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May 2015

Blog post of the month: “We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources

Rachael Knight's picture

Boundary tree planting committeeEach month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In May 2015, the featured blog post is " “We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources".

Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, investors are increasingly approaching rural communities seeking land for logging, mining, and agribusiness ventures. In response, international and national advocacy organizations are stepping forward to provide support to communities in negotiations with investors, often with a focus on ensuring adherence to international laws such as the right to free, prior, informed consent (FPIC).[1] Yet even in situations when investors have followed FPIC principles and conducted a formal “consultation” to seek community consent to their proposed business venture, these consultations are generally conducted in a context of significant power and information asymmetries. Communities are frequently pressured by high-level government officials to consent to deals that they do not fully understand or desire. Community members may not be aware of the rental value of their land on the national market, the expected annual profits the investor will gain from the venture, the overall net worth of the investors’ company, and other financial information critical to negotiating a fair contractual agreement, including the value they themselves are deriving from their common lands. As a result, they have difficulty calculating an appropriate rental cost that leaves them in an equal or better position than before the investment.

What do we know about the long-term legacy of aid programmes? Very little, so why not go and find out?

Duncan Green's picture

We talk a lot in the aid biz about wanting to achieve long-term impact, but most of the time, aid organizations work in a time bubble set by the duration of a project. We seldom go back a decade later and see what happened after we left. Why not?

Orphaned and homeless children being given a non-formal education at a school in IndiaEveryone has their favourite story of the project that turned into a spectacular social movement (SEWA) or produced a technological innovation (M-PESA) or spun off a flourishing new organization (New Internationalist, Fairtrade Foundation), but this is all cherry-picking.  What about something more rigorous:  how would you design a piece of research to look at the long term impacts across all of our work? Some initial thoughts, but I would welcome your suggestions:

One option would be to do something like our own Effectiveness Reviews,  but backdated – take a random sample of 20 projects from our portfolio in, say, 2005, and then design the most rigorous possible research to assess their impact.

There will be some serious methodological challenges to doing that, of course. The further back in time you go, the more confounding events and players will have appeared in the interim, diluting attribution like water running into sand. If farming practices are more productive in this village than a neighbour, who’s to say it was down to that particular project you did a decade ago? And anyway, if practices have been successful, other communities will probably have noticed – how do you allow for positive spillovers and ripple effects? And those ripple effects could have spread much wider – to government policy, or changes in attitudes and beliefs.
 

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.
 

It’s not what you spend
The Economist
FOR decades rich countries have sought to foster global development with aid. But all too often there is little to show for their spending, now over $135 billion a year and rising. Success depends on political will in recipient countries, says Erik Solheim of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries that includes the biggest donors. And that may well be lacking. What donors will pay for may not be what recipients deem a priority. So poor countries’ governments say what they must to get cash, and often fail to keep their side of the deal. Aid to build schools may be used to give fat contracts to allies, and the schools left empty. Ambulances bought by donors may rust on the kerb, waiting for spare parts. Now donors are trying a new approach: handing over aid only if outcomes improve. “Cash on delivery” sees donors and recipients set targets, for example to cut child mortality rates or increase the number of girls who finish school, and agree on how much will be paid if they are met.

Forget The Fitbit: Can Wearables Be Designed For The Developing World?
Fast Co.Exist
When we think of wearable technology today, we think of the Fitbits or the Apple Watch. But to many people, tracking our steps or sleep in unprecedented detail or getting a notification slightly faster is interesting but ultimately not quite useful enough. The quantified self, in the context of people who have access to any technology they want, can be inherently self-absorbed. Imagine a different use case: An impoverished woman in rural Africa, pregnant with her first child and many miles away from medical care. Here, a wearable that helps her track her pregnancy and let her know if she needs to get to a doctor could mean life or death for her unborn child.
 

How does Gender change the way we think about Power?

Duncan Green's picture

One Billion Rising-Delhi-14 Feb 2013The importance of gender to 'Thinking and Working Politically' is often overlooked, as are power and politics in gender discussions. Duncan Green reviews a concept brief from Developmental Leadership Program on the links between gender and power.

