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Institutions

Politics, Economists and the Dangers of Pragmatism: Reflections on DFID's Governance and Conflict Conference

Duncan Green's picture

DFID really is an extraordinary institution. I spent Monday and Tuesday at the annual get together one of its professional cadres – about 200 advisers on governance and conflict. They were bombarded with powerpoints from outside speakers (including me), but still found time for plenty of ‘social loafing’, aka networking with their mates. Some impressions:

They are hugely bright and committed, wrestling to get stuff done in some of the most difficult places on the planet, familiar with all the dilemmas of ‘doing aid’ in complex environments that I talk about endlessly on this blog. A visitor muttered about the quality and nuance of discussion compared to the uncritical can-do hubris of much of what they hear in Washington.
 
In fact, since the Australians and Canadians wound up their development departments, DFID looks pretty well unique in the international scene – heroic keeper of the flame or aid’s Lonesome George heading for species extinction? We’ll find out over the next few years.

Politics in Development? Meet the New Institutional Economics

Kate Henvey's picture

Around the end December of every year, the pundits start coming out with their forecasts for 2014. This past December, the World Bank pundits predicted everything from girls outperforming boys in developing countries (girl power!) to the staggering idea that for Europe, 2014 will be a better year.

This year though, the World Bank’s Future Development Forecasts blog, included a prediction that caught these two political scientists by surprise— “as more and more economists point to the primary [sic] of politics in development, political scientists will wake up and wonder why they have been left out of the discussion.”

#6 from 2013: The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development - Changing Rules for Realistic Solutions: Getting Stuff Done

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on February 21, 2013


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?

Thinking and Working Politically: An Exciting New Aid Initiative

Duncan Green's picture

Gosh I love my job. Last week I attended a workshop in Delhi to discuss ‘thinking and working politically’. A bunch of donors, academics, NGOs and others (Chatham House rules, alas, so no names or institutions) taking stock on how they can move from talk to walk in applying more politically informed thinking to their work.

That means both trying to do the normal stuff better (eg understanding the politics that determines whether your water or education programme gets anywhere) and in more transformational work trying to shift power from haves to have nots.

The meeting was convened by some very practical (‘what do I do on Monday Morning’) aid people keen to move on from what they see as the overly academic (‘needs more research’) character  of discussions on governance, institutions, state-building and all its obfuscatory language (‘What we don’t need is lots of people talking about isomorphic mimicry, rules of the game and political settlements’).

The purpose of this discussion was to take the growing body of research from the Development Leadership Programme, Tom Carothers, ODI, Matt Andrews, ESID etc and turn it into programme ideas that can be tested on the ground. A giant ‘do tank’ exercise, in fact. Alarmingly, I can’t think of other examples of such an explicit research →hypothesis→test process on governance (unlike drugs research, say).

Some impressions:

#9 from 2012: 'Why Nations Fail': The Constitutionalists Were Right All Along

Sina Odugbemi's picture

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:

How We Saved Agriculture, Fed the World and Ended Rural Poverty: Looking Back from 2050

Duncan Green's picture

As Oxfam’s two week online debate on the future of agriculture gets under way, John Ambler of Oxfam America imagines how it could all turn out right in the end.

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.

Why ‘Why Nations Fail’ Fails (Mostly): Review of Acemoglu and Robinson - 2012's Big Development Book

Duncan Green's picture

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.

Framing Governance on “People, Spaces, Deliberation”

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

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 and the State: Working Across the Demand and Supply Dichotomy

Darshana Patel's picture

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