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Do ‘media’ and civil society work together well to produce change? (Notes from a CIMA Seminar)

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the untroubled, quotidian quietude of a cloudy morning in Washington DC on Tuesday this week, I walked from World Bank HQ on Pennsylvania Avenue to the offices of the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) on F Street, hoping that the skies above would not open up uproariously and ruin the walk. Happily, they did not, and I made it to the plush offices of CIMA, a think tank within the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). I was there to attend a seminar on: Media and Civic Engagement: From Protests to Dialogue. I had been attracted by both the topic and the panelists: Naomi Hossain of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex, England, Ivana Bajrovic of NED, Tara Susman-Pena of IREX, a major implementing agency in development, and the World Bank’s own Marco Larizza, one of the authors of the World Development Report 2017 on Governance and Law. The session was ably moderated by Nicholas Benequista of CIMA.

You will notice that I put the word media in quotation marks in the title of the piece.  That is because, as often happens in these events, the term at the center of the discussion turned out to be contested. What is media as a subject of intervention and support in international development? It became clear that as the discussion went on that there are those who still think of media in the sense of traditional print and broadcast entities. But there are those --and I am in that group --who think of media in terms of media systems, as in the media ecosystem in a particular country: the totality of the means of communication, how it is structured, owned and governed. There is a normative element here of course; you also want the media system to travel firmly in the direction of pluralism, independence and a capacity to serve as not only an inclusive public forum but as a truculent watchdog. Finally, at the seminar Susman-Pena of IREX was promoting the organization’s intriguing new formulation: Vibrant Information Systems.

What determines whether/how an organization can learn? Interesting discussion at DFID

Duncan Green's picture

I was invited along to DFID last week for a discussion on how organizations learn. There was an impressive turnout of senior civil servents – the issue has clearly got their attention. Which is great because I came away with the impression that they (and Oxfam for that matter) have a long way to go to really become a ‘learning organization’.

So please make allowances in what follows for all the warm, cuddly areas of mutual agreement – I’m going to focus on the areas of disagreement, which are inevitably the most thought-provoking.

To mean anything, learning requires a change both in ideas and behaviours. So what were the theories of change that underpinned the approaches to learning in the room? I found it hard to pin down exactly – they seemed mostly tacit – but a lot of what I heard reminded me of the discussion at Twaweza a couple of years ago. For many present, the tacit theory of change seems to be ‘knowledge → learning → changed behaviours → changed outcomes’. Yeah right.

What we realized at Twaweza was that ‘it’s all in the arrows’. You need to unpack the assumptions and think about what needs to be in place for that theory of change to have any chance of resembling what happens in practice.

Unlocking the transformative power of waterways

Karla Gonzalez Carvajal's picture


Transport history was in the making a few days ago when a Bangladeshi ship carried a consignment of
1,000 tons of steel and iron sheets from the Port of Kolkata in West Bengal to India’s northeastern states, through Bangladesh. This first-ever transshipment of transit goods marked the formal launch of transit trade and transport between India and Bangladesh using a combination of river and land routes. 
 
Senior government officials and top diplomats from both countries, including the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, the Bangladesh Minister and Secretary of Shipping, the Senior Secretary of Commerce, and officials of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, attended an inaugural ceremony to observe the unloading of goods at Ashuganj Port on the bank of the Meghna River, according to media reports. The general cargo terminal at Ashuganj Port will be rehabilitated and modernized under the newly approved regional IDA project to support Bangladesh’s waterways to handle the loading and unloading of large volumes of cargo.

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.

Why those promoting growth need to take politics seriously, and vice versa

Duncan Green's picture

Nicholas Waddell, a DFID Governance Adviser working on ‘Governance for Economic Development’ (G4ED) explores the links between governance and economic growth. 

Should I play it safe and join a governance team or risk being a lone voice in a sea of economists and private sector staff? This was my dilemma as a DFID Governance Adviser returning to the UK after a stint in East Africa. I gambled and joined the growth specialists in DFID’s newly created Economic Development arm.  A year in, I now think differently about the relationship between growth and governance.

Man working inside a large reinforced steel tube, PhilippinesEradicating poverty will not be possible without high and sustained growth that generates productive jobs and brings benefits across society. Historically, this has included boosting productivity within existing sectors as well as rebalancing economies towards more productive sectors (e.g. from agriculture to manufacturing). Such structural change or economic transformation has lifted millