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Is Sue Unsworth Right about Donors and Politics?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

For anybody who thinks about governance as an issue in development, Sue Unsworth needs no introduction. She used to be the main intellectual force behind DFID's 'drivers of change analysis', an approach to political economy analysis. She is now with the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, in the United Kingdom. She has just published an  article in the Journal of International Development  titled 'What's Politics Got to do with It?: Why Donors Find It So Hard to Come to Terms with Politics, and Why it Matters' (a free version can be found here).

The article deserves wide attention. In it, Unsworth points out that donors are paying more attention to politics these days than they used to, and some are even applying political analysis to aspects of development practice, but huge barriers remain that ensure that all this is having little influence on  mainstream debates about how to do development . Mainstream approaches remain apolitical and the 'implicit assumption is still that the obstacles to better governance and development performance are primarily financial, technical and managerial...'

Turning Failures into Teachable Moments

Darshana Patel's picture

Everyone likes a happy ending and this applies in development work too.  Quite often, we have the tendency to showcase our successes through best practices that are upheld as evidence that a particular approach works. But what about those instances when we may have made some mistakes along the way or failed outright? Humans have a tendency to focus on successes rather than failures.

"This [handling of failure] is difficult for us to do well because we have strong human bias to value successes more than we value failures. In most organizations failure is stigmatized and nobody wants to be associated with it…..Unfortunately this produces some dangerous side-effects. Since improbable failures have high information content, it is important to communicate information about failure quickly and widely throughout the organization. To the extent that we hinder the flow of this information, we will force people to reinvent failures that we have already experienced, and that generates no useful new information."

Quote of the Week

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Our definition of propaganda focuses on the communication process – most specifically, on the purpose of the process: Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”

“To identify a message as propaganda is to suggest something negative and dishonest. Words frequently used as synonyms for propaganda are lies, distortion, deceit, manipulation, mind control psychological warfare, brainwashing, and palaver. A term implying propaganda that has recently gained popularity is spin, referring to a coordinated strategy to minimize negative information and present in a favorable light a story that could be damaging.”

Garth S. Jowett Victoria O’Donnell in Propaganda and Persuasion, 1999, p. 3 and p. 6.

Shouting Heads

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

In his latest post, Tony Lambino makes an interesting argument about pundits and social norms. He says that pundits' comments, for example on statements of public figures, are a manifestation of the social norms of a society. Punditry is a fascinating phenomenon and a recent development in the mass media - and might have changed the media landscape quite significantly.

Pundits discuss current affairs from their own point of view, often together with or in contrast to other pundits. Pundits can be experts, such as academics, but often journalists stylize themselves to be experts on political and other issues. It seems debatable to me whether punditry it is indeed part of the media's role in democracy.

You Can't Say That. It Doesn't Matter Who You Are.

Antonio Lambino's picture

The media have recently been going ga-ga over what many consider to be appalling public statements made by prominent figures in various fields --music, sports, domestic politics, and just today, international diplomacy.  From the U.S. Open to the U.S. Congress, to the august halls of the United Nations, public figures have said some terribly inappropriate things and, come the very next news cycle, have suffered sharp rebuke by pundits in the mainstream media.  Some have even claimed that these events portend the end of civilized society.  I think they exaggerate.

'I'll Be Gone and You'll Be Gone'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

There was an article in the New York Times recently with the title 'What's Really Wrong With Wall Street Pay?'  In the article, the writer discusses a problem world leaders want to do something about but are not sure how. How do you stop compensation packages for bankers and traders in global markets from encouraging them to take the kinds of wild risks that have done so much damage to the global economy?  I wish the leaders the very best of luck in dealing with that one. Success in the endeavor is far from certain...to put it gently.

What caught my eye as I was reading the piece is what the writer says bankers call the "I.B.G-Y.B.G." problem, as in 'I'll be gone and you will be gone'. It is the moral hazard problem. Traders in global markets take incredible risks and recklessly, they collect their bonuses and move on. The firm takes all the risk. Well, it turns out that taxpayers take risks as well, since governments have had to bail out so many banks deemed too big to fail.

"Finance isn't a game"

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The financial crisis has prompted some discussion about the role of the media in this particular recession. From the perspective of accountability that's an interesting question: What if the media become cheerleaders for those they are supposed to hold accountable? According to some reports in the Financial Times earlier this year this has indeed happened this year and last, or, at least, the media has failed it's mandate as watchdog during and leading up to the current financial crisis.

Web Snobbery 2.0

Caroline Jaine's picture

Up until very recently I was very sniffy about corporate and government engagement online.  I always figured that the real strength in new media lay in the credibility born from broadcasting the voices of the unheard.  I associated digital engagers using blogs and micro-blogs, social networks and chat forums to be identified with the individual, with community journalists wishing to distance themselves from mainstream media, and with speaking free from constraints of institution or authority.

Until last week in fact, any official blogging from the likes of government ministers would make me shudder and I assumed it was with ignorance that organisations and authorities around the world stumbled into this new digital playground. I sniggered at local authority Tweets and hollow-laughed as government Facebook groups requested my membership.  Then a friend reminded me that my own words (these in fact) appear branded on the website of a rather large organisation – no less than the World Bank.  Ah. Right. And I have to confess I have never been censored and rarely edited by the bank (save for my typos).  I decided to have a conversation with a Digital Diplomacy expert in the hope it would resolve my issues for me.  It did.

Quote of the Week

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Photo credit: Wolfram Huke"Only across the system as a whole can deliberation be expected to operate as a cleansing mechanism that filters out the ‘‘muddy’’ elements from a discursively structured legitimation process. As an essential element of the democratic process, deliberation is expected to fulfill three functions: to mobilize and pool relevant issues and required information, and to specify interpretations; to process such contributions discursively by means of proper arguments for and against; and to generate rationally motivated yes and no attitudes that are expected to determine the outcome of procedurally correct decisions."

Jürgen Habermas

Ladies Specials: Gender and the Public Space

Darshana Patel's picture

The “Ladies Specials”  are women-only commuter train recently launched in four Indian cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta).  While not a new practice, public transport exclusively for women is becoming popular.  (Mexico City introduced women-only buses in January 2008 and commuters on Japanese trains know a thing or two about this too.)

Harassment on the train or bus is not just an annoying nuisance for women.  It influences a whether or not a woman chooses to enter the workforce in the first place. (Or maybe whether her family or husband will allow her.)

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