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November 2013

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

Financing progress independently: taxation and illicit flows
Development Progress

“With less than two years to go before the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is time to take stock of what the goals have achieved and, just as importantly, what the goals have overlooked – including finance.

The debate on what follows the MDGs – the post-2015 framework – is a chance to focus on two major finance themes that are not reflected in the goals themselves. First, that taxation is the central source of development finance; and second, that illicit financial flows undermine effective taxation and require international action. If this chance is not to be wasted, we need a consensus – and soon – on targets in these interlinked areas.” READ MORE
 

What Kinds of 'Expert Advice' Work in a Complex World? Some Likes and Dislikes

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been talking to a lot of ‘advisers’ in Oxfam, Save the Children and elsewhere recently about what all this complexity stuff means in practice. Advisers are unsung NGO heroes, repositories of wisdom and experience, working closely with partners and staff on the ground. And those staff typically want to know what they should be doing differently. That’s what experts are for, right?
 
But if you’re an adviser who has been mugging up on the implications of complexity (see recent posts), this is tricky. How to stop your advice about a systems approach, with its critique of cookie-cutter approaches based on box ticking, best practice, blueprints etc becoming just the latest cookie? ‘Have you done your system/context analysis? Good, now tick the box and move on to stage 2.’

By a very appropriate process of trial and error, here’s where I have got to:

Now Accepting Applications! The Summer Institute 2014 -- Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment

Shamiela Mir's picture

The World Bank Institute's Leadership Practice, the World Bank Group's External and Corporate Relations, Operational Communications Department, the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California are pleased to announce the 2014 Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment. The course is designed for leaders, strategists and advisors who want to strengthen the critical competencies necessary to support change agents and reform leaders in developing countries.

Media (R)evolutions: The World in 2017

Kalliope Kokolis'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.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: The World in 2017.

















 

Engaging Civil Society on LGBT Issues

John Garrison's picture

The World Bank Group (WBG) is increasing its engagement with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) community as part of its civil society engagement efforts at the global level. This comes as the campaign to reduce descrimination and promote inclusion of the LGBT community gains traction and visibility in the United States and many countries around the world. This interaction began last year when several CSOs reached out to the Global Civil Society Team to suggest introducing the LGBT issue within the WBG - CSO policy dialogue agenda.  As a result, the Bank hosted a session on LGBT coalition building during the 2013 Spring Meetings in April, and this was followed by a session on incorporating LGBT issues within Bank social assessments at the Annual Meetings in October.  In addition, the Bank sponsored an LGBT leader from Guyana to come to Washington for the week-long Civil Society Program during the Annual Meetings.
 
The “Coalition Building around LGBT Issues” session held on April 17 was organized by St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and GLOBE which is the association of Bank LGBT staff. (see session summary)  The panel was composed of LGBT leaders from the US and Africa who shared their perspectives and personal experiences on fighting discrimination and policy advocacy. Rev. Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Foundation described how homosexuality has been criminalized in 76 countries and the LGBT community is often among the most marginalized in developing countries, and called on the Bank to include the LGBT community in the development programs it finances. The session focused largely on Uganda as several panellists described the conflicting role played by faith-based organizations, some of which provided social services to the LGBT community while others actively propagate homophobia.  Victor Mukasa, a transgendered activist, described his compelling and troubling experiences in promoting LGBT inclusion in Uganda which led him to seek political asylum in the United States.

Quote of the Week: Allen Schick

Sina Odugbemi's picture

'Strong leaders do not just "read" opportunities; they make them – by moulding public opinion, bringing new blood with new ideas and initiative into government, reaching beyond safe and traditional constituencies to build coalitions in support of change and by taking political and managerial risks that broaden the possibility of change.'

- Allen Schick, Senior Governance Fellow of the Brookings Institution and a Professor of Political Science at the Maryland School of Public Policy of University of Maryland, College Park.
 

Africa’s Tax Systems: Progress, but What Is the Next Generation of Reforms?

Duncan Green's picture

Taxation is zipping up the development agenda, but the discussion is often focussed on international aspects such as tax havens or the Robin Hood Tax. Both very important, but arguably, even more important is what happens domestically – are developing country tax systems regressive or progressive? Are they raising enough cash to fund state services? Are they efficient and free of corruption? This absolutely magisterial overview of the state of tax systems in Africa comes from Mick Moore (right), who runs the International Centre for Tax and Development (ICTD). It was first published by the Africa Research Institute.

