There is a silent struggle going regarding how you do governance reforms in development. It is between the prevailing tendency and a small but growing band of practitioners saying things need to be done differently. The prevailing tendency is the packaging of experts-devised best practice packages that we take from country to country…model anti-corruption laws, model designs for the civil service, procurement systems, and financial management systems and so on. Our highly trained experts are invested in their solutions, and the modern global system has a growing array of policy networks on every issue under the sun, and they amass and disseminate norms of ideal practice. So, donors and their experts move from one country to another, offering money, loans, and these packages. So, how are things working out? Not very well is the answer. To use an Americanism; we are not getting stuff done that much when it comes to governance reforms, whatever the sector. Isn’t it high time we changed our ways?
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012
Originally published on May 1, 2012
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have produced a magisterial book: ‘Why Nations Fail’. If you are interested in governance, nay, if you are interested in development, you should read it. I picked it up the week it was published and I could not put it down until it was done. That is how powerful and well-written it is. Yet it is over 500 pages long. In what follows, I am going to focus on what I liked about it and the thoughts it provoked in me as I read it.
First, I admire the simplicity and power of the thesis: what the historical evidence suggests is that nations with inclusive political and economic institutions are capable of sustained growth. Nations with extractive political and economic institutions are not. End of story. Even when an authoritarian state/regime appears to engineer economic growth for a while, it will hit a limit soon enough. Why? Human creativity, human inventiveness and necessary creative destruction of old ways of doing things cannot happen in authoritarian environments. Vested interests are able all too easily to block threatening entrants to the economy; property rights are not secure and so on. Those who control political institutions use their power to extract surpluses in often brutal ways. Key quote:
It is now 2050. Globally, we are 9 billion strong. Only 20% of us are directly involved in agriculture, and poor country economies have diversified. Yet we all have enough food. Technological innovation has played its part, but increased production has been largely driven by institutional reform. For example, industrialized countries have eliminated the subsidies that once undercut poor country agricultural production and exports. Land reform has spread in Latin America. Water reform has proceeded in Asia. Irrigation, which once constituted 70% of freshwater use, now consumes less than 50%. New agronomic practices are taking hold worldwide. The world is eating more healthily and locally. The sustainability of our agricultural systems is taken as non-negotiable by the world’s politicians.
The key? Institutional reform. And the key to institutional reform has been placing citizens and primary producers in more central oversight and ownership positions, with governments stepping back and taking more responsibility for managing at watershed and ecosystem levels.
Every now and then, a ‘Big Book on Development’ comes along that triggers a storm of arguments in my head (it’s a rather disturbing experience). One such is Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu (MIT) and James Robinson (Harvard). Judging by the proliferation of reviews and debates the book has provoked, my experience is widely shared.
First, what does the book say?
‘The focus of our book is on explaining world inequality’, which is essentially a phenomenon of the last 200 years (certainly at its current extreme levels) – the average income of a conquistador was only about twice that of a citizen of the Inca empire.
So, what’s governance anyway? No, don’t ask me for a definition. I can, however, tell you how we frame it. People, Spaces, Deliberation has been around for about four years now, and we hope we have made our modest contribution to the discussion of governance, especially in a development context.
To give an idea about how we frame governance, I took a look at the tags we use most frequently for our posts. Each post in which the tag occurred was counted. And here it is: Governance, on this blog, is about, first and foremost, public opinion and accountability. It’s also about the media as institutions of accountability and media development, about transparency, about fighting corruption, about social media – and about communication.
Citizens are assigned various roles in the development process (service users, project beneficiaries, and consulted stakeholders). But how can citizens move from being just users and choosers of social services to makers and shapers of policies and processes so that they can ultimately lead their own development?
“The most effective citizens are the most versatile: the ones who can cross boundaries. They move between the local, the national and the global, employ a range of techniques, act as allies and adversaries of the state, and deploy their skills of protest and partnership at key moments and in different institutional entry points.” Blurring the Boundaries: Citizen Action Across States and Societies
- The World Region
- Citizen Action
- Citizen Engagement
- Citizen Demand
- Citizen-Centric Government
- Development Research Center on Citizenship
- and Accountability
- Citizenship DRC
- Governance Reform
- Demand Side of Governance
- social change
- Civil Society and Governance
- Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue