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Collective Action

Sue Unsworth’s ‘upside down’ view

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Sue UnsworthSue Unsworth’s work provides us a wealth of knowledge on governance and institutional change, stemming largely from her ‘upside down’ view of the conventional reality of the aid world. Here is a quick peek into some of her work – particularly, insights into how donor-approaches should evolve to engage successfully with politics.

Sue’s work with David Booth – captured in this paper, Politically smart, locally led development – presents seven case studies of problem-driven approaches that provide important lessons to donors, as well as a clear message that merely using new terminology without actually changing the ‘ways of working will not yield results. The authors suggest that chasing ‘international best practices’ often lead to imagined solutions that do not address the problem at hand.

"…for politically smart, locally led approaches to become the norm, a more radical shift is needed in the way donors conceive development challenges and their role in addressing them. They need to abandon oversimplified concepts of ‘ownership’ and ‘partnership’, and unrealistic assumptions about the scope for outsiders to lead transformational change"

Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Deliberation and Development book coverIf you’re interested in advancing sustainable development for the world’s poor, pause a moment to reflect on these two quotes:

“the very understanding of development has dramatically shifted, from a narrow focus on economic transformation (summarized by either growth rates or industrialization) to a more holistic view.” (pg. 4)

“Effective state structures have always depended on deliberative spaces that include both key actors within the state apparatus and powerful private interlocutors. In the 21st century, deliberation has become even more crucial, because the state faces a set of tasks that require bringing in deliberation in a way that goes well beyond established traditions.” (pg.51)

These ideas come from a new book, Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies, available in the World Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository. The book marries two fields that rarely intersect: deliberative democracy and development studies. The study of deliberation emerged as a critical area of study over the past two decades while the field of development has seen growing interest in community-led development and participation premised on the ability of groups to arrive at decisions and manage resources via a process of discussion and debate. Despite the growing interest in both fields, however, they have rarely engaged with one another– until now.

Patrick Heller and Vijayendra Rao edited the book, with essays from leading professors and economists working in the fields of international studies, sociology, and political science. 

MOOC? Engaging citizens: A game changer for development?

Utpal Misra's picture

MOOC posterOften it is the simple things that make major impacts, and engaging citizens for better development results is a very simple concept. However, at a time when participatory approaches such as crowdsourcing, feedback, transparency and citizen engagement are increasingly popular and seemingly effective, we are bound to ask if engaging citizens does in fact improve development results.  As simple as the concept of citizen engagement is, designing and implementing successful citizen engagement approaches and interventions in practice is especially complex.

Is citizen engagement a game changer for development? The World Bank, in partnership with London School of Economics (LSE), Oversees Development Institute (ODI), Participedia and CIVICUS, explores this question in a free 5-week course on Citizen Engagement, hosted by the World Bank Group Open Learning Campus, envisioned as a single destination for development learning.  

The course provides a holistic overview of citizen engagement through interactive videos, resources, and activities. It explores underlying theories and concepts of citizen engagement, examines the role it can play in improving policymaking and public service delivery, and investigates the impact of new technologies, particularly in developing countries.

Five steps for reorienting governance work in development

David Booth's picture

Men carrying railroad track in MadagascarIn response to feedback he received on a recent post on the myths of governance in development, David Booth of ODI offers some ways to reorient governance work for more effective change.

My Five myths blog questioned several assumptions about governance and development that continue to influence the international agenda despite having little basis in research or historical experience. The animated debate that followed has confirmed that it is a good time to be raising these issues. It also challenged me to spell out some of the practical recommendations flowing from this necessary ground-clearing.

I believe five steps would take us a long way towards a governance-for-development practice with solid grounding in evidence and experience.

Quote of the Week: Yuval Noah Harari

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Everybody since the ‘60s has been saying the nation is a fiction, the nation is an imaginary unity, but people didn’t connect the dots and say all human endeavors sprang from the same principle.” 

- Yuval Noah Harari, author of the international bestseller Sapiens. He is a professor and lectures at the Department of History, Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Bits and Atoms: Limited Statehood and Digital Technology

CGCS's picture
Steven Livingston, a Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs at George Washington University, discusses his upcoming book Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood.

Much of the development, governance and more general international affairs literatures speak of failed or fragile states when describing a breakdown of governance capacity.[1] In Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood Gregor Walter-Drop of the Freie Universität Berlin and I use a different formulation. We provide a more nuanced conceptual foundation for thinking about the nature of statehood and how digital technologies might serve to ameliorate the effects of what we call limited statehood. Following Max Weber, statehood is characterized by a monopoly on the means of violence, the ability to make and impose binding rules, and by the effective provisioning of public goods. An area of limited statehood is defined by the absence of some or all of these qualities.

As Thomas Risse and his colleagues have argued, limited statehood has at least three manifestations. It can be territorial, limited to a particular geographical space within the larger context of the sovereign borders of an otherwise consolidated state. The urban slums of Nairobi, Lagos, or Rio are territorial areas of limited statehood, confined spaces where basic public goods – clear water, sanitation, security, and infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks — are missing. Limited statehood can also be sectoral, limited to specific policy areas where the governance capacity of the state falls short. And it can be temporal, where an otherwise fully consolidated state suffers a temporary loss of governance capacity. Disasters in this respect constitute a governance stress test, measuring the governance capacity of state institutions. When Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines in November, destroying everything in its path, the Philippines government was overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge found in restoring order and providing for basic public services. In much the same way, the Japanese government was overwhelmed by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The tsunami added to the burden when it caused level 7+ meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans fits this category “in the sense that U.S. authorities were unable to enforce decisions and to uphold the monopoly over the means of violence for a short period of time.”[2] These examples make clear that even fully consolidated states such as Japan and the United States can experience periods of limited statehood.

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’.

When the People Say Yes and the Leaders Say No

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Does the state of public opinion on a public policy issue create obligations for political leaders, obligations they ignore at their peril? This is an issue being debated in the United States right now about a specific public policy controversy – gun control – but the core issue applies everywhere. In the specific case of the United States, many readers will know that there was an attempt to pass legislation requiring background checks before you can buy guns online or at gun shows. The legislation was blocked in the US Senate in spite of the fact that opinion polls say again and again that 90 per cent of Americans polled support the measure. So, the question is being asked and debated: how can 90% of the people support a measure and it does not become law? Very often the question is asked with real heat. Now, we are not going to get into the Byzantine complexities of American politics. What I am interested in is bringing to your attention what professional political scientists who blog have been saying about the core, universally relevant issue: does the state of public opinion create unavoidable obligations for political leaders?

In a couple of blog posts Jonathan Bernstein (he writes the excellent A Plain Blog about Politics) offers the following insights:

What is Social and Solidarity Economy and Why Does It Matter?

Duncan Green's picture

UNRISD Deputy Director Peter Utting introduces the theme of his organization’s big conference in May.

Having had my professional and political interests shaped during the somewhat heady days of the 1980s in Sandinista Nicaragua, I’ve long been interested in the potential and limits of collective action—of people organizing and mobilizing through associations, unions, cooperatives, community organizations, fairtrade networks and so on. The Sandinista “revolution” soon gave way to the “neoliberal” 1990s. As in much of the world, collective action went on the backburner or assumed new forms via NGO networks and identity politics. Fast forward two decades and we are witnessing a significant rebound in collective action associated with workers, producers and consumers. Whether in response to global crises (finance and food), the structural conditions of precarious employment or new opportunities for cultural expression and social interaction afforded by the internet age, old and new forms are on the rise.

The term social and solidarity economy (SSE) is increasingly being used to refer to a broad range of organizations that are distinguished from conventional for-profit enterprise, entrepreneurship and informal economy by two core features. First, they have explicit economic AND social (and often environmental) objectives. Second, they involve varying forms of co-operative, associative and solidarity relations.  They include, for example, cooperatives, mutual associations, NGOs engaged in income generating activities, women’s self-help groups, community forestry and other organizations, associations of informal sector workers, social enterprise and fair trade organizations and networks.

Why Don’t People in Power Do the Right Thing - Supply, Demand or Collective Action Problem? And What Do We Do about It?

Duncan Green's picture

My last few days have been dominated by conversations around ‘convening and brokering’, including an exchange between assorted ODI wonks and a bunch of NGOs on the findings of the Africa Power and Politics Programme, and a ‘webinar’ (ugh), with our Latin American staff on the nature of ‘leverage’ (a closely associated development fuzzword). Last week, I set out the best example of this approach that I’ve found to date, the Tajikistan water and sanitation network. Today it’s some overall conclusions from the various discussions.

David Booth from ODI described the question he is trying to answer as ‘why don’t people in power do the right thing?’ He thinks aid agencies (both official and NGOs) have moved from thinking that the answer is building capacity in government (supply side) to strengthening the voice of citizens to demand better services (demand side), but argues that both approaches are wrong.

The mistake, he argues is seeing power as a zero sum game, whereas often the barrier to progress is better seen as a collective action problem: ‘doing the right thing involves cooperating with others and people aren’t prepared to take risks and bear the costs of working with others, unless they believe that everyone else will do so too.’

That requires a different approach, getting everyone into a room to build trust and find joint solutions to a common problem.