Anglophone countries have led the way in reforming tax administration in Africa, considerably more so than their francophone peers. The reasons for this are numerous. Networks of international tax specialists are based mainly in English-speaking countries. Many of the modern systems that promote best practice within tax authorities were developed in anglophone countries, especially Australia. International donors, and particularly the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), have directly and indirectly promoted a lot of reform of national tax authorities. In fact, this has been one of the success stories of British aid.

A package of reforms has been pursued in anglophone Africa. The most profound change is the amalgamation of revenue collection under a single agency, often referred to as a semi-autonomous revenue authority (SARA). Previously, it was common for tax collection to be dispersed among a number of departments within the Ministry of Finance. For example, different people would be in charge of collecting income tax, VAT and excise taxes. Multiple lines of tax collectors existed, usually not co-operating with one another and each trying to strike private deals with taxpayers. This structure – and practice – still occurs in much of francophone Africa.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

The Future of News from 3 Silicon Valley Executives
The Dish Daily

"In a world transformed by the Internet and overrun by tech giants, the news industry has been irrevocably changed. Some lament, but few would argue. Those on the news side of things have been vocal for some time – analyzing and brainstorming, discussing and arguing – but we’ve not often heard what those behind the flourishing tech companies have to say.

Three notable Silicon Valley figures discussed the news industry with Riptide, a project headed by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz and Paul Sagan and published by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab." READ MORE 
 

Thanksgiving Woes? IBM and Big Data May Help.

Tanya Gupta's picture

In just about a week, on Thursday November 28, people all over the United States will kick off the "holiday season" with the celebration of Thanksgiving Day. While the day's significance is both historical and profound, in modern times it consists of a lot of shopping and a big meal with family and friends gathered around the dinner table. Pre-thanksgiving is a time to be on the lookout for creative new recipes.  Sure, we can get recipes from magazines, websites and friends and while they may be special, they will not be unique.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that would create a special unique recipe just for you? A delightful recipe that has never been executed before.  Well the idea is not as futuristic as it sounds. It may be here sooner than you think.  IBM and big data have a lot to do with this particular innovation.
 
Can computers be creative?  IBM thinks they can.  IBM scientists Lav R. Varshney and other members of an IBM team, have used data sets and proprietary algorithms in the daunting field of the culinary arts to develop a computational creativity system. The data sets they have used are recipes, molecular level food related data and data about the compounds, ingredients and dishes that people like and dislike.  They then developed an algorithm that produces thousands or millions of new ideas from the recipes.  The recipes are then evaluated to select the best ones that combine ingredients in a way that has never been attempted before.  Humans can interact with the system by choosing a key ingredient and the kind of cuisine.

Challenges for State Partnership with Grassroots Nongovernmental Organizations in India

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

Local participatory development is a strategy that is being deployed by governments in developing countries to achieve a variety of socio-economic goals. These include sharpening of poverty targeting, improving service delivery, expanding livelihood opportunities and strengthening the demand for effective governance. Without doubt, an engaged citizenry involved in achieving these goals, especially in rural hinterlands, could hold the government more accountable.

According to the World Bank there are two major modalities for inducing local participation- community development and decentralization. While the former supports the efforts to bring villages, neighbourhoods or household groupings in the process of managing resources without relying on formally constituted local governments, the latter refers to efforts to strengthen village and municipal governments on both the demand and supply sides.

However, what is critical for effective as well as inclusive governance is a state- nongovernmental organization partnership wherein the ‘demand side’ enables citizen participation through access to information and empowerment. Further, that it fosters outcome oriented mechanisms for deliberative decision making at the grassroots.  
 

Social Media Outrage

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

An airline has recently accomplished the feat of kicking a blind passenger off the plane because his service dog didn’t fit under the seat in from of him. When other passengers subsequently protested, the entire flight was canceled. In a media report on the incidence, the airline insisted that it did the right thing for the sake of the safety of the crew. Almost immediately, an outrage ensued on the airline’s Facebook page. So far, no response to thousands of very angry comments from the most important stakeholders of the airline: passengers. So how do you handle social media outrage?

Quote of the Week: Muhammad Yunus

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The fact that people listen to me, they don’t walk away, they rather gather around me. And the young people get very excited – that’s what attracts me the most.  Young people are looking for things to do.”

