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Public Sector and Governance

#7 from 2015: 5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal

Vinay Bhargava's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015.  This post was originally posted on June 8, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for June 2015.

South Sudanese prepare for independenceVinay Bhargava, the chief technical adviser and a board member at Partnership for Transparency Fund, provides five takeaways on governance and development interactions from a recent panel discussion hosted by the 1818 Society.

On May 27, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist at an event organized by the Governance Thematic Group of 1818 Society of the World Bank Group (WBG) Alumni.

The panelists were: Mr. Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution; Ms. Heike Gramckow, Acting Practice Manager, Rule of Law and Access to Justice at the Governance Global Practice at the World Bank Group; Mr. Brian Levy, Professor of the Practice, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University; Mr. Jerome Sauvage, Deputy head of UN Office in Washington DC. Mr. Fredrick Temple, currently Adviser at the Partnership for Transparency Fund, moderated the workshop. 
 
The panel presentations and discussion were hugely informative and insightful. I am pleased to share with you my five takeaways that anyone interested in governance and development interactions ought to know.

#10 from 2015: Has the governance agenda lost its mojo globally?

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 29, 2015. 
 

Romanian RevolutionWhen I started work in international development in London in the late 1990s, a more experienced colleague gave me the following insight. At some point, she said, I would either catch the bug and stay in the field or I would not and leave it to go and do something else. And it is usually some agenda within the broad field that would get you hooked, she added. She was right. I caught the bug and stayed in the field, and the agenda that excited my passion was and remains governance: efforts to improve governance systems in developing countries in order to do real and permanent good. The reason was obvious. I had moved to London from Lagos, Nigeria, having participated actively in the public affairs of the country; and I had left thoroughly convinced that unless governance improved in Nigeria there was no way that the abundance in the country would lead to improved welfare for the vast majority of its citizens. That remains my conviction.

In those days working on governance issues was exciting; for, it was like joining an army on the march, one that appeared ready to sweep everything before it. There was definite intellectual energy in the field. Practitioners had poise and confidence. Initiatives were being dreamt up by different donor agencies. Funds were pouring into the field. And we began to see a new breed of development professional: the so-called ‘governance advisers’. But behind it all, I suppose, was a powerful zeitgeist: the Berlin Wall was down, communism was on the ropes, and liberal constitutional democracy appeared to have triumphed with resounding finality.

But now, in late 2015, it all feels very different globally. In the words of the B.B. King classic: ‘The thrill is gone’. Or so it seems. And I pen these reflections because in the last month or two I have had conversations with practitioners in the field of governance from around the world in the normal course of an intellectual engagement with the issues, and the news seems uniformly depressing. I have been asked again and again: What do you think is happening to the agenda these days? First, there is a feeling that the intellectual energy behind the field is not what it used to be. Second, the commitment of leaders in international development seems to have waned. Units are being closed, initiatives wound down, budgets cut and so on. And practitioners do not seem like a powerful army on the march any longer. The old swagger appears to have vanished. In other words, the field is no longer seen as ‘hot’. Young recruits are not queuing to be a part of the field by any means necessary. They are targeting the current set of ‘hot’ issues in development.

So, what went wrong? From the conversations I have had here is a partial list of challenges:

A Life Adventured: The migrant/refugee

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the current migration and refugee crisis, is scale trumping humanity?

Refugee crisis in EuropeSomething about the way the story of the ongoing epic migration and refugee crisis is being told perturbs. Scale trumps humanity. Overwhelmingly, the focus is on the sheer girth and amplitude of the crisis. Mind-numbing statistics tumble from the mouth of broadcasters, and the cameras pan over and around scenes of multitudes on the move almost the same way that documentary makers film the flight of sky-darkening flocks of migratory birds or the earthquake mimicking stampede of wild bulls across a great river. The tragedies that occur with saddening frequency are anonymous: another boat sinks in the Mediterranean, hundreds are dead. We don’t see victims; we don’t know them. We see pictures of the flotsam and jetsam, of the foul detritus of failed voyages. And the cameras move on.

Until the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach turns up and the world is stunned and horrified. For instance, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently told Fareed Zakaria of CNN that that picture transformed policymaking in parts of Europe from indifferent to totally engaged. That, I would argue, is because that picture foregrounded a powerful truth.

What is this truth? It is this: while this migration and refugee crisis might be on a biblical scale, it is still about discrete, distinct, singular human lives. Each one of these people on the move is an individual, a bundle of consciousness, a brain, emotions, feelings, deep needs and aspirations, parents, families, friends, the whole nine yards. Above all, the truth is that each one of these individuals has chanced, gambled her life. In other words, each life caught up in this crisis is a life adventured. And when a human life is adventured a tragic ending is often the result.

Now Accepting Applications! Summer Institute 2016 - Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment

Roxanne Bauer's picture

WB-Annenberg Summer Institute group exerciseInstituting reforms can be tricky business. The push and pull of politics, the power of vested interests, varying degrees of institutional capacity for implementation, and contrary public opinion can all make the success of a reform agenda tenuous. 
 
