At home, we have a porchlight at the entrance to our house. If I flip the switch for that light, there is about a 50-50 chance it will turn on. The reason? There is another switch in the basement that controls the electricity flow to the porch, and the porchlight will only come on if both switches are on.
This – slightly adapted – analogy came from Justin Sandefur at the Center for Global Development, in an effort to explain what a systems approach is and how it can improve development programming.
If you’re like us, there is so much talk about systems that it can be easy to get lost. At a recent event, we asked a mixed group of operational teams and researchers, “How confident are you that you know what a systems approach is?” Nearly 40 percent had little to no idea.
How confident are you that you know what a systems approach is?
To take education as an example, a systems approach to education recognizes the following:
1. An education system is made up of different actors (students, teachers, administrators, political leaders), accountability relationships (management, politics), and design elements (financing, information) (see Pritchett or Scur).
2. Changes to one part of the system are moderated by other parts of the system. For example, the effectiveness of investments to get children to school will be limited (or enhanced) by the quality of the schooling.
"In any society that enjoys free speech, the tenor of political rhetoric and exchange is a key indicator of the health of its underlying norms. Increasingly throughout the liberal world, the language of misogyny, racism, homophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia has become unexceptional, if not mainstream. The significance of this turn in public discourse is not merely that high-profile individuals can deploy such speech from public offices, but that it can so readily be shrugged off, with outrage dismissed as outmoded “political correctness.” What we are witnessing, however, is not a push-back of the bounds of civility but norm regress: an unraveling of the slow, incremental shift in public attitudes that has over many decades made human rights a lived expectation and made bigotry and hatred in all its forms an anathema."
- Julia Buxton - Acting Dean and Professor of Comparative Politics in the School of Public Policy, at the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.
Buxton, J. (2017), What scholars must do in a time of norm regress. Governance. doi:10.1111/gove.12270
Photo credit: Central European University.
This blog was originally posted on the BBC Media Action Insight blog by Melanie Archer, Digital Editor.
Films in the international development sector are often associated with fundraising but they can also serve as a form of aid in themselves. Films can help mothers manage a pregnancy, assist refugees as they navigate life in an unfamiliar country and influence perceptions of what politicians can achieve.
The annual Golden Radiator Awards is a prime opportunity to learn about some of the more creative films the international development sector has produced over the previous 12 months. From the creators of the seasonal (and satirical) Radi-Aid app, these Awards laud charity fundraising films that go beyond stereotypes in their storytelling.
But what about films for people in development settings? In parts of the world where radio is still king (though this is rapidly changing), it’s perhaps not surprising that there aren’t as many development films. But while not as plentiful in supply as those geared towards western audiences, examples of such films do exist and can be a powerful tool for meeting the needs of aid beneficiaries. Here are five examples.
From Kakuma to Rio
Keys to Successful Collaboration and Solving Wicked Internet Problems
The incredible pace of change of the Internet – from research laboratory inception to global telecommunication necessity – is due to the continuing pursuit, development and deployment of technology and practices adopted to make the Internet better. This has required continuous attention to a wide variety of problems ranging from “simple” to so-called “wicked problems”. Problems in the latter category have been addressed through collaboration. This paper outlines key characteristics of successful collaboration activities.
Dear Warren, Our 2017 Annual Letter
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Our 2017 annual letter is addressed to our dear friend Warren Buffett, who in 2006 donated the bulk of his fortune to our foundation to fight disease and reduce inequity. A few months ago, Warren asked us to reflect on what impact his gift has had on the world.
The significance of radio cannot be underestimated. Radio is an important, or sometimes the only, source of information to many around the world who are still unconnected to the Internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that number is about 3.9 billion. “While 40% of the population in developing world is online, at least 75% of households in developing countries have access to a radio.” In that sense, radio is fundamentally more inclusive communication tool.
But as the world moves forward with new technologies and modern communication platforms, the face of radio remains mostly unchanged. Can radio afford to stay this way? How can radio adapt to the 21st century changes? How can it reach and interact with its listeners in the time of snapchat, twitter and other social media channels? Can it leverage these technological changes and turn them into opportunities? If the radio stations want to remain relevant and continue to reach populations worldwide, they need to pay attention to the changing media consumer behaviors, produce the right content, and get it to the consumers in an easy, simple way across all the devices.
Tune in to an ITU special report for the World Radio Day to learn more about the future of radio.
I was invited along to DFID last week for a discussion on how organizations learn. There was an impressive turnout of senior civil servents – the issue has clearly got their attention. Which is great because I came away with the impression that they (and Oxfam for that matter) have a long way to go to really become a ‘learning organization’.
So please make allowances in what follows for all the warm, cuddly areas of mutual agreement – I’m going to focus on the areas of disagreement, which are inevitably the most thought-provoking.
To mean anything, learning requires a change both in ideas and behaviours. So what were the theories of change that underpinned the approaches to learning in the room? I found it hard to pin down exactly – they seemed mostly tacit – but a lot of what I heard reminded me of the discussion at Twaweza a couple of years ago. For many present, the tacit theory of change seems to be ‘knowledge → learning → changed behaviours → changed outcomes’. Yeah right.
What we realized at Twaweza was that ‘it’s all in the arrows’. You need to unpack the assumptions and think about what needs to be in place for that theory of change to have any chance of resembling what happens in practice.
- Simon Schama - University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University.
Photo credit: By Financial Times (Flickr Uploaded by January) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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“A true believer is someone who will kill you for your own good.”
One of the reasons the world feels so out of joint at the moment is that millions of people appear to have forgotten the lessons from the unspeakable horrors of human history…the wars, the pogroms, the paroxysms of rage. As a result, they have forgotten one of the major achievements of liberal constitutionalism. The idea is a simple one but infinitely difficult to make habitual. When we the people choose to live together in a liberal constitutional democracy anywhere in the world what we have is a thin agreement not a thick one. The liberal constitution embodies a framework consensus…nothing more. We agree on the basic rules for living together in the same political community and how governments will be both constituted and replaced, their powers are enumerated and so on.
In other words, to live together in a liberal constitutional democracy we don’t have to worship the same Deity. We don’t have to agree on how life ought to be lived in detail. We don’t have to belong to the same ethnic group or tribe or nation. Again, our agreement is a basic one, not deluxe, not super-sized. We agree to let each individual human being of full age and competent understanding to make her own way in the world, work out how best to live her life, what Deity to worship or not, whether to circumcise her son or not…and so on. This simple idea is a powerful one. It is: live and let live. And it has produced decades of peace in many political communities, and it has provided room for a superabundance of human flourishing and development.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Recurring Storms: Food Insecurity, Political Instability, and Conflict
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Renewed and expanded international collaboration to anticipate and prepare for recurring storms of food insecurity is essential. Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Syria are examples that vividly underscore the explosiveness of situations in which people find themselves unable to get the food they want and need. The experiences of post-conflict countries highlight some critical issues that need to be prioritized in order to regain sustainable food security. Averting future storms will require the recognition that food security challenges will extend long beyond 2030, political leadership must be visibly committed to these issues, and actions to reduce fragmentation of effort will be critical.
World Radio Day
RADIO remains the most dynamic and engaging mediums in the 21st century, offering new ways to interact and participate. This powerful communication tool and low-cost medium can reach the widest audience, including remote communities and vulnerable people such as the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor. Radio offers these communities a platform to intervene in public debate, irrespective of their educational level. It provides an opportunity to participate in policy and decision-making processes, and to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expression. The impact of radio is at different levels: it is an essential tool in times of disaster management as an effective medium to reach affected people when other means of communication are disrupted; it is a way of promoting gender equality by providing rural women access to knowledge and support; finally, it is inclusive, engaging youth in the media as catalysts of change.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights and needs to be addressed worldwide by citizens, community organizations, local, and federal government agencies, as well as international organizations and civil society groups. Child marriage cuts across borders, religions, cultures, and ethnicities and can be found all over the world. Although sometimes boys are subjected to early marriage, girls are far more likely to be married at a young age.
This is where we stand today: in developing countries, 1 in every 3 girls is married before the age of 18. And 1 in nine girls is married before turning 15. Try looking at it this way: the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that if current trends continue, worldwide, 142 million girls will be married by 2020. Another prediction from a global partnership called Girls Not Brides suggests, that if there is no reduction in child marriages, the global number of child brides will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.
Why is this such a critical issue? Child marriage undermines global effort to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity, as it traps vulnerable individuals in a cycle of poverty. Child marriage deprives girls of educational opportunities. Often times, when girls are married at a young age, they are more likely to drop out of school and are at a higher risk of death due to early childbirth. According to the World Health Organization, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second cause of death for 15-19 year-old girls globally.
In order to raise awareness about child marriage in the Middle East, a Lebanon-based organization, KAFA, produced this video as a social experiment.
Source: KAFA Lebanon
Katy Oswald, Research Officer in the Power and Popular Politics cluster, and an affiliate of the Governance and Gender and Sexuality clusters, discusses the meaning of "engaged excellence" in research.
Over the last year, amidst the rising tide of populist politics around the world, we have increasingly seen research and evidence dismissed as irrelevant, disconnected, or an unnecessary luxury. 'Truth', 'experts' and their advice are rejected in favour of media spin, emotional appeals or so-called self-evident 'facts' (or indeed lies, masquerading as 'alternative facts'). This post-truth move requires a response that doesn't just reassert the value of academic ivory towers. For the specific context of international development at least, we at IDS argue it requires 'engaged excellence'.
What do we mean when we say engaged excellence? Isn't it just another buzz phrase within development, and do we really need another buzz phrase? No it's not, it is a call to transform the way in which we work. It is, an attempt to capture a way of doing research that is different and could be transformative. It is a phrase that describes research that is directly involved in the real word, not separate or abstract from it. Importantly, it implies that the high quality of our research (excellence) is dependent upon it linking to and involving those who are at the heart of the change we wish to see (engaged).
We have identified four pillars that underpin the concept of engaged excellence: high quality research; evidence that makes an impact; knowledge that is co-constructed with others; and enduring and mutually dependent partnerships. An important point is that these pillars are mutually dependent, they cannot exist in isolation from each other.
Social Network Analysis has been cropping up a bit in my mental in-tray. First there was my Christmas reading – Social Physics, by Alex Pentland. Then came yesterday’s post from some networkers within Oxfam. So here are some additional thoughts, based on a great guide to SNA by the International Rescue Committee.
Complexity and Systems Thinking seems to push people into two divergent sets of conclusions. One camp says ‘planning and toolkits suck, stick to close observation and response to any given context, and work from instinct, judgement and fast feedback’.
Another group cries ‘whoopee, a whole new set of toolkits!’ The problem with the first is how to ensure rigour and accountability, when everyone is just taking decisions according to their ‘instinct’ (what if someone’s instinct is disastrously wrong?) The problem with the second is that it can create exactly the kind of alluring but false certainty that complexity and systems approaches criticise elsewhere (logframes etc).
I lean towards the first group, with qualms, but like to keep an eye on the second, both to see if it is being oversold, and in the hope that it really does contain the seeds of a more rigorous approach to complexity. Social Network Analysis (SNA) looks like one of the most promising type 2 approaches. I’ve been worried that it is primarily being conceived as a tool for big guys with a lot of resources (see this post on Ben Ramalingam’s work, which prompted an impressive set of comments), so I was happy to come across the IRC’s excellent ‘SNA Handbook’, which provides a practical guide that seems well suited to NGO capacities.
“I think it is the coming together of liberal arts and sciences that are going to keep the human creativity and ingenuity [alive] in an age where machines are intelligent.”
- Satya Nadella - Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Microsoft.
Quoted in Financial Times print edition January 30, 2017 "The Monday Interview"" by Madhumita Murgia.
Photo credit: By OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Humanitarian Action and Non-state Armed Groups: The International Legal Framework
A significant number of current conflicts involve non-state armed groups (NSAGs) that exercise control over territory and civilians. Often these civilians are in need of assistance. International humanitarian law (IHL) provides that if the party to an armed conflict with control of civilians is unable or unwilling to meet their needs, offers may be made to carry out relief actions that are humanitarian and impartial in character. The consent of affected states is required but may not be arbitrarily withheld. Once consent has been obtained, parties must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief operations. In responding, humanitarian actors must overcome numerous challenges, including insecurity arising from active hostilities or a breakdown in law and order, or bureaucratic constraints imposed by the parties to the conflict.
Measuring the Business Side: Indicators to Assess Media Viability
In times of digital transformation media all over the world have to come up with new ways to ensure their survival. Meanwhile, media development actors are searching for new concepts and orientation in their support of media organizations and media markets. This paper presents DW Akademie’s suggestion for new indicators to measure economic viability. The criteria not only take into account the financial strategies and managerial structures of individual media outlets, but also the overall economic conditions in a country as well as the structures of the media market needed to ensure independence, pluralism and professional standards. After all, money talks – and media development should listen.
Let’s face it, it’s been a while, a long while, since we’ve all seen a 20-something who isn’t glued to their smartphone. This has been such a common sight everywhere now that we instantly picture a millennial with their cell phone, most likely checking their social media for updates.
So with that in mind, I can almost certainly say that you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s actually the previous generation, Gen X who use social media more copiously than their successors, Gen Y or millennials.
A week has 168 total hours out of which Gen Y spent 26 hours and 49 minutes on media, which is about 5 hours less than Gen X. In fact, out of the total weekly amount of time spent online, those between the ages of 35-49 spent more time on social media than their predecessors.
Are you surprised by this fact? Why do you think Gen X spends more time on social media than the millennials? Leave us a comment below & share your opinion.
Not a likely headline in today’s world, and yet this is among the most important news in recent history. Since Homo sapiens appeared on the planet, societies have experienced steady progress on all issues related to their wellbeing: access to food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom and equality. More importantly, progress in the last two centuries has accelerated to the point that the great majority of humans today live longer, better, healthier and richer lives than did their parents and grandparents.
“Progress” is indeed the title of the recently published book by Swedish author Johan Norberg. In it, and after building and analyzing a robust set of metadata compiled from the OECD, the World Bank, UN agencies and other reliable sources, he concludes categorically that “by almost any index, things are markedly better now that they have ever been for almost everyone alive.”
Some examples. Norberg points out that harvests failed frequently in Sweden in the 17th century, and a single famine between 1696 and 1697 killed one in 15 people. There were even some accounts of cannibalism. As economies in Europe grew, per capita consumption of calories increased from around 1,800 in the mid-18th century to 2,700 in 1850. Famines disappeared, and Sweden was declared free from hunger in the early 1900s. But progress is not circumscribed to Europe. Globally, undernourishment fell from 50 percent of the world’s population in 1945 to about 10 percent today. Similarly, access to water and sanitation has increased steadily in its coverage, going from 50 percent to 92 percent in terms of access to clean water, and from 25 percent to 68 percent in terms of sanitation in the last 50 years. The consequence is the removal of one of the main sources of death and disease.
I am not always able to attend All Saints Day in my native Poland, but there are always flowers, wreaths, and candles, exceeding the number of my living distant relatives at the grave of my parents. And then there are the invisible friendly hands that clean my family's tomb a few weeks later, before the beginning of winter. The culmination of this holiday is an outdoor mass before dusk, which basically occurs at every cemetery. I must admit that for as long as I can remember; I have always tried to skip the mass service saturated with the presence of thousands of worshipers for the sake of long walks in the marvelous fall festival of lights a few hours later where the cemeteries are almost deserted. Imagine, walking in darkness on the fallen and golden dry leaves amongst the orange glow of thousands of lit candles that blend with a scent of burning wax and the array of thousands of flowers. Surrounded by people who act most courteously towards each other, and then there is the humbling moment of realizing again that death is a destiny for each of us. All of this is accompanied by solemn tranquility and feelings of nostalgia.
