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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:

What is a Theory of Change and How Do We Use It?

Duncan Green's picture

I’m planning to write a paper on this, but thought I’d kick off with a blog and pick your brains for references, suggestions etc. Everyone these days (funders, bosses etc) seems to be demanding a Theory of Change (ToC), although when challenged, many have only the haziest notion of what they mean by it. It’s a great opportunity, but also a risk, if ToCs become so debased that they are no more than logframes on steroids. So in internal conversations, blogs etc I’m gradually fleshing out a description of a ToC. When I ran this past some practical evaluation Oxfamers, they helpfully added a reality check – how to have a ToC conversation with an already existing programme, rather than a blank sheet of paper?

But first the blank sheet of paper. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll probably recognize some of this, because it builds on the kinds of questions I ask when trying to understand past change episodes, but throws them forward. Once you’ve decided roughly what you want to work on (and that involves a whole separate piece of analysis), I reckon it’s handy to break down a ToC into four phases, captured in the diagram.

We Are Here, Now Change the Subject

Sina Odugbemi's picture

According to the distinguished  political scientist, Sidney Tarrow, Occupy Wall Street -- and I suppose similar movements breaking out in much of the industrialized West --  are 'We are here' movements. For now, all they saying is: 'Recognize us!' As he points out, 'We are here' movements can either fizzle out or morph into something more powerful and insistent. It is too early to tell what will happen in this case. What he is clear about is that Occupy Wall Street is a wake-up call to the governing elite, one that members of that elite had better heed. The entire Foreign Affairs piece is worth reading.

Answering the Right Questions

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

In good governance circles, we love to champion accountability tools: citizen score cards, civil society-local government linkages, participatory budgeting, etc. They sound wonderful on paper, and frequently work well off paper, but one can sometimes detect a certain weariness on the part of the supposed recipients/beneficiaries of these tools. These initiatives may be effective at times, but they simply don't address the underlying power structure, development practitioners often hear. What is one supposed to do about the shadowy but real network of frequently unaccountable elite, particularly in the context of a developing country that features a culture of impunity and lacks deeply rooted institutions of accountability?

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing or the Nature of the Beast?

Darshana Patel's picture

Public deliberation as a political ideal represents the next frontier in democracy building. Public deliberation calls for dramatic changes in how political decisions are made. Through deliberative processes, citizens and not elected representatives, make decisions on how to manage their own resources. These decisions are reached according to the exchange of reasons and arguments that appeal to shared objectives or values. Decisions resulting from deliberation are more informed and rational. Under deliberative processes, political truths emerge not from competing ideas but through dialogue between citizens. Deliberative processes produce information as a by-product, not a precondition for participation.