I can’t attend the next get together of the Thinking and Working Politically network in Bangkok next month because of a prior commitment to speak at DFID’s East Kilbride office (ah, the glamour of the aid biz….). Apart from missing out on the Thai food, it’s also a shame because they are focusing on an area I’ve previously moaned about – the absence of gender from a lot of the TWP/Doing Development Differently discussions.

Ahead of Bangkok, some of the participants have fired some useful preemptive shots. Tomorrow I’ll review an ODI survey on aid programmes promoting women’s leadership. Today it’s the turn of the Developmental Leadership Program, which has just published an interesting, if tantalizing, six-page ‘concept brief’ on Gender and Power by Diana Koester.

Koester argues that a gender lens can add a lot to the TWP’s analysis, but also vice versa – we need more thinking about power and politics in gender discussions. Some excerpts:

"Donors have largely neglected ‘gender’ in their efforts to understand power relations in partner countries. In particular they are often blind to the ways in which power and politics in the ‘private’ sphere shape power relations at all levels of society; the ways in which gender hierarchies mark wider economic, political and social structures and institutions; and the opportunities for peace and prosperity emanating from feminized sources of power. By addressing these blindspots, a focus on gender can significantly enhance donors’ insights into power dynamics and their ability to ‘think and work politically’ overall.’

This paper "addresses three main questions: What is power and how can a gender perspective help us understand it? What is gender and how can a power perspective help us understand it? What policy and operational messages follow from a focus on gender and power?"
 

Media (R)evolutions: U-Report mobilizes youth via SMS and social media

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.

In 2011, UNICEF launched an innovative program called “U-report” in Uganda. The goal was to use the ubiquity and connectivity of mobile phones to ask young people what they thought about specific issues affecting their community and then encourage them to participate in community-led development projects. 

The U-report system works by sending polls, asking for feedback and providing information via SMS and social media to volunteers, known as “U-reporters”. Weekly polls are sent out on Wednesday and results are shared on Monday. There is no charge at all for a U-reporter to send any message, which enables greater response rates. U-Report is powered by RapidPro, an open source solution, which different countries can implement.

The information that is collected can also be used by local and national media or sent to key stakeholders to alert them to the challenges their constituents are facing.

Uganda National Pulse, U-Report

Today, there are over 280,000 U-Reporters in Uganda alone and 800,000 in over 14 countries worldwide, including Mexico, Indonesia, and others across Africa. By the end of 2015, U-Report is expected to expand to approximately 20 countries and reach 1 million young people.

Quote of the Week: Jacob Zuma

Sina Odugbemi's picture

President Jacob Zuma pays a special visit to Former President Nelson Mandela on eve of 2011 Government Local Elections"People tend to try to find something to talk about Zuma. My surname is very nice and simple. Very simple, so they like pronouncing it all the time. So what's the problem?"

-Jacob Zuma, president of South of Africa, on why his name continues to appear in the South African press. 

His administration has experienced a series of scandals that have put his reputation and that of his ruling African National Congress party under scrutiny.

If Complexity was a person, she would be a Socialist. Jean Boulton on the politics of systems thinking.

Duncan Green's picture

Jean Boulton (physicist, management consultant and social scientist, right) responds to Owen Barder’s Wednesday post on thinking of development as a property of a complex adaptive system.

Jean BoultonI’d like to go a bit further than Owen on the implications of complexity for how we understand power and politics. It is generally the case that the powerful get more powerful and the big get bigger. We know this through bitter experience, captured in complexity language by the notion of ‘positive feedback loops’ which equate to the economists’ ‘increasing returns’. In general there is no reason to expect that economies will self-regulate and find a ‘natural’ balance. Even forests, if left to themselves for long enough, reduce in diversity, increase in efficiency and become ‘locked in’ to ecological patterns that are hard to invade and change and can easily collapse (see below, left). Despite the popularity of the phrase ‘complex adaptive systems’, complex systems do not always adapt.

Instead, complexity suggests that  if we want economic development that equalizes power, reduces inequality and incorporates longer-term environmental goals, there is a need for some sort of regulatory processes to counter the seemingly inevitable coalescing of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Otherwise the rise out of poverty is linked more to growth than to development (development meaning a qualitative change in shape and form of the economy rather than a quantitative change – you can obviously have both). And an economy that is growing can in fact take our attention away from underlying structural exacerbations of inequality. Growth cannot go on forever, as land, water and minerals are consumed – not to mention the impact on climate change – but growth can mask just who captures the bulk of resources and can exert control over governments, markets and societies.
 

With the grain or against the grain: A media perspective on the governance question of our time

James Deane's picture

James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning at BBC Media Action, reflects on Brian Levy's recent book, Working With the Grain, and the interaction of governance and media development goals.

Radio technician, GhanaI was prompted to write this post by Brian Levy, the rightly respected governance guru of the World Bank, now Senior Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. Brian is the author of Working With the Grain: integrating governance and growth in development strategies, one of the most influential books on governance right now. We met at the OECD DAC Governance Network last week, which is where donors get together to share their insights into how to better support improved governance in their development strategies. I was asked to respond to a presentation Brian made on his book.

Against the Grain

My initial reaction when I first heard of Against the Grain was, I confess, a kind of resigned frustration. I thought, “Here we go again. Another academic apologia telling us how it didn’t really matter how horrible, authoritarian or power-hungry a government was. As long as they ‘got the job done’ (in terms of reducing poverty), it was fine by the donors who supported them.”

That reaction was partly prompted by the title of Brian’s book. By coincidence, I have on my shelves at home the memoir of a hero to many in the media world, Geoffrey Nyarota, the renowned editor of Zimbabwe’s Daily News, among other newspapers. The blurb for that memoir says this: “The newspapers [Nyarota] edited were often the lone voice of dissent against a government that had betrayed its people. They chronicled the decline of the country under the Mugabe regime, and how the freedom achieved in the war of liberation was replaced by wholesale government corruption and oppression”.

Nyarota entitled his book, Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Zimbabwean newsman.

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.
 

Why Governments Target Civil Society and What Can Be Done in Response
CSIS
Chief among the current challenges facing the global human rights community (and broader civil society) is a contagion growing in intensity and described best—if inelegantly—as the closing space around civil society. Drawing on a literature review and on discussions with activists from around the world, this report identifies five causal factors affecting closing space—in some cases hastening it, in other cases, helping to keep it at bay—that merit extensive, systematic inquiry. These various lines of inquiry provide a rich, new agenda that if addressed can help generate remedies to improve the conditions under which citizens organize in support of human rights.

What’s gone wrong with democracy?
The Economist
Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?  The  protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.  It is easy to understand why.

Can aid agencies help systems fix themselves? The implications of complexity for development cooperation

Duncan Green's picture

Owen BarderOwen Barder gave a brilliant lecture on complexity and development to my LSE students earlier this year. Afterwards, I asked him to dig deeper into the ‘so whats’ for aid agencies. The result is this elegant essay (a bit long for a blog, but who cares?). I will try and get some responses to his arguments from similarly large brains.

If economic development is a property of a complex adaptive system, as I’ve argued elsewhere, then what, if anything, can development agencies and NGOs do to accelerate it?

ants in thailandTo be clear what we mean when we say that development is a system property, here’s an example from the animal kingdom. You may have seen recently that ants have recently developed “super colonies” – including one that covers 6,000km along the Mediterranean that is said to be the largest co-operative unit in the animal kingdom. It is natural to talk about the “behaviour” of the colony, even though we understand that we are really talking about the individual actions of hundreds of millions of ants. Each ant responds to its external environment, including the behaviour of other ants. Because all the ants are adjusting to each other, this creates the sense that the colony as a whole is changing its behaviour, and we soon begin to ascribe intent and agency to the colony rather than the individual ants of which it consists.

Like any complex adaptive system, an ant colony will tend to go through long periods of stability and then sudden periods of rapid change that come about when ants all adjust their behaviour in response to changes in the behaviour of the ants around them. The emergence of a super-colony did not depend on the ants individually becoming fitter and stronger, learning new skills or becoming more entrepreneurial. They didn’t suddenly have access to better nutrients that made them healthier– nor have the ants benefited from universal education, access to microcredit, or new vaccines.  In fact, the ants haven’t changed at all: the colony’s behaviour can change even if the individual ants have not, because it is a self-organising complex system whose behaviour in aggregate is not simply the sum of its parts: it is determined to a large extent by the way those parts interact with each other.
 

Campaign art: Look beyond the LGBTI labels

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals face many difficulties, but perhaps one of the most difficult is dealing with the stereotypes that are attributed to their status.  A new video from the United Nations Human Rights office highlights their diversity and shows LGBTI as the normal, accomplished individuals that they are.  Among the faces we meet in the video are a firefighter, a police officer, a teacher, an electrician, a doctor, and a volunteer, as well as prominent straight ally UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
 
The video was shown on the massive screens in New York’s Times Square ahead of International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia, which is observed on Sunday, May 17 in many countries around the world. 
 
VIDEO: Faces


The things we do: How our competitive natures may help reduce our carbon footprints

Roxanne Bauer's picture

adjusting a home thermostat to save energyIn order to tackle the adverse effects of climate change in our lifetimes, the global community will need all hands on deck. One software company has found a way of reducing energy consumption by tapping into social psychology.

One way of thinking about how to approach climate change is to divide the issue into ‘wedges’.  One wedge would be to increase renewable energy production, another would be to increase energy efficiency in the electric grid, and a third, to make buildings more energy efficient. Along with these other improvements, changing human behavior is another, very important wedge. 

Two families that are demographically similar, living side by side, in similar apartments, can use dramatically different amounts of energy— the difference of which can be attributed to behavioral differences.

Keeping up with the Neighbors

These behavioral differences were demonstrated in a famous psychology experiment that focused on home energy use. The research team, led by two psychologists, Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University and Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos, hung a series of five door hangers with energy-saving messages on several hundred homes in a San Diego suburb in 2004.   One hanger encouraged people to "join their neighbors" in conserving energy, one appealed to their self-interest to save money, another called on them to save energy to protect the environment, and a fourth asked them to conserve energy for future generations and the benefit of society. A fifth and final message simply stated that summer is here and it’s a time to save energy with no underlying reason.

The researchers measured the effectiveness of the messages by obtaining meter readings before and after the door hangers were distributed. They found that the last four had minimal effect. But the first, which mentioned the neighbors, produced a significant 10% reduction in home energy usage.

Helping communicate the potential of PPPs through a new, free online course

Clive Harris's picture

Public-Private Partnerships (PPP): How can PPPs help deliver better services? New, free massive open online course (MOOC) course provides an understanding of the key principles of PPPs and the role of PPPs in the delivery of infrastructure services, particularly in emerging markets.

Public-Private Partnerships MOOCThe World Bank Group’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity can’t be achieved unless we see a huge boost in the quality and quantity of infrastructure services. Boost infrastructure and do it right and you can generate jobs and boost economic growth. Improving sanitation and access to clean water is essential to improve health outcomes. 
 
According to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, “Today, the developing world spends about $1 trillion on infrastructure, and only a small share of those projects involves private actors. Overall, private investments and public-private partnerships in developing countries totaled $150 billion in 2013, down from $186 billion in 2012. So it will take the commitment of all of us to help low- and middle-income countries bridge the massive infrastructure divide.”
 
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can be an important way for governments to help supplement the role of the public sector in meeting the infrastructure deficit.  But PPPs are controversial – there have been some high profile, expensive failures, and some stakeholders feel the private sector should not be involved in providing basic infrastructure services like water. 
 

Quote of the Week: B.B. King

Sina Odugbemi's picture

B.B. King Live im Audimax der Uni Hamburg, November 1971“Growing up on the plantation there in Mississippi, I would work Monday through Saturday noon,” he said. “I’d go to town on Saturday afternoons, sit on the street corner, and I’d sing and play.

I’d have me a hat or box or something in front of me. People that would request a gospel song would always be very polite to me, and they’d say: ‘Son, you’re mighty good. Keep it up. You’re going to be great one day.’ But they never put anything in the hat.

But people that would ask me to sing a blues song would always tip me and maybe give me a beer. They always would do something of that kind. Sometimes I’d make 50 or 60 dollars one Saturday afternoon. Now you know why I’m a blues singer.”


-B.B. King, an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time, inspiring countless other electric blues and blues rock guitarists

Brian Levy’s ‘Working with the Grain’

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Working With the Grain by Brian LevyWhat are the proper ambits of an agenda for improving governance systems in developing countries? And what is the most sensible way of implementing governance reforms, or even thinking about them? If you have been involved with the subject you know that these are vexed questions. Just last week, I attended a book launch here at the World Bank and a senior official involved with governance made the following point. There is no agreed framework for the work in governance, certainly not one developed by political scientists. What we have, he said, is an agenda developed by donors and it boils down to a way of making simple normative judgements based on a linear framework.

That may well be the point of Brian Levy’s fascinating and readable newish book: Working with the Grain: Integrating Governance and Growth in Development Strategies (Oxford Universities Press, 2014). Levy is an esteemed thinker-practitioner who worked for the World Bank until recently and is now a member of the faculties of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University here in Washington and the University of Cape Town. He divides his time between the two schools.

The book is a summing up of sorts. Levy had tremendous field experience while at the World Bank, and he tells war stories with wit and some panache. It is also the result of his deep reading and reflection. As a result, Working with the Grain is part memoir, part polemic, part hard-headed political economy analysis.  

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.

In international aid, people should be seen as consumers not 'beneficiaries'
The Guardian
A poor widow in rural Bangladesh can choose from many competing mobile phone operators, weighing the best rates and customer service in order to reach her decision. Why should she not also have the right to choose, or at least be informed about, which NGO builds her flood-resistant home and be given the right to seek redress if it is washed away next flood season.  For the billions of the poorest people around the world who rely on philanthropic aid to meet even basic needs, as the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers”. But why shouldn’t philanthropic programmes abide by the same consumer rights rules expected of a traditional business selling soap or toothpaste? Both are delivering products or services to people, be they wealthy or impoverished: the only major difference is who is paying for it.

Democracy Does Not Live by Tech Alone
Foreign Policy
Enthusiasm for reforming our democracies has been gaining momentum. From the pages of Foreign Policy to the colorful criticisms of comedian Russell Brand, it is evident that a long-overdue public conversation on this topic is finally getting started.  There is no lack of proposals. For example, in their recent Foreign Policy piece, John Boik and colleagues focus on decentralized, emergent, tech-driven solutions such as participatory budgeting, local currency systems, and open government. They are confident that such innovations have a good chance of “spreading virally” and bringing about major change. Internet-based solutions, in particular, have captured our collective imagination. From Pia Mancini’s blockbuster TED presentation to New Scientist‘s recent coverage of “digital democracy,” we’re eager to believe that smartphone apps and novel online platforms hold the key to reinventing our way of governance. This seems only natural: after all, the same technologies have already radically reconfigured large swaths of our daily lives.
 

Back to the future in Mongolia

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

‘Ger’ dwellings of the millennial Mongolian cultureAlthough by definition there are many anniversaries each and every year, 2015 stands out as it includes the 70th anniversary of the fall of Nazi Berlin and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It is also the year in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) had to return in “Back to the Future– II.”

Visiting the plains of northern Mongolia today is the closest thing to travelling in time. The most salient features in this otherwise flat and infinite landscape are the Gers (from the Turkish Yurt), traditional round structures made of wood frames covered with felt and animal skins. Over centuries, these structures have evolved to protect their inhabitants from the harsh winter weather.

Except by their size, today’s Gers are no different from those used by the Great Kublai Khan in the late 1200s. If you happen to have access to Netflix, you can watch the Marco Polo series and witness the portrayal of the 13th century events when the Khan ruled over a vast and powerful empire. According to this series, as well as to serious historical sources, the Gers used by the Great Kublai Khan before settling in present-day Beijing, were extremely luxurious and included gold service for their interminable dinner courses.