Some will doubtless critique the report for its promiscuous use of jargon. But empathy is called for. The WDR team surely confronted some formidable internal political challenges. It needed to frame its argumentation in a way that spoke directly to economists, who remain intellectually hegemonic within the organization. As important, it needed a framing that was politically acceptable across the range of the extraordinarily diverse constituencies that make up the Executive Directors of the Bank – from the United States, to China, to Russia, to the Nordic countries as well as Latin American, African and other Asian and European constituencies. My sense is that the document has met this challenge. So a first loud cheer to the WDR for successfully, and hopefully irreversibly, consolidating the centrality of politics and institutions in the development discourse.
"The populists always fail in their own terms. Let me be more specific, the protectionists always fail. They always end up delivering the sharpest fall in living standards to the people who are their biggest supporters."
- Daniel Hannan - British politician, writer and journalist.
Quoted in Financial Times print edition January 28, 2017 "Lunch with the FT."
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Events around the world (on this please see Freedom in the World 2017) are teaching us at least two astounding lessons. The first is that in liberal constitutional democracies good governance is far more dependent on norms, particularly constitutional conventions, than formal rules. This has serious implications. The second lesson is that when certain political actors choose to ignore the norms of good governance …and the details vary depending on the context…it is not at all clear that anything can stop them. Let’s take these two issues one by one.
Norms, conventions, formal rules
In his classic work, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution the great English jurist, A.V. Dicey, introduced a distinction between what he called constitutional laws and the conventions of the constitution. Constitutional law, he pointed out, consists of rules that the courts will enforce. But there are other constitutional rules:
The other set of rules consist of conventions, understandings, habits, or practices which, though they may regulate the conduct of other officials, are not in reality laws at all since they are not enforced by the Courts. This proportion of constitutional law may, for the sake of distinction, be termed the ‘conventions of the constitution’, or constitutional morality.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy
In 2016, populist and nationalist political forces made astonishing gains in democratic states, while authoritarian powers engaged in brazen acts of aggression, and grave atrocities went unanswered in war zones across two continents. All of these developments point to a growing danger that the international order of the past quarter-century— rooted in the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law—will give way to a world in which individual leaders and nations pursue their own narrow interests without meaningful constraints, and without regard for the shared benefits of global peace, freedom, and prosperity. The troubling impression created by the year’s headline events is supported by the latest findings of Freedom in the World. A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.
Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People
Global Financial Integrity
Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the Norwegian School of Economics and a team of global experts released a study showing that since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade mis-invoicing, and recorded financial transfers. These resources represent immense social costs that have been borne by the citizens of developing countries around the globe. Funding for the report was provided by the Research Council of Norway and research assistance was provided by economists in Brazil, India, and Nigeria. Titled “Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People,” the report demonstrates that developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital. For example, in 2011 tax haven holdings of total developing country wealth were valued at US$4.4 trillion, which exacerbated inequality and undermined good governance and economic growth.
How can professionals looking to lead reform initiatives find the best way forward?
They can start at the World Bank-Annenberg Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, from June 5 - June 16, 2017.
The course is designed for leaders, strategists and advisors who want to strengthen the critical competencies necessary to support change agents and reform initiatives in developing countries.
If this sounds like you, but you need a little nudge, check out these 10 reasons why attending the Summer Institute is a good decision.
1. Strengthen the critical competencies necessary to support change agents and reform leaders in developing countries: The program was developed on the premise that successful implementation of policy reforms depends significantly on non-technical, real-world issues that relate to people and politics.
2. Develop the skills necessary to bring about real change: Finding a way to push a reform forward can sometimes be elusive. Political or sectoral change is usually needed. The course will develop your skills to analyze policy options and effectively mobilize support.
The real cost of smoking is high, especially high on your health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco kills around 6 million people each year, out of which 600,000 are the results of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. The cost of smoking is also high on the global economy, as smoking burdens global health systems, hinders economic development, and deprives families of financial resources that could have been spent on education, food, shelter, or other needs.
Tobacco use is the world’s leading underlying cause of preventable death. It contributes to a great number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which account for 63% of all deaths. Prevention of tobacco use can significantly decrease the number of preventable deaths worldwide, encourage economic development, reduce poverty, encourage healthy lifestyle choices and support Sustainable Development Goals.
In order to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use, in February 2014 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put forward a national public education campaign titled “The Real Cost.” The following video is a part of this campaign: