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Evidence based policy or policy based evidence? Supply and demand for data in a donor dominant world

Humanity Journal's picture

This post, by Morten Jerven, is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, and Michael Woolcock.

Patients seeking treatment at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, In 2010 I was doing research for Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it. I was In Lusaka, Zambia on a Wednesday afternoon, and was having a free and frank conversation with a specialist working for the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) office there as part of the ethnographic component of my book. One of the themes we kept returning to was the problem that donors demanded evidence that was not necessarily relevant for Zambian policy makers. We were also discussing how results-oriented MDG reporting had created real outside pressure to distort statistics, with donors having the final say on what gets measured, when and how. Indeed, whenever I asked anyone in Zambia—and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa—“what do we know about economic growth?,” a recurring issue was how resources were diverted from domestic economic statistics to MDG-relevant statistics.

Two days later I was sitting in the Central Statistical Office in Lusaka, talking to the then only remaining member of the economic statistics division. In 2007, this division was manned by three statisticians, but when I returned in 2010, there was only one person there. The other two had been pulled from economic statistics to social and demographic statistics where there was more donor money for per diem payments. The phone rang. DfID Lusaka was on the other end. They had a problem. They had financed a report on social statistics, but the office statistician tasked with completing the report had recently travelled to Japan to participate in a generously funded training course, leaving the report incomplete. Could someone help out? And so it was that the last remaining economic statistician for the Zambian government temporarily left the office to come to the rescue.

Twelve energy stories you enjoyed reading in 2015

Andy Shuai Liu's picture

What are some stories that caught your attention in 2015?
 
They are ones that focus on people, data and events tied to sustainable growth, climate action and efforts to end energy poverty.
 
As we look ahead to 2016 we’d like to recap 12 popular stories that many of you read and shared in 2015. Thank you for a year of continued and growing readership. Tell us in a comment what you’d like to hear more of in the next year.  
 

Kenya’s 3 keys to success: How to create an effective public-private partnership unit

Stanley K. Kamau's picture

Stanley K. Kamau is the Director of Kenya’s PPP Unit and is responsible for overall coordination, promotion, and oversight implementation of the country’s PPP program. Appointed in early 2010, he has been the driving force behind Kenya’s PPP agenda, overseeing the establishment and operationalization of a robust legal and regulatory framework, as well as an ambitious PPP pipeline.

I’m often asked what makes our PPP program here in Kenya so effective. The Kenya PPP program has emerged from the initial stages of building and strengthening the regulatory and institutional framework for PPPs at various levels, and has now moved on to the actual implementation of an ambitious project pipeline of currently 71 proposed projects. We’ve created a unit with some impressive successes, and much of it is because other nations shared their lessons with us along the way.  Now it’s our turn, and we’d like to impart the most important lessons learned to help other PPP units that may be struggling

The top three of the key factors to our PPP Unit’s growth are:

The resilient brain and its crucial role in human development

Dorota Chapko's picture
Young children in Uzbekistan play with mind-stimulating games. Photo: Matluba Mukhamedova / World Bank


​Did you know that investments in early childhood are crucial for achieving the brain’s full developmental potential and resilience?
 
Jim Heckman, Nobel Laureate in economics, and his collaborators have shown that strong foundational skills built in early childhood are crucial for socio-economic success. These foundational skills lead to a self-reinforcing motivation to learn so that “skills beget skills”. This leads to better-paying jobs, healthier lifestyle choices, greater social participation, and more productive societies. Growing research also reveals that these benefits are linked to the important role that early foundations of cognitive and socio-emotional abilities play on healthy brain development across the human lifespan.

Brain complexity –the diversity and complexity of neural pathways and networks— is moulded during childhood and has a lasting impact on the development of cognitive and socio-emotional human abilities.

The War is Over. What Do We Do Now? Post-Conflict Recovery of the Private Sector in South Sudan

Steve Utterwulghe's picture


The White Nile in South Sudan. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe.