- Muhammad Yunus, the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, which pioneered microcredit, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
 

Fragile States, Fractured Media Systems: Double Trouble?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Happily, improving the lot of fragile states (no matter how they are defined) is an item that keeps racing up the agenda of international development. Sadly, however, when there is so much to repair to be done it is not always clear where to start. Donors bring their own priorities; experts have their own preferences. A new policy brief published by BBC Media Action, the international development arm of the BBC that focuses on improving media systems in developing countries, makes the case for fixing broken media systems in fragile states. Entitled Fragile States: the role of media and communication, the report is the work of James Deane, a well-known expert in the field. The report can be downloaded here.

I believe that the work is an important contribution to the policy debate. In what follows, I offer a quick sense of the argument.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

Are Women Really Less Corrupt Than Men?
Slate

“Will electing more women to office make governments less corrupt? One new paper suggests in might—but the reason for that is not necessarily encouraging.

Previous research has suggested an association between a politician’s gender and their likelihood to engage in corrupt behavior. A World Bank study from 2001, for instance, found that “one standard deviation increase in [female participation in government] will result in a decline in corruption... of 20 percent of a standard deviation". This perception has been behind some well-publicized campaigns, such as Mexico City’s plan to employ all-female traffic cops in some areas.”  READ MORE

The Idealist: A Brilliant, Gripping, Disturbing Portrait of Jeffrey Sachs

Duncan Green's picture

For The Idealist, Nina Munk, a Vanity Fair journo, stalked Jeffrey Sachs for six years, focusing on his controversial Millennium Villages Project (MVP). She interviewed the man, sat in on his meetings with bigwigs, and hung around the Millennium Villages to find out what happened when the Prof’s entourage moved on.

The result is more subtle than a simple hatchet job. She portrays Sachs as a man of almost pathological drive and egotism, which both leads to big successes (massive victories on distribution of free anti-malarial bednets for example) and to a refusal to listen or learn from criticism. He comes across as a kind of uber-campaigner, devoid of doubt, absolutely refusing to take no for an answer, dismissive (often in highly personal terms) of anyone who disagrees with him.

There are some memorable vignettes, captured by Munk’s unblinking observation. Sachs lecturing Uganda’s bored President Museveni about boosting farm yields with free fertilizer, when all the President wants is his cup of tea, concluding (as he leaves) ‘This is not India or China, Professor. There are no markets. There is no network. No rails. No roads. We have no political cohesion.’

Media (R)evolutions: Mapping the World's Most Popular Websites

Kalliope Kokolis'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.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: Mapping the World's Most Popular Websites



 
























 

What Does Social Exclusion Have to Do with the Attacks at Westgate, Nairobi? Asking the Right Questions

Sadaf Lakhani's picture

Elif Yavuz, a former World Bank consultant, was amongst the 68 people who died in the attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September of this year. At the time of her death, Elif was working for the Clinton Foundation. Hers had been a life dedicated to fighting poverty and disease.
 
The horror of what enfolded at Westgate is a reminder of the pervasive threat of insecurity, and at the same time of our efforts to protect lives and preserve human dignity the world over. The massacre raises questions, too. Are we deploying the right tools to help put an end to such violence? And what is the role, if any, that development practitioners can play in preventing them? The recently released World Bank report, Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity, provides us with some ideas.
 
The Al-Shabab attack in Nairobi was a tragedy for the victims and their families. Nevertheless, countless numbers of people across the globe die every day in less violent circumstances, and yet just as needlessly – from disease and malnutrition for example.  Consider malaria – the issue on which Elif had been working: the latest data show that more than one million people, the majority of them children under the age of five in Africa, are likely to die of malaria this year. Many of these deaths occur in countries where wealth and opportunity are to be found, but the wealth is concentrated in the hands of only a few, while others are barred from opportunities. The evidence suggests that these inequalities, and the feelings of injustice and powerlessness they engender, have the potential to fuel conflict and tempt people to espouse radical ideologies and resort to violence as a means of addressing injustice.

Aid on the Edge of Chaos, A Book You Really Need to Read and Think About

Duncan Green's picture

It’s smart, well-written and provides a deeper intellectual foundation for much of the most interesting thinking going on in the aid business right now. Ben Ramalingam (right)’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos should rapidly become a standard fixture on any development reading list.

