We've discussed here and in related papers (such as Towards a New Model and The Missing Link) the role that media and communication (including all forms of information and communication technologies, or ICT) can play in pre-, mid- and post-conflict situations. Too often, donors think of media and communication as an adjunct to their main reconstruction and peacebuilding work, something with which to publicize their activities. I've advocated strongly in the past for assigning a more significant role to the field of media and communication in conflict, urging donors to consider it as a substantive, technical area that needs to be systematically incorporated into donor plannning rather than treated as an offshoot of public relations.
This post on development vs aid effectiveness got me thinking a bit about the concept of making oneself redundant, to paraphrase blog author Paul McAdams. "Is everyone involved in development 'working their way out of a job'? Or are some NGOs, CSOs, or donors comfortable in their roles, entrenched in their positions and unwilling to change, even at the risk of eliminating their own work? I suspect the answer is not a simple matter of saying yes or no, but far more nuanced," he writes.
One year after the Haiti earthquake, the disaster response/development community is in a reflective mood. And well we should be: despite a massive cash influx in the wake of the disaster, the ongoing daily struggle for existence for many Haitians does not reflect well on the international community's attention span, coordination capabilities, and ability to respond in a sustained fashion to challenging and shifting local conditions. We can and should do better.
It's hard not to be inspired by Nick Kristof's article on "The D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution" in the New York Times. His detail-rich story of energetic, socially conscious people routing around the bureaucracy of large aid organizations to tangibly and directly improve people's lives in the developing world is both important and thought-provoking. And it helps reframe the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of development assistance from one of "nothing works" to "there are so many ways to make this work."
For two days last month (June 21-22) CommGAP and the Governance Practice in the World Bank Institute organized a workshop on the theme: The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action. In attendance were practitioners and academics from around the world, including several leading donor agencies. While the insights from the very productive workshop are being organized - they will be made available as soon as they are ready - I want to share this report regarding an unanticipated leitmotif of the meeting.
Without prompting, several donor agency officials, and they were senior ones, turned their attention to the challenges posed to reform efforts by the behavior of donor bureaucrats. I have just been through the notes I took during the meeting, and what follows are some of the comments that were made. The meeting took place under Chatham House rules, so no names will be mentioned here:
For anybody who thinks about governance as an issue in development, Sue Unsworth needs no introduction. She used to be the main intellectual force behind DFID's 'drivers of change analysis', an approach to political economy analysis. She is now with the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, in the United Kingdom. She has just published an article in the Journal of International Development titled 'What's Politics Got to do with It?: Why Donors Find It So Hard to Come to Terms with Politics, and Why it Matters' (a free version can be found here).
The article deserves wide attention. In it, Unsworth points out that donors are paying more attention to politics these days than they used to, and some are even applying political analysis to aspects of development practice, but huge barriers remain that ensure that all this is having little influence on mainstream debates about how to do development . Mainstream approaches remain apolitical and the 'implicit assumption is still that the obstacles to better governance and development performance are primarily financial, technical and managerial...'
I have noticed over the years that groups working to strengthen media systems around the world concentrate their attention on donors active in international development. This is understandable for two reasons. Donors have money and you go to them if you want an initiative funded. Second, donors - either alone or collectively - have influence in many countries. Once in a long while, they are able to bring about change just by insisting on it and being prepared to fund the process of change.
But there is one big reason why donors alone cannot strengthen media systems, especially in authoritarian political systems. And that is power... the acquisition and retention of power.