Media (R)evolutions: The mobile industry's multiplier effect on the global economy

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.

The global mobile technology industry continues to grow and is now a major source of employment generation.  When mobile operators purchase inputs and services from their providers in the supply chain, they generate sales and value added in other sectors and industries, creating a multiplier effect on the rest of the economy.  Accordingly, employment in the mobile technology industry can be directly tied to the product, like engineers, managers, and sales staff that work for mobile operators and manufactures, but it can also be indirectly tied to the product, like application development, content provision, and call centers that serve not only mobile operators and manufacturers but also third-party content and device producers. In some developing countries, outsourcing of mobile content development creates significant numbers of indirect employment opportunities.

In 2014, it was estimated that the mobile technology industry directly employed approximately 12.8 million people globally and 11.8 million people indirectly, bringing the total impact to just under 25 million jobs.
 
Global mobile ecosystem employment impact

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.

Accountability inside out & outside in

Rosemary McGee's picture

 Zackary Canepari / Panos​In our eagerness to be constructive, we who work for accountable governance from our comfort zones in the global north sometimes forget what it’s like to live with a deeply unaccountable state.  I don’t just mean finding that the party we voted for has since done a U-turn on a pre-election policy promise (a sensitive issue in the UK this week as the hotly contested general elections loom). I mean being a citizen within a state that has a history of torturing and massacring its citizens.  For instance, how does it sound to a Guatemalan indigenous community when an international agency urges it to hold its state to account through ‘constructive engagement’?

At IDS on 30 April, Making All Voices Count’s Research, Evidence and Learning component hosted the third workshop in a series focused on accountability, organised jointly with the Transparency & Accountability Initiative and the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability. We chose as a theme The Quest for citizen-led accountability: Looking inside the state.  Libraries overflowing with literature on the state and its institutions haven’t proven very useable for social actors who see the state within an ‘accountability politics’ frame[1], and come at it in campaigning mode.  This event brought together some of the scholars who’ve written that literature with some of those social actors who lead and support those rights-claiming processes, to unpack the state in ways that might help citizen-led accountability struggles gain purchase.

Sharing the most politically nuanced analysis of accountability that has ever been developed under World Bank auspices, Anu Joshi (IDS) and Helene Grandvoinnet (Lead Social Development Specialist, World Bank) offered a series of reflections, insights and devices for digging down inside of “context” so as to understand what makes state actors tick.  Their work points to what can be learnt by applying to state actors – individual and collective – what we already know about citizen actors – individual and collective.  Among these are the notion that power relations are at work not only between citizens and the state, but between one state actor and another; and that for governance to become more responsive and accountable, state officials may need to be empowered or mobilized at least as much as they need to be informed.  Here was ‘the state’ viewed on the inside, and from the inside looking out.
 

Quote of the Week: Ray Kurzweil

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Raymond Kurzweil"The reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially... 30 steps linearly gets you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you're at 30.  With exponential growth, it's one, two, four, eight. Step 30 you're at a billion."
 

-Ray Kurzweil, an American author, computer scientist, inventor, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google
 

Could the UN’s new Progress of the World’s Women provide the foundations for feminist economic policy?

Duncan Green's picture

London launch of UN Women’s new flagship report,Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16Yesterday I went to the London launch of UN Women’s new flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16, in the slightly incongruous setting of the Institution of Civil Engineers – walls adorned with portraits of bewigged old patriarchs from a (happily) bygone era (right).

The report is excellent. These big multilateral publications are usually a work of synthesis, bringing together existing research rather than breaking new ground. And that’s fine; it’s really important that a UN body has pulled such an excellent range of research together and made it accessible to policy makers. Gender and development debates suffer from a fair number of unsubstantiated claims and pretty dodgy stats (don’t get me started), and this report feels like something you can trust – I hope someone will go through it and pull out every major stat and graphic.

But the overall approach is both new and exciting, in that it applies an explicitly human rights approach to economic policy. Laura Turquet, UN Women researcher and report manager, summarized this as ‘bringing together human rights and economic policy-making to ask ‘what is the economy for?’’

This is a big deal, because the normal approach to gender and economic policy is incredibly reductive and instrumental – educate girls and get women into the workforce because it boosts growth! It ignores whether that will improve the lives of the said women or just pile more burdens onto their pre-existing roles as carers (of children, old people, neighbours), home maintainers etc etc.
 

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 New Global Marketplace of Political Change
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Western democratic powers are no longer the dominant external shapers of political transitions around the world. A new global marketplace of political change now exists, in which varied arrays of states, including numerous nondemocracies and non-Western democracies, are influencing transitional trajectories. Western policymakers and aid practitioners have been slow to come to grips with the realities and implications of this new situation.

Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights
UN Women
Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, UN Women’s flagship report, shows that, all too often, women’s economic and social rights are held back, because they are forced to fit into a 'man’s world'. But, it is possible to move beyond the status quo, to picture a world where economies are built with women’s rights at their heart. It is being published as the international community comes together to define a transformative post-2015 development agenda, and coincides with the 20th anniversary commemoration of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China which set out a comprehensive agenda to advance gender equality. Since Beijing, significant progress has been made, particularly in advancing women’s legal rights. However, as Progress shows, in an era of unprecedented global wealth, millions of women are trapped in low paid, poor quality jobs, denied even basic levels of health care, and water and sanitation. Women still carry the burden of unpaid care work, which austerity policies and cut-backs have only intensified.
 

Social media in the era of ISIS

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This post, which explores the social media landscape in the Middle East, is part of a series related to the upcoming 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy: Triumphs and Tragedies: Media and Global Events in 2014, which took place in Vienna, Austria from April 19-21, 2015. 

The 2015 seminar was jointly organized by the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, the American Austrian Foundation, and the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. For more information, visit the seminar webpage and Facebook page.

Even before the Arab Spring, activists took to social media to disseminate information in an atmosphere where the narrative was tightly controlled by the state.

In November 2007 YouTube shut down the account of Egyptian activist Wael Abbas after he posted a video showing police brutality for containing “inappropriate material.” The video was later re-instated following an outcry from human rights advocates and was then used to convict the two police officers of brutality.

During the 2006 Israeli air campaign on Lebanon, activist artist Zena El Khalil turned her blog “Beirut Update” into a source for news about the war and was featured in international media including CNN, BBC and The Guardian. In the summer of 2010 an anonymously administered Facebook page titled ‘We are all Khaled Saeed” after a young Egyptian who was beaten to death by police officers became a focal point for anti-regime protests leading up to the January 2011 uprising.

For the next few months social media was prominently used almost exclusively by activists across the Middle East and North Africa from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula. By 2012 Arab governments had woken up to the “threat” of social media and started imposing harsh penalties on activists further pushing them underground. There was also a significant splintering amongst activists who in some cases following the ouster of the head of the regime turned against each other. The online honeymoon was over.

Campaign Art: Ending energy poverty is #aRaceWeMustWin

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

Access to affordable and reliable energy is critical to the human health and to economic development. On an individual level, without electricity, food cannot be refrigerated, students must study by candlelight, access to clean water is hindered, and firewood must be collected to cook and heat the home. At the societal level, a lack of reliable electricity means that medical supplies— including vaccines— cannot be refrigerated, the internet cannot be supported, and businesses and industries have to buy their own generators to remain operational.   

Yet, despite its importance, more than 1.3 billion people still do not have access to electricity, and 2.6 billion people do not have access to clean cooking facilities. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 95% of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia, and 84% live in rural areas. These communities are often the poorest and most isolated from the electricity grid.   

Interestingly, more than 50 million of these unconnected people also live in areas with abundant wind resources. Using data on areas with high wind resources and where electricity access remains elusive, a new initiative known as Wind for Prosperity hopes to bring wind-powered electricity access to many more.

The following video, narrated by Scarlett Johansson, addresses energy poverty and is part of a larger campaign: #aRaceWeMustWin. The campaign declares that “Getting 1.3 billion people out of energy poverty is a race that we MUST win.”
 
VIDEO: Ending energy poverty is A Race We Must Win


The things we do: How reading Harry Potter increases social understanding through mental mirroring

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New research indicates that literary fiction can increase our understanding of others by providing a window into their minds or situations.  Amazingly, the Harry Potter series has been shown to increase the tolerance of minority groups, like homosexuals or immigrants, among children and young adults in Europe.

The communications profession is fond of espousing the power of storytelling.  Building narratives is a core component of much of our work and connecting people through stories is one of the main goals.  While we have known that storytelling works for quite some time, new research is proving the case.

The greatest magic of Harry Potter

According to a study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, young people who read the Harry Potter series — and identify with the main character or protagonist — are less likely to be biased or prejudiced against minority groups.

In the Harry Potter novels, prejudice is a recurring theme.  Voldemort, who represents pure evil, makes arguments about non-wizards known as Mud-bloods and half-bloods that have obvious parallels to racism and Nazism.  Moreover, Harry and his friends come into contact with non-human species, like elves and goblins, which complain they are forced into subservient roles, similar to slavery and caste systems. 

These parallels may be obvious, but can they change our sympathies?

“We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources

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Members of the Sihan Clan planting a boundary tree, Rivercess County, Liberia

Communal land, forests, and water sources are essential to the survival of many communities around the world. However, investors seeking resources may negotiate contracts that do not include rental payments. To address this imbalance, Namati and its partners designed an activity to empower communities to grasp the inherent value of their common areas to them, so that they can reject inequitable contract offers and negotiate contracts that will lead to community prosperity.

Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, investors are increasingly approaching rural communities seeking land for logging, mining, and agribusiness ventures. In response, international and national advocacy organizations are stepping forward to provide support to communities in negotiations with investors, often with a focus on ensuring adherence to international laws such as the right to free, prior, informed consent (FPIC).[1] Yet even in situations when investors have followed FPIC principles and conducted a formal “consultation” to seek community consent to their proposed business venture, these consultations are generally conducted in a context of significant power and information asymmetries. Communities are frequently pressured by high-level government officials to consent to deals that they do not fully understand or desire. Community members may not be aware of the rental value of their land on the national market, the expected annual profits the investor will gain from the venture, the overall net worth of the investors’ company, and other financial information critical to negotiating a fair contractual agreement, including the value they themselves are deriving from their common lands. As a result, they have difficulty calculating an appropriate rental cost that leaves them in an equal or better position than before the investment.

Quote of the Week: Arnab Goswami

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"I don't believe in creating an artificial consensus, which some people are comfortable with. So if there is something wrong, you can ask yourself two questions: 'Why did it happen? Will the people who did it go unpunished?' "
 

Arnab Goswami, an Indian journalist and the editor-in-chief of Indian news channel Times Now. He anchors The Newshour, a live debate show that airs weekdays on Times Now and hosts the television programme Frankly Speaking with Arnab.
 

Blog post of the month: Mapping Nepal after the earthquake

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In April 2015, the featured blog post is "Media (R)evolutions: Mapping Nepal after the earthquake".

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, rattling the country and affecting 8 million people across 39 districts, with a quarter of those in the worst affected areas. More than 5,000 people have been confirmed dead so far.

Relief agencies are now in the country, providing supplies, administering medical treatment, and searching for survivors. In an effort to support disaster responders, teams of volunteers around the world are scouring through thousands of high-resolution satellite images to provide those on the ground with as much information as possible so they can do their jobs most effectively.

Many of these so-called “crisis mappers” are untrained volunteers who compare before and after images of the affected areas to tag buildings that have collapsed, roads that are blocked, and areas of heavy debris. This provides crucial information to disaster response teams on the ground.

The people of Nepal have also been utilizing other tools to locate missing family and friends, identify themselves as safe, and find rescue and gathering places where help can be obtained.

Here are a few of the initiatives underway:Nepal Earthquake: Before And After In Kathmandu