Guest post from Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam America (gosh, they do have august sounding job titles, don’t they?)
As the poorest half of the planet sees that just 62 people have more wealth than all of them, collective frustration at extreme inequality is increasing. To rebalance power and wealth, many in our community are turning to transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion. Interrogate that “development consensus,” however, and opinions are fractured over the benefits and costs of transferring power from the haves to the have-nots.
In truth, our theories of change often diverge. Most development organizations may agree on the need to advocate for more Investment, Innovation, Information, strong Institutions and Incentives, but some organizations are genuinely committed to only one of those “I’s”, and that can be problematic: Oxfam often finds itself choosing and moving between the relentless positivity of politically benign theories of change (e.g. we just need more “investment” or “innovation”), the moderation of those who focus exclusively on transparent “information” with no clear pathway to ensure its political relevance, and the relentless negativity of activists that think the only way to transform “institutions” or realign the “incentives” of elites is to beat them up in public.
Oxfam’s challenge is to be both explicit in our theory of change and show sophistication and dexterity in working across that spectrum. If Oxfam’s theory of change is based on a citizen-centered approach to tackling global systemic challenges like extreme inequality, then our opportunity may be engaging the “rational ignorance” of citizens and consumers.