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Policy to research to policy in difficult places

Humanity Journal's picture

This post was written by Alex de Waal, the Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School. It 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, Michael WoolcockMorten Jerven.

UNAMID Police Officer Patrols IDP Camp in DarfurThere’s a commendable search for rigor in social science. But there’s also an illusion that numbers ipso facto represent rigor, and that sophisticated mathematical analysis of the social scientific datasets can expand the realm of explanatory possibilities. Social scientific researchers working in what the Justice and Security Research Programme calls “difficult places”—countries affected by armed conflict, political turbulence and the long-lasting uncertainties that follow protracted crisis—should be extremely cautious before setting off on this path.

There’s a simultaneous search for policy relevance: for bridging the gap between the academy and the executive. We want our research to be useful and to be used; we want policy-makers to listen to us. But we risk becoming entrapped in a self-referential knowledge creating machine.

The holy grail seems to be to emulate economists and epidemiologists, whose highly technical analyses of real world data—and in the case of the latter, double-blind clinical trials—set a gold standard in terms of methodological rigor, alongside a truly enviable record of influencing policy and practice. But before embarking on this quest, it would be advisable to examine what social scientific scholarship might look like, if it actually reached this goal.

Beyond the quest for "policy implications": Alternative options for applied development researchers

Humanity Journal's picture

This post, written by Michael Woolcock, 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 Tapscott and Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo.

Indonesia fills out form on riceMy nomination for development’s ‘Most Insightful, Least Cited’ paper is Ariel Heryanto’s “The development of ‘development.'”[1] Originally written in Indonesian in the mid-1980s, Heryanto’s gem has been cited a mere 79 times (according to Google Scholar), even in its carefully-translated English incarnation. For me, this paper is so wonderful because it makes, in clear and clever ways, two key points that bear endless repetition, especially to today’s junior scholars. The first point is that inference from evidence is never self-evident: significance must always be interpreted through theory. Consider the seemingly obvious fact that the sun rises in the east every morning, he writes. What could be more universally and unambiguously true? The problem, of course, is that the sun does not rise in the east; instead, despite every piece of sensory evidence to the contrary, the earth rotates counterclockwise on its axis and revolves around a stationary sun, making it appear as ifthe sun rises in the east. But we only know this – or, more accurately, claim to know this – because today we happen to have a theory, itself based on more complex forms of observation and theory, that helps us interpret the prevailing evidence, to reconcile it with evidence from analyses of other cosmic phenomena, and thus draw broadly coherent conclusions and inferences.

Heryanto’s second key point is that we are all captives of language, of the limits of any given tongue to convey the subtleties of complex issues. From this premise he proceeds to unpack the clumsy, alluring yet powerful word that in English we call ‘development’, noting that in Indonesian there are at least two very different interpretations of its meaning, and with this, two very different words – perkembangan and pembangunan – connoting two very different teleologies and policy agendas: the former a natural, ‘organic’ process akin to flowers blooming (“software”); the latter to an overt, intentional and ‘constructed’ political project of nation building (“hardware”). When translated into English, however, both perkembangan and pembangunan are typically rendered simply as “development,” thereby collapsing into a singular popular conception what in Indonesian discourse is a distinctly pluralist one. In the opening week of my class at the Kennedy School, which typically has 50 students who between them speak around 30 languages, we begin with a lively discussion of what “development” means in Arabic, Hindi, French, Turkish, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish… It turns out to mean all sorts of things.[2]

I open this way because I think the next article we need in this “genre” – though hopefully one that quickly transcends it because it is both highly insightful and highly cited! – is something akin to what Desai and Tapscott have begun with their ‘Tomayto Tomahto’ paper. In short, echoing Heryanto, we need more development research on development research. Such scholarship, however, would go beyond providing a mere chronology of changing professional styles, methodological emphases and funding characteristics (scale, sources, time horizons, expectations) to explanations of how and why such changes have occurred. Such explanations would be grounded in analyses of the shifting historical experiences and geo-political imperatives different generations of researchers have sought to accommodate, the particular ideas these experiences and imperatives rendered normative, and the concomitant gains and losses these changes have entailed for those finding themselves managing the “trade-offs” (such as they are) between scholarly independence and public utility.

