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Why is it so much Harder to Talk about Politics than about Policies?

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been running into some resistance recently in writing about politics, and some interesting patterns are starting to emerge.

Firstly, when I sent round a draft piece on the politics and policies of national redistribution (i.e. when you look at the countries who have reduced inequality, what did they do and what were the politics that led to them doing it?) the subtext from a number of commentators in the countries concerned was ‘love the policies, but could you not talk about the politics please?’

They felt that talking about politics and political players (whether leaders or movements), especially in a positive way (Government of X has done brilliantly on Y), could be politically compromising or just felt anxious about being seen as naive, or being denounced by the radicals. Oppositionalism (all politicians are venal, all leaders betray, any progress is purely a grudging response to overwhelming public pressure from below) seems much easier (see right). If politics is mentioned at all, it’s just through the cop-out of lamenting the lack of political will (which all too often means telling politicians to do things that will get them chucked out of power or shot, and then condemning them when they refuse).

How Can We Get Better at Promoting Active Citizenship? Lessons from Ten Case Studies

Duncan Green's picture

Over the last few months I’ve been writing a series of ten case studies on Oxfam’s work in promoting active citizenship, and blogging the drafts for comments (thanks for those – really helpful). These will be published shortly, along with an overview paper on the patterns that emerged across the ten studies. Here are some highlights – the full paper is here, Active Citizenship synthesis consultation draft. Comments very welcome.
 

Lessons on Programme Design

The Right Partners are Indispensable: Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners, usually local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh); they often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power – crucial for brokering discussions with citizens’ groups. And they will remain working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

Starting with Power Analysis: Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their internal ‘power within’ – self confidence and assertiveness, especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building such ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organization that enable poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice in confronting and influencing those in power. Taking this ‘back to basics’ approach has led to some impressive progress in what are apparently the most unpropitious of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

The Accountability Lab: What is Accountability, Really?

Roxanne Bauer's picture
“We need clean water, education and medicines- all of these things” points out Bendu as we talk to her one oppressively hot day in West Point, a township of Monrovia, Liberia. “But we really care about corruption” she adds: “and the law- without these our other problems cannot be fixed”.
 
Citizens around the world know that these accountability problems are at the heart of development, security and equality. But often their voices are not heard and they do not have the tools to change the status quo. The Accountability Lab works with citizens like Bendu to generate innovative ideas for integrity and make people with power more responsible for the issues they face in their everyday lives. The team provides training, mentorship, networks, management support and seed funding to take these ideas from conception to reality to sustainability.

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab. In this video he discusses the nature of accountability and provides optimism for making it a reality.
 
What is Accountability, Really?

Sanitation For All: Ignore Quality at Your Own Peril

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The excellently named Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (R.I.C.E) recently published an equally excellently named survey – the SQUAT (Sanitation Quality, Use, Access and Trends) survey. Based on the findings of this survey conducted in five north Indian states, R.I.C.E calls for a latrine use revolution - since the bottleneck is not the non-availability of a latrine (since even those with a government latrine are not using them), nor is it lack of funds (since far poorer countries and communities have built and used latrine). It is an issue of messaging around hygiene, towards which we need to set our firm focus.

My first job in the development sector was with an NGO, Gram Vikas in Odisha and my experience there has shaped many of my core beliefs about working in this sector. At the core of Gram Vikas' work was the conviction that the 'poor can and will pay for quality services'. So when I think toilets (not latrines – and there is a key difference in the definition), I often use the 'quality' lens and make the argument about how the usage of physical facilities installed by projects has a direct link with what community perception of what counts as good quality. This also has a strong link with the extent to which they feel a sense of ownership for the facility.

What’s the Best Way to Measure Empowerment?

Duncan Green's picture

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) used to send me into a coma, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get sucked in. After all, who doesn’t want to know more about the impact of what we do all day?

So I picked up the latest issue of Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal (GAD), on MEL in gender rights work, with a shameful degree of interest.

Two pieces stood out. The first, a reflection on Oxfam’s attempts to measure women’s empowerment, had some headline findings that ‘women participants in the project were more likely to have the opportunity and feel able to influence affairs in their community. In contrast, none of the reviews found clear evidence of women’s increased involvement in key aspects of household decision-making.’ So changing what goes on within the household is the toughest nut to crack? Sounds about right.

But (with apologies to Oxfam colleagues), I was even more interested in an article by Jane Carter and 9 (yes, nine) co-authors, looking at 3 Swiss-funded women’s empowerment projects (Nepal, Bangladesh and Kosovo). They explored the tensions between the kinds of MEL preferred by donors (broadly, generating lots of numbers) and alternative ways to measure what has been going on.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 

The Promise of a New Internet
The Atlantic
People tend to talk about the Internet the way they talk about democracy—optimistically, and in terms that describe how it ought to be rather than how it actually is. This idealism is what buoys much of the network neutrality debate, and yet many of what are considered to be the core issues at stake—like payment for tiered access, for instance—have already been decided. For years, Internet advocates have been asking what regulatory measures might help save the open, innovation- friendly Internet. But increasingly, another question comes up: What if there were a technical solution instead of a regulatory one? What if the core architecture of how people connect could make an end run on the centralization of services that has come to define the modern net?

Are the Oceans Failed States?
Foreign Policy
In the early hours of March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost contact with air traffic control just one hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur. Since then, a multinational effort has scoured the Indian Ocean floor, deploying aircraft, ships, and even a robotic submarine in search of the wreckage. Yet four months on, the jet remains lost in the least accessible and most ill- understood ecosystem on the planet. Only about 5 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped in detail. We know more about the contours of the moon and nearby planets than we do about the basins of the high seas. But however remote these depths might seem, no corner of the ocean is untouched by human activities. As a result of these impacts, much of it is now in peril. That is the conclusion of the Global Ocean Commission, which reported in late June that the planet's largest and least- protected bioregion is close to collapse.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Two-Thirds of Obese People Now Live in Developing Countries
The Atlantic
We tend to think of obesity as a rich-country problem, but for several years now evidence has been building that the public-health hazard is assailing low- and middle-income countries as well, even as these same countries struggle with high rates of malnutrition. In perhaps the most comprehensive snapshot yet of this phenomenon, a study published in The Lancet on Thursday found that one-third of the world's population is now overweight or obese, and 62 percent of these individuals live in developing countries.

Why Humanitarians Should Pay Attention to Cybersecurity
Brookings
Most international staff I know who are working in the humanitarian field aren’t paying any attention to cybersecurity. Why is that? For starters, it’s an issue rooted in the security community which humanitarians have traditionally tried to maintain at arm’s length. But also humanitarians see themselves as the good guys; "we’re delivering food and water to needy people," the argument goes, "who would want to launch a cyberattack against us?" While this argument has been undermined by the fact that even well-meaning humanitarians are targeted by armed actors using traditional weapons, there’s still a reluctance to pay attention to cybersecurity. And humanitarian actors are under pressure to keep their overheads low so that they can distribute most of their funds to people in need – not to beefing up their IT departments. Inspired by my colleague Peter Singer’s new book, “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know,” I humbly suggest four reasons why humanitarians should pay attention to this field.

The Interview: Silvio Waisbord

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Exploring ideas, innovations and fresh approaches to our world is at the heart of the public sphere. People, Spaces, Deliberation brings you significant voices from academia and the practice of development through a series of interviews.

How can the development sector be more innovative? 

According to Professor Silvio Waisbord, an expert on global media, development, and social change, one of the critical roadblocks to overcome is the mismatch between "organizational demands" and "how change is possible." 
 
Professor Silvio Waisbord on Innovation in Development

Should You Tackle or Avoid Undiscussables?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Ha, what would life be without contradictions?  In every human grouping there are taboo subjects, matters deemed better left alone, words deemed better left unsaid, issues considered better suited to the deep freezers of life. The unspoken injunction is: Don’t go there; don’t touch it. Yet, there are those who think that a group functions better if a way can be found to air taboo subjects. There are also those who believe that true courage is a willingness to discuss the undiscussable, a readiness to take on all issues, no matter how sensitive the subject.

In the sense in which I first encountered the idea, an undiscussable arises as follows. There is often a difference between the values we claim and the values that our actual conduct affirms.  You do it, I do it, we all do it. But it is easier to see it in others.

Inequality and the Rise of the Global 1%: Great New Paper by Branko Milanovic

Duncan Green's picture

Ricardo Fuentes on an important new paper. Tomorrow, Ricardo and I continue the conversation.

The rich in the West are getting richer. Many countries have experienced a sharp concentration of incomes over the last three decades. The top 1% of Americans have doubled their share of national income (from 8 to 17%) since Ronald Reagan was inaugurated 32 years ago – see graph, source here. The elite in other advanced economies, including, Australia, the UK, Japan and Sweden, have also gotten a larger share of the pie. We have been able to understand the concentration of incomes at the national level thanks to the study of tax records by enterprising scholars such as Emmanuel Saez, Thomas Picketty and Sir Anthony Atkinson. But until recently, we didn’t know much about the global concentration of incomes (there’s no global tax collector with a similar database).