So how can leaders and strategists increase the likelihood they will be successful at achieving sustainable reforms? The 2016 Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment was developed on the premise that successful implementation of policy reforms depends significantly on non-technical, real-world issues that relate to people and politics; and communication, when done right, may be the key to converting reform objectives into achievements.
 
During the 10-day program, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, May 23- June 3, 2016, participants will learn the most recent advances in communication and proven techniques in reform implementation. Participants will develop the skills required to bring about real change, leading to development results.

Why those promoting growth need to take politics seriously, and vice versa

Duncan Green's picture

Nicholas Waddell, a DFID Governance Adviser working on ‘Governance for Economic Development’ (G4ED) explores the links between governance and economic growth. 

Should I play it safe and join a governance team or risk being a lone voice in a sea of economists and private sector staff? This was my dilemma as a DFID Governance Adviser returning to the UK after a stint in East Africa. I gambled and joined the growth specialists in DFID’s newly created Economic Development arm.  A year in, I now think differently about the relationship between growth and governance.

Man working inside a large reinforced steel tube, PhilippinesEradicating poverty will not be possible without high and sustained growth that generates productive jobs and brings benefits across society. Historically, this has included boosting productivity within existing sectors as well as rebalancing economies towards more productive sectors (e.g. from agriculture to manufacturing). Such structural change or economic transformation has lifted millions from poverty.

Economic transformation can have a strong disruptive effect on political governance – giving rise, for example, to interest groups that push for accountable leaders and effective institutions. As countries get richer, more effective institutions also become more affordable. Over time, economic transformation can therefore advance core governance objectives.

But this is easier said than done. Economic development is an inherently political process that challenges vested interests. Often the surest ways for elites to hold onto power and profit aren’t in step with measures to spur investment, create jobs and foster growth. Shrewd power politics can be bad economics.

Managing public opinion in the epic migration crisis

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Refugees line up at the UNHCR registration center in Tripoli, LebanonIn all the affected countries, the ongoing migration crisis centering on both the Middle East and Europe is many things. But it is also a public opinion management challenge of impressive girth and height. This is one of those instances where wise leaders will not make policy first and only thereafter ask communication advisers to go and ‘sell’ it. They will have their sharpest communication/political advisers in the room while making policy, especially as the situation evolves in ever more dramatic directions. And those advisers will, one hopes, be monitoring public opinion, consulting panels of voters, talking to deeply experienced players in the political system… all as vital inputs into the policy process.

Why is this a particularly ticklish public opinion management problem? Here is why: the fundamental emotional and values drivers of public opinion at work here are powerful ones, and they clash clangorously. The temptation in host communities is to keep outsiders out, especially people who look different, speak different tongues, worship different gods, and have all kinds of fundamental commitments that host communities might be wary of.  People often think that these primordial sentiments come into play only when transnational movements of people in large numbers happen. But for people like me who grew up in geographically plural, multinational societies (where different ethnic groups live in distinct parts of the country) we know that moving to another part of what is supposed to be your own country to live permanently can be an ego-shredding challenge. As we used to say in Nigeria, the ‘sons of the soil’ might not accept you.

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?

How to Fix Fragile States? The OECD Reckons it’s All Down to Tax Systems.

Duncan Green's picture

‘Over-generous tax exemptions awarded to multinational enterprises often deprive fragile states of potential revenues that could be used to fund their most pressing needs.’ Another broadside from rent-a-mob? Nope, it’s the ultra respectable OECD in its Fragile States 2014 report.

After years of growth, aid to fragile states started to fall in 2011, so the report centres around an urgent call for OECD member states to help their more fragile cousins find a post-aid arrangement that funds essential state functions and builds the ‘social contract’ with citizens.

The key is a shift from aid dependence to ‘domestic resource mobilization’ (taxes and natural resource royalties), currently averaging a feeble 14% of GDP across fragile states and far too dependent on royalties from oil, gas and mineral extraction. Foreign direct investment (factories, farms etc) is generally low in volume and volatile.

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.
 

World Press Freedom Index 2014
Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE

Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater
Global Integrity
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE

How's Your Inner Autocrat Doing These Days?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the things I find endlessly fascinating about human beings is the gap between our avowed values and our behavior when we come under pressure. I have come to believe that your values are the ones that shape your conduct when you are dealing with a tough, high pressure situation or a life crisis, not the values you spout when you are showing off at the dinner table. Pieties are all too easy. What do you do when the going gets tough? What values truly underpin your conduct? I notice this most often when people claim to be profoundly devout, and they want you to know it. They claim an aura of sanctity. I have learned not to argue with them. I wait until they have to deal with complexity and then see what they do. You’d be amazed what some of these people get up to. More often than not, piety flies out of the window.

Look around you today. We are all supposed to be democrats these days. We love openness, inclusiveness, and transparency— everybody counts, every voice matters. But what do we do when the going gets tough? Let’s reflect on a few current situations around the world.

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