As I was landing in Juba, the bustling capital of South Sudan, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my days working in Khartoum for the UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General. The war between the North and the South, of what was then, in 2004, still the Sudan, was raging as the peace negotiations were taking place in a plush resort on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya. I was mainly focusing on guaranteeing access to the people of the Nuba Mountains, one of the three fiercely contested areas between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA). I was doing my fair share of shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth between the SPLM/SPLA leadership based in Nairobi and the Government of Sudan in Khartoum. At that time, hopes were high that one would soon see the end of decades of a bloody war in Africa’s largest country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was finally signed in 2005. In 2011, South Sudanese participated in a referendum and 99 percent voted for independence. South Sudan became the newest country in the world.
 
But what should have been a new era of peace and prosperity quickly turned into a feeling of dejà vu. Dreams were shattered as a new internal violent conflict broke out in December 2013, putting the progress achieved at significant risk and disrupting economic activities and livelihoods.
 
The country is very rich in natural resources, including oil, minerals and fertile arable land. However, with 90 percent of its population earning less than US$1 per day, South Sudan is ranked as one of the poorest countries on the planet. South Sudan remains an undeveloped economy facing important challenges, including high unemployment, weak institutions, illiteracy and political instability. The economic overview of the country by the World Bank suggests that “South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, with oil accounting for almost the totality of exports, and around 60 percent of its gross domestic product.” The conflict has dramatically affected the production of oil, which has fallen by about 20 percent and is now at about 165,000 barrels per day. This, combined with the sharp global drop in oil prices, has greatly affected the fiscal position of the government.

In such an environment, private sector development is a must, since it has the potential to create market-led jobs and growth. However, private sector growth requires a conducive investment climate and an enabling business environment.
 
South Sudan has made progress in this area, thanks in part to support from the international community, including the World Bank Group. Yet more needs to be done. South Sudan ranks 187th out of the 189 economies in the Doing Business ranking, just ahead of Libya and Eritrea. In addition, among the top constraints reported by firms in the World Bank Group's Enterprise Survey, 68 percent mention political instability and 58 percent cite access to electricity, followed closely by access to land and finance. 

How digital financial services boost women’s economic opportunities

Leora Klapper's picture

Imagine having to skip work every month to travel to the city center just to pay your electricity bill or your child’s school fee? Would you not worry if your income relied on remittances and you were unable to pay rent because they were tied up in a network of agents? And wouldn't it frustrate you if you didn’t have a say in how your salary was spent or invested?

Having a bank account could help in all of these situations. Most of us probably have auto-pay set up so we don't need to worry about our monthly bill payments or money transfers. But the conveniences we take for granted are out of reach for the world's 1.1 billion women who lack an account. According to World Bank’s Global Findex database, men in developing countries are 9 percentage points more likely than women to own an account. The gap is largest in South Asia, where only 37 percent of women have an account compared with 55 percent of men.

Does Financial Inclusion Exclude? Formal Savings Reduces Informal Risk-Sharing Among Women in Kenya: Guest post by Felipe Dizon

This is the second in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
 
In 2013 alone, donors pledged $31 billion to support financial inclusion programs—an attempt to deliver financial services to the 2 billion adults that do not have access to such services. In the past, microcredit and insurance programs received all of the attention, but improving the savings capacity of the poor and unbanked has recently drawn increasing attention as well. Access to a savings account has been shown to improve account holders' overall financial situation and their ability to cope with shocks.  In addition, access to savings may also lead to greater educational aspirations and completion of additional years of schooling for the children of account holders.

Night lights and the pursuit of subnational GDP: Application to Kenya & Rwanda

Apurva Sanghi's picture
Estimating national-level growth levels and rates is fraught with challenges. Doing so at subnational levels even more so – because of data challenges, and difficulties in attributing economic activity to a specific subnational unit. However, as countries decentralize, estimating subnational economic activity and growth is becoming all the more relevant for at least three reasons: First, there is strong policy interest in seeing how growth can occur in different parts of countries, so that communities can share in national prosperity and not get left behind.

The road to a greener future

Jonathan Coony's picture

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In the run-up to the COP21 climate conference, one question becomes central: where will we find the solutions on the ground—and the people to implement them—to realize the renewed political ambitions on climate?


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