The book argues for a major overhaul of aid in recognition that the world is made up of numerous interlocking complex systems, far removed from the assumed linear world of cause → attributable effect that underpins a lot of aid programmes. That fits pretty perfectly with a lot of the stuff on governance, institutional reform etc from ODI, Matt Andrews, and Oxfam’s own work, all covered on this blog. But it adds to it in important ways.

  • It deepens our understanding of complexity and systems thinking, drawing on a range of other disciplines
  • Much of the current aid thinking about complexity is happening in work on governance and (to a lesser extent) advocacy. The book widens the scope to just about every corner of the aid business – management, humanitarian, health etc
  • Its 25 great case studies will spark ideas in people’s heads about how they can apply the thinking in their own work

The argument is divided into three sections: a thorough critique of the current aid system; an introduction to complexity and systems thinking; and a final ‘so what’ section on the reform of aid.

Quote of the Week: David Letterman

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“I have found that the only thing that does bring you happiness is doing something good for somebody who is incapable of doing it for themselves.  It always works. It never fails.  And so I guess from that standpoint, it’s not generous. It’s really sort of selfish.”

- David Letterman, An American Television Host and Comedian.
 

Complexity 101 – Part 2: Getting to the So Whats

Duncan Green's picture

ODI’s Harry Jones continues his stocktake on complexity and development.

Yesterday, I tried to pose and answer some straight questions on complexity and development, mostly focusing on whether development problems are complex and why it matters. Today, I try to answer the ‘so what’ question and suggest three areas where changes to aid agency practice could be made:

1) How can development agencies tackle complexity?

Aligning with the three challenges outlined yesterday (distributed capacities, divergent goals and uncertain change pathways), I’d argue that all solutions proposed to deal with complexity fall into one of the three categories:

  • Interventions must capitalise on distributed capacities, finding ways to link up actors and action that fosters more voluntary coordination and collaboration.
  • Interventions must facilitate joint interpretation of key problems by key actors, and must enable negotiation on and commitment to common goals.
  • Interventions must innovate, must foster learning about how change happens, and must be flexible enough to adapt to emerging signals.

This is the reverse of the typical bureaucratic reaction to complex problems, which seeks to ‘reduce’ complexity by strengthening centralised oversight, agreeing up front on narrow, singular goals, and trying to determine in advance what will work and what will be needed. While these approaches have their place, uncertainty, divergence and distributed capacities are integral to many problems and cannot easily be swept under the carpet.

Complexity 101: Behind the Hype, What Do We Actually Know?

Duncan Green's picture

Complexity week continues with this excellent stocktake from the ODI’s Harry Jones (who’s got a new guide out on ‘Managing Projects and Programmes in the Face of Complexity‘). Part two tomorrow.

Seven years ago John Young, Ben Ramalingam and I decided to begin research on complexity theory and international development.  We felt there was really something of use and interest in there but that it might take some time to persuade others of that fact and more time to find out exactly what that value was: although there were already a few people working on complexity, since  then, the blogosphere has come alive with discussion of the ‘C’ word. It’s clear a large number of development professionals see value in complexity theory and international development (for example, here is Owen Barder on complexity in international development, William Easterly’s take, Ben’s blog devoted to the issue, and all the posts on Duncan Green’s blog about complexity and development).

What we don’t seem to have reached is much agreement on exactly what that value is. As we look forwards to this week’s launch of Ben’s book on complexity in development (which I have yet to read), it seems an opportune time to reflect on what we know. In that 2008 exploratory review we set out to examine whether complexity and development was a case of ‘paradigm, hype, or lens. Six years on, here’s my attempt to review the evidence on some straight questions on complexity and development, in two parts.  In this first part, I look at whether development problems are complex and why it matters; in the second part I will look at what to do about that complexity where it exists.

*N.B. to avoid disappearing up my own comments page I will use the popular simple-complicated-complex (bake a cake, make a rocket, raise a child) schema subscribed to by Stacey, Zimmerman, Snowden et al.

Living in a Panopticon

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"I have nothing to hide" - that's a sentence I dread in conversations about blurred lines between what's private and what's public. I hear it often in discussions about reality TV, Facebook pictures, and surveillance technologies, including cameras on every street corner and in every bus.
For surveillance, there is a security argument to be made – personal security, national security. For Facebook and reality TV, there’s an entertainment argument to be made – it’s what the audience likes to see, and in any case, the inhabitants of the Big Brother house chose to be there. These arguments are insufficient. The problem about blurring the lines between what’s private and what’s public is a matter of principle, not a matter of personal convenience.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

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

‘Women Should Be Submissive', and Other Google Autocomplete Suggestions
Global Voices

“A series of ads by UN Women, revealed in late October, used the Google Autocomplete feature to uncover widespread negative attitudes toward women. Global Voices followed reactions to the UN Women campaign and conducted its own experiment in different languages. The results of searches conducted both within the UN Women campaign and Global Voices revealed popular attitudes not only about women’s social and professional roles, but also about their sexuality, appearance and relationships with men.

The creators of the UN Women ads used search phrases like “women cannot”, “women shouldn’t”, “women should” and “women need to” completed by genuine Google search terms to highlight overwhelmingly negative stereotypes, sexist and highly discriminatory views held about women by society globally. The ads quickly went viral and sparked a heated discussion online. Last week, creators have announced that they are planning to expand the campaign in response to the mass online reaction.”  READ MORE
 

How Can Complexity and Systems Thinking End Malaria?

Duncan Green's picture

This is complexity week on the blog, pegged to the launch of Ben Ramalingam’s big new book ‘Aid on the Edge of Chaos’ at the ODI on Wednesday (I get to be a discussant – maximum airtime for least preparation. Result.)

So let’s start with a taster from the book that works nicely as a riposte to all those people who say (sometimes with justification, I admit) that banging on about complexity is just a lot of intellectual self-indulgence (sometimes they’re not so polite). We know what works, why complicate things? Hmmm, read on:

‘Kenya’s Mwea region is especially prone to malaria because it is an important rice-growing region, and large paddies provide an ideal breeding ground and habitat for mosquitoes. The application of insecticides and anti-malarial drugs has been widespread, but there has been a marked rise in resistance among both mosquitoes and the parasites themselves.

A multidisciplinary team developed and launched an eco-health project, employing and training community members as local researchers, whose first task was to conduct interviews across four villages in the region, to give a first view of the malaria ‘system’ from the perspective of those most affected by it.

The factors involved were almost dizzyingly large in number—from history, to social background, to political conflicts. A subsequent evaluation of the programme referred to this as an admirable feat of analysis.

Using a systems analysis approach that placed malaria in the wider ecological context was a critical part of the programme design:

Getting to The 'So Whats': How Can Donors Use Political Economy Analysis to Sort Out Bad Governance?

Duncan Green's picture


Close but no cigar. Just been reading an ODI paper from a few months ago, Making sense of the politics of delivery: our findings so far, by Marta Foresti, Tam O’Neil and Leni Wild. It’s part of the ODI’s excellent stream of work on governance and accountability (see my review of David Booth and Diana Cammack’s book) and repays close study.

The starting point is the widespread disillusionment in DFID and elsewhere with ‘political economy analysis’ (PEA), memorably summed up by Alex Duncan’s definition of a political economist as ‘someone who comes and explains why your programme hasn’t worked’:

‘There is no doubt that PEA has helped answer some of these questions [why stuff doesn’t work]. Yet many would say that researchers have not found a middle ground between generality and specificity. On the one hand, the use of catch-all concepts, such as political will or unspecified incentives, fail to provide enough analytical purchase on which to hang entry points for reform. On the other, if we view every context and problem as sui generis, experience cannot be used to construct theories of change that in­clude learning across programmes and contexts.’

Quote of the Week: Bill Gates

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“I certainly love the IT thing.  But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things, like child survival, child nutrition.  As a priority? It’s a joke. Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of.  Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.”

- Bill Gates,  an American business magnate, investor, programmer, inventor and philanthropist. He is the founder and current Chairman of Microsoft.

What Use is a Theory of Change? 6 Benefits, and Some Things to Avoid.

Duncan Green's picture

Whether in the back of a 4×4 in Tanzania, or in seminar rooms in Oxfam house, I seem to spend an increasing amount of my time discussing theories of change. Oxfamers seem both intrigued and puzzled – what are they? What are they for? The answers aren’t simple and, as social scientists like to say, they are contested. But here’s what I currently think.

What is a theory of change? A way of working and thinking, and a set of questions. Aerobics for the imagination – not a form to fill in (and most definitely not logframes on steroids). Nor is it a typology or (a personal bête noire) an insanely complicated diagram that no-one coming after you can understand (see example, right). More here.

How does (or should) a good theory of change improve our work (or ‘add value’ as the marketing wannabes insist on saying)?