro-family, future-oriented, and healthier choices. This may ultimately reflect the buying decisions that these consumers make amongst a range of products available – with possibly increased preferences for something which appears to be healthier yet cheaper.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Gasoline, Guns, and Giveaways: Is the End of Three-Quarters of Global Poverty Closer than You Think?
Center for Global Development

Amartya Sen’s famous study of famines found that a nation’s people died not because of a food shortage but because some people lacked entitlements to that food. In a new CGD working paper with Chris Hoy, we ask if a similar situation is now the case for global poverty: are national resources available but not being used to end poverty?  The short answer is yes (but don’t stop reading…). We find that approximately three-quarters of global poverty, at the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day, if not higher poverty lines, could now be eliminated—in principle—via redistribution of nationally available resources.

People-Powered Media Innovation in West Africa
Omidyar

As media ecosystems in West Africa are increasingly diversifying and opening up after decades of state control, innovative and independent journalism is advancing government transparency and accountability. New opportunities for funders are opening in tandem, with potential for both social and economic impact. This report explores several of these opportunities, surfaced through in-depth research on Nigeria and Ghana. While both countries lead the region in terms of both economic and media development, they operate under many of the same dynamics and constraints that exist across West Africa, and show how other markets may evolve, politically and commercially.
 

Campaign Art: Respecting food’s life cycle

Davinia Levy's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Food waste is a big problem in the world. According to the key facts on food loss and food waste by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 1/3 of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.

Food waste happens throughout the food life cycle: from the field to your table. That also includes the scrubs from the food that actually makes it to the final stage and is consumed.
The city of San Francisco in California (United States) has commissioned these creative signs to encourage residents to compost their food waste. That way, the organic matter can go back to the earth as nutrients for the soil and for the next crop.
 






















 

Nudge for good: How insights from behavioral economics can improve the world— and manipulate people

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Richard H. Thaler is a world-renowned behavioral economist and professor of finance and psychology. Recently, he was interviewed by The Economist. The discussion covers some of the fundamental studies in the field, like “save more tomorrow” which encourages people to save more by signing up to increase their savings rate every year and auto-enrollment for pensions that have drastically increased employee participation in pension funds.

Thaler also suggests, in the interview, that behavioral economics has the ability to influence human behavior for both good and bad. He argues that much of what behavioral economics does is remove barriers. The goal is not to change people but to make life easier, but that idea can be skewed by organizations or individuals looking to capitalize on the biases of people. Whenever he is asked to sign a copy of his book Nudge, he writes “nudge for good” which is a plea, he says, to improve the lives of people and avoid insidious behavior.

The list of ways companies nudge behavior is endless, and I would love to hear more examples from you all in the comments section. In the meantime here are a few- I’ll let you judge which ones “nudge for good”:

Sport free of doping or glory at all costs: That is not the question anymore

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

“Sport is a very important subject at school, that's why I gave Quidditch such an important place at Hogwarts. I was very bad in sports, so I gave Harry a talent I would really loved to have. Who wouldn't want to fly?”  - J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels
 
Even Greek mythology embraces the human desire to fly, as many of us might recall in the escape story of Daedalus and his son, Icarus, from Crete. He used wax and string to fasten feathers to reeds of varying lengths to imitate the curves of a bird's wings. Daedalus advised his son to fly at a medium altitude and follow his path of flight. If he flew too high, the sun could melt the wax, and if he flew too low, the sea could dampen the feathers. Unfortunately, Icarus became euphoric, and against the wisdom of his father, he glided higher and higher. The sun melted the wax holding his wings together, and the boy dropped into the sea and drowned. 
 
This myth has its own interpretation in sport psychology; moreover, it serves perfectly as a foreword for this reflection on the prevalence of performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) in contemporary sports in which athletes are tempted to fly above human body limits or cruise too low under the radar of clean sport. At both altitudes, they gamble with their well-being. 
 
In 1997, Bamberger and Yaeger surveyed 198 mostly US Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. They asked if the athletes would take PEDs under the hypothetical premise of not being caught and knowing they would be guaranteed a victory; 195 of 198 responded “yes”. Additionally, if the caveat was added that they would die from the side effects within 5 years, 61% of the athletes still said they would use PEDs.

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