#9 from 2015: A global movement against corruption: It is happening now!

Leonard McCarthy's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 26, 2015.


Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Third Annual International Corruption Hunter AllianceTaking note of headline news in recent weeks, one cannot escape the reality that efforts to fighting corruption are succeeding. A decade ago, success was a privilege to societies who -by virtue of democratic gains- could claim rights to holding public officials accountable. Today, it is not easy to get away with corruption. Not even if you are a major multinational, a senior government official, or an institution with millions of followers across the world.

Within our network- the World Bank International Corruption Hunters Alliance- we feel optimistic about all that is happening to support our mission; that of ensuring every development dollar is spent with integrity. We go to work every day and the focus is how do we prevent bad things from happening. To achieve that at the World Bank Group, we are continually advancing our investigative techniques, our preventive advice, monitoring the compliance standards of debarred entities and engaging with partners across multilateral development banks, national enforcement agencies and CSOs to strengthen this young global movement against corruption. It is critical that this momentum continues to sustain change at a global scale.

Undoubtedly we face a few challenges along the way; some more complex than others, none that cannot be overcome. Last fiscal year, the World Bank prevented approximately $138 million across 20 contracts from being awarded to companies that had attempted to engage in misconduct. This is progress that could not have been achieved without years of investigative experience invested in gathering evidence, recognizing patterns of misconduct, and documenting lessons learnt.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s sovereign bond issuance boom

Rasiel Vellos's picture

The newly released 2016 edition of the International Debt Statistics (IDS) shows a rapid rise in sovereign bond issuance in some Sub-Saharan African countries. This includes those countries that have benefited from Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) debt relief programs.

The chart above shows that sovereign bond issuance in certain Sub-Saharan African countries has risen substantially over the past 4 years. At the end of 2011, bond issuance totaled $1 billion and by the end of 2014, it amounted to $6.2 billion. Steady global market conditions and the potential for higher returns for investors have helped pave the way for more access to international markets, where the average return for these bond issuances is about 6.6%, with an average maturity of 10 years.

For these Sub-Saharan African countries, the proceeds from these sovereign bonds are used to benchmark for future government and corporate bond markets issues, to manage the public debt portfolio, and for infrastructure financing.

Development community rallies on migration and refugee crisis: Upcoming events from the International Organization for Migration, World Bank

Leila Rafei's picture

Recently, I wrote a blog highlighting the latest data trends in refugees and migration data as the global crisis reached unprecedented levels. It’s now two months later and refugee flows continue to swell. In October alone, reports the UNHCR, the total number of refugees reaching Europe matched the total for the entirety of 2014.
 
This week two pertinent conferences will be held by the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration to address the pressing issues surrounding this crisis. First, on December 9 the World Bank and the EU Presidency of Luxembourg held the “Conference on Migration and the Global Development Agenda” at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC. Speakers discussed maximizing benefits and minimizing risks of migration for migrants and host, transit and origin countries. The event was open to the public and was livestreamed

How do developing country decision makers rate aid donors? Great new data (shame about the comms)

Duncan Green's picture

A small business owner, GhanaBrilliant. Someone’s finally done it. For years I’ve been moaning on about how no-one ever asks developing country governments to assess aid donors (rather than the other way around), and then publishes a league table of the good, the bad and the seriously ugly. Now AidData has released ‘Listening To Leaders: Which Development Partners Do They Prefer And Why?’ based on an online survey of 6,750 development policymakers and practitioners in 126 low and middle income countries. To my untutored eye, the methodology looks pretty rigorous, but geeks can see for themselves here.

Unfortunately it hides its light under a very large bushel: the executive summary is 29 pages long, and the interesting stuff is sometimes lost in the welter of data. Perhaps they should have read Oxfam’s new guide to writing good exec sums, which went up last week.

So here’s my exec sum of the exec sum.

Big data to improve transparency and performance of our infrastructure

John Kjorstad's picture

Infrastructure requires a lot of coordination throughout the development, construction, maintenance and day-to-day operations of projects and the systems they operate in. Yet, with all of that sophisticated organization, the easiest and often most overlooked issue is communication and the real-time flow of management information.

October 21st, 2015 was “Back to the Future Day” – the date when time-travelling protagonist Marty McFly from the film "Back to the Future Part II” journeys 30 years from 1985 to 2015 in a souped-up flying DeLorean powered by an environmentally sound waste-to-energy system.

Apart from making me feel old for having arrived in 2015 the traditional way (waiting out the passage of time), the media circus around this unusual anniversary of a future temporarily made present -- which has now passed -- got me thinking about how technology might impact my working life in the coming years. What I envisioned is not revolutionary – you can read about it in a separate blog that I published on LinkedInIn fact, everything I described as occurring in 2020 is currently possible by simply applying existing technologies, coordinating information, and communicating efficiently.

2014 Global Findex microdata provides a closer look at people’s use of financial services

Leora Klapper's picture
We’ve just rolled out the 2014 Global Findex microdata, which features about 1,000 individual-level surveys on financial inclusion for 143 economies worldwide. Check it out at the Findex homepage or in the World Bank's Data Catalogue.
 

 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Freedom on the Net 2015
Freedom House
Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fifth consecutive year, with more governments censoring information of public interest and placing greater demands on the private sector to take down offending content. State authorities have also jailed more users for their online writings, while criminal and terrorist groups have made public examples of those who dared to expose their activities online. This was especially evident in the Middle East, where the public flogging of liberal bloggers, life sentences for online critics, and beheadings of internet-based journalists provided a powerful deterrent to the sort of digital organizing that contributed to the Arab Spring. In a new trend, many governments have sought to shift the burden of censorship to private companies and individuals by pressing them to remove content, often resorting to direct blocking only when those measures fail.
 
The hidden digital divide
SciDev.Net
Data is fast becoming the universal currency that defines personal status and business success. Those with unlimited access to information have a clear economic and social advantage over those for whom it is not readily to hand. For example, people who can go online can access education and the global marketplace more easily. They also have the political knowledge to demand transparency from their government. When the term digital divide was coined in the 1990s, it simply referred to the growing inequality between people with any type of internet access and those without. On this basis, clear gaps were visible between rich and poor countries, between cities and rural communities.
 

A global movement against corruption: It is happening now!

Leonard McCarthy's picture

Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Third Annual International Corruption Hunter AllianceTaking note of headline news in recent weeks, one cannot escape the reality that efforts to fighting corruption are succeeding. A decade ago, success was a privilege to societies who -by virtue of democratic gains- could claim rights to holding public officials accountable. Today, it is not easy to get away with corruption. Not even if you are a major multinational, a senior government official, or an institution with millions of followers across the world.

Within our network- the World Bank International Corruption Hunters Alliance- we feel optimistic about all that is happening to support our mission; that of ensuring every development dollar is spent with integrity. We go to work every day and the focus is how do we prevent bad things from happening. To achieve that at the World Bank Group, we are continually advancing our investigative techniques, our preventive advice, monitoring the compliance standards of debarred entities and engaging with partners across multilateral development banks, national enforcement agencies and CSOs to strengthen this young global movement against corruption. It is critical that this momentum continues to sustain change at a global scale.

Undoubtedly we face a few challenges along the way; some more complex than others, none that cannot be overcome. Last fiscal year, the World Bank prevented approximately $138 million across 20 contracts from being awarded to companies that had attempted to engage in misconduct. This is progress that could not have been achieved without years of investigative experience invested in gathering evidence, recognizing patterns of misconduct, and documenting lessons learnt.

Today, we are able to support project teams to make smarter risk-based interventions. Whether at  project design, supervision and/or evaluation; our diverse team of investigators and forensic/preventive specialists offer a solid interpretation of red flags, unusual/awkward behavior by contractors, in addition to an effective response to allegations of misconduct impacting World Bank-financed projects.


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