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Transparency & Social Accountability: Where’s the Magic?

Kate Henvey's picture

Are citizens receiving the greatest development impact for their development dollar? This is the basic principle at the heart of International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of aid, giving citizens in developing and donor countries the information they need to hold their governments to account for use of those resources.

Last week, as Publish What You Fund (PWYF) released their second Aid Transparency Index (ATI), which assesses adherence of the world’s major donors to their IATI commitments, the question turned from one of how institutions performed on the index to one of how aid transparency enables effectiveness, accountability and social change in real terms.

Kicking off the conversation, Duncan Edwards of the Institute of Development Studies challenged the basic assumption that because better data/information is accessible, citizens, governments and institutions will use it in their decision making processes. The common narrative in open development projects is flawed, Edwards claims, it simply cannot be proven that to “provide access to data/information –> some magic occurs –> we see positive change.” 

AidData, along with several other voices, countered that while open data is certainly not sufficient to provoke positive change it is a necessary baseline to catalyze better development outcomes. 

Transparency can only lead to greater social accountability if citizens understand what data means and if there is genuine public debate about a country’s development spending. The panelists at the October 24th Brookings Institution launch of the 2013 ATI report suggested how transparency can catalyze positive change:

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

'Many vested interests benefit from a lack of open government'
Public Leaders Network 

“In the first of a series of interviews with speakers and attendees at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit 2013, we talk to Professor Jonathan Fox, of the school of international service, American University, Washington.

He will moderate a session in which the founding eight OGP countries will present their two-year national action plans as well as reflect on their first progress report from the OGP's independent reporting mechanism. The OGP was launched in 2011, and is aimed at making governments more transparent and accountable.”  READ MORE
 

Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems: Review of an Important New Book

Duncan Green's picture

The last year or so has been a bit quiet in terms of big new books on development, but now they are piling up on my study floor (my usual filing system) – Angus Deaton, Deepak Nayyar, Ben Ramalingam, Nina Munk etc etc. I will review them as soon as I can (or arm-twist better qualified colleagues to do so).

But I thought I’d start off with a nice short one. Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems, by David Booth and Diana Cammack, provides a very readable 140 page summary of the ODI’s Africa Power and Politics Programme, bits of which I have previously discussed on this blog. 140 pages is wonderful – you can read it in a morning and feel a glow of satisfaction for the rest of the day. Think there’s a lesson for me somewhere there…..

The book moves from theory to the APPP’s in-depth national fieldwork in Rwanda, Mali, Niger and Uganda and back again, coming to some uncomfortable conclusions.

The book’s underlying conceptual message is that trying to understand (and reform) African politics on the basis of ‘principal-agent’ thinking has been a disaster. Instead, it is much better to think in terms of ‘collective action problems’. The difference is that the first approach ‘assumes that there are principles that want goods to be provided but have difficulty in getting the agents to perform’.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Mobile phones on the rise in Africa
IT News Africa

“Seven in ten Africans own their own mobile phones, with access essentially universal in Algeria and Senegal, according to Afrobarometer findings from across 34 countries.

The report, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 51,000 people, reveals that 84% use cell phones at least occasionally, a higher level of access than reported previously by the United Nations. Internet use is less common – with only 18% using it at least monthly.

These technological trends are detailed in Afrobarometer’s report, “The Partnership of Free Speech and Good Governance in Africa,” released today at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Nairobi.”  READ MORE
 

Investments to End Poverty Launched: A Goldmine of Killer Facts and Infographics

Duncan Green's picture

Last week saw the launch of the killer fact-tastic inaugural Investments to End Poverty report by Development Initiatives. The report makes the case for aid as an essential part of ‘getting to zero’ on absolute poverty by 2030, but as is increasingly the norm, the report locates aid among the much wider issue of development-related resource flows, both domestic and international. In speed reading mode, I have not yet read the full 330 page monster, but an advance peak at the 10 page ‘highlights’ document provides a goldmine of stats and infographics for many other purposes into the bargain. Some of the ones that jumped out at me:

Depth of African Poverty (see map)
 

Giving the Poor What They Need, Not Just What We Have

David Evans's picture
Recently, this blog discussed a study on cinematic representations of development, highlighting notable films such as Slumdog Millionaire and City of God. Over the weekend, I was reminded that even forgettable films can underline key development lessons. In The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a professional magician engages in international charity work. He explains, “I go to places where children have neither food nor clean water, and I give them magic,” as he passes out magic kits in an unidentified low-income rural community. A journalist asks, “Do you also give them food and clean water?” “Well, no. I’m a magician. I bring magic.” Later, his endeavor failed, the magician returns to the United States and meets an old friend:

“What about the poor?”
“Turns out they didn’t want magic: They just wanted food and clean water.”
“Ugh. Fools!”
 
