In the three years since the Arab Awakening of late 2010, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has seen an increase in conflict and political instability, on the one hand, and a deteriorating economic situation, on the other. Given the vicious cycle between economic hardship and conflict, it is natural to ask whether a return to political stability will restore prosperity in the region.
Whether in the back of a 4×4 in Tanzania, or in seminar rooms in Oxfam house, I seem to spend an increasing amount of my time discussing theories of change. Oxfamers seem both intrigued and puzzled – what are they? What are they for? The answers aren’t simple and, as social scientists like to say, they are contested. But here’s what I currently think.
What is a theory of change? A way of working and thinking, and a set of questions. Aerobics for the imagination – not a form to fill in (and most definitely not logframes on steroids). Nor is it a typology or (a personal bête noire) an insanely complicated diagram that no-one coming after you can understand (see example, right). More here.
How does (or should) a good theory of change improve our work (or ‘add value’ as the marketing wannabes insist on saying)?
Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, is gaining a lot of attention for the accessible way she demonstrates how high achieving countries got that way. While she provides useful insights into the usual suspects: Finland, Korea and Poland (a not so usual suspect), there are lessons waiting to be learned from other places, the least likely suspects, in other words, middle and lower income countries. While this analysis is useful, what policy makers in developing countries ask me is, “Why should we participate in international assessments?” They are concerned with being ranked at the bottom and having nothing to show for their efforts.
I am an asthmatic. Walking or biking behind a black-smoke-belching truck makes me choke, I mean really choke. I am sure it sounds familiar to other asthmatics or to those who have friends with respiratory problems.
The World Health Organization last month classified outdoor air pollution as a leading carcinogen. It particularly singled out particulate matter – the stuff that makes up the black smoke from those diesel trucks – as a carcinogen for humans.
On the heels of that news came word from China that record-air pollution levels nearly shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities, Harbin, forcing schools to suspend classes, snarling traffic and closing the city airport. An index measuring particulate matter reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of the city, home to some 11 million people. A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the WHO recommends a daily level of no more than 20.
Imagine the fate of my fellow sufferers, the asthmatics. Needless to say there was surge of hospital emergency room visits in Harbin on October 21.
Although I now live in Washington DC, I’m from Cambridge in England. I still like to keep track of my Member of Parliament (MP) back home, Julian Huppert, using a site first developed in 2004 by mySociety called TheyWorkForYou.
It presents an aggregation of data on MPs from sources including official transcripts of parliamentary discussions (Hansard), election results, the Register of Interests and Wikipedia entries. In short, it’s a “digital dossier” on all of the country’s parliamentarians.
But take another look at Jullian’s page and the “Numerology” section halfway down. Isn’t it reassuring to see that he: “Has used three-word alliterative phrases (e.g. "she sells seashells") 244 times in debates — average amongst MPs.”