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

How will Development be Financed? The Eclipse of Aid, and What It Means for Post-2015

Duncan Green's picture

Thanks to Alex Evans for recommending ‘Who Foots the Bill’, a report from the ODI’s Romilly Greenhill and Annalisa Prizzon on trends in development finance. It was published at the end of last year, but somehow I missed it – probably because it is pegged to funding the post-2015 goals, a timesuck discussion I have tried to avoid (without much success).

But actually its value goes way beyond post2015. Here are some highlights:

Conclusions on Financing for Development:

Politically Smart Aid? Of Course! Political Aid? Not So Sure. Guest Post by Tom Carothers and Diane de Gramont

Duncan Green's picture

Thomas Carothers and Diane de Gramont summarize the arguments of their new book on aid and politics

How political is development assistance? How political should it be? These questions provoke divergent reactions within the aid community. For some, being political means using aid to advance geopolitical interests aside from development. Others emphasize the far-reaching political consequences aid can have on recipient countries, from bolstering dubious strongmen to undermining systems of domestic accountability. These two perspectives highlight how aid’s political motivations or side effects can limit its effectiveness in advancing developmental change.

Yet in recent years many development practitioners and scholars have been arguing that aid should become more, not less, political. What do they mean by this? They are not talking about political side effects or prioritizing geostrategic motives. Rather they are referring to efforts by development aid actors intentionally and openly to think and act politically for the purpose of making aid more effective in fostering development.

As we chronicle in our new book, Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution, donors have increasingly incorporated politics into their work in two major ways. First, they now pursue explicit political goals in developing countries, whether expressed as advancing democracy, democratic governance, or effective governance. Second, they are trying to adopt politically smart methods, moving away from the idea of aid as a narrowly technical input to considering it a facilitating agent of local processes of change, which requires aid providers to conduct political analyses, adapt programs to local political contexts, and reach a diverse range of socio-political actors within developing countries.

When/How Does Aid Help Africa’s Public Services Work Better?

Duncan Green's picture

I seem to be spending most of my life at the ODI at the moment, largely because it is producing an apparently endless stream of really useful research papers and seminars. Yesterday saw a combo of the two, as it launched Unblocking Results: using aid to address governance constraints in public service delivery (OK, maybe it still has a thing or two to learn about snappy titles…..).

The starting point for the work is that while there is a vast amount of research on the role of institutions in delivering (or failing to deliver) health, education, water etc, there is very little on the role of aid agencies when things go well. So ODI carried out a positive deviance exercise, identifying 4 success stories out of 60 initial candidates, and then delving into the reasons behind the success.

Will the Post-2015 Report Make a Difference? Depends What Happens Next

Duncan Green's picture

An edited version of this piece, written with Stephen Hale, appeared on the Guardian Poverty Matters site on Friday

Reading the report of the High Level Panel induces a sense of giddy optimism. It is a manifesto for a (much) better world, taking the best of the Millennium Development Goals, and adding what we have learned in the intervening years – the importance of social protection, sustainability, ending conflict, tackling the deepest pockets of poverty, even obesity (rapidly rising in many poor countries). It has a big idea (consigning absolute poverty to the history books) and is on occasion brave (in the Sir Humphrey sense) for example in its commitment to women’s rights, including ending child marriage and violence against women, and guaranteeing universal sexual and reproductive health rights.

The ambition and optimism is all the more welcome for its contrast with the daily grind of austerity, recession and international paralysis (Syria, Climate Change, the torments of the European Union). In response, the report is clearly designed for a no/low cost environment, downplaying the importance of aid, talking up access to data, and revenue raisers like cracking down on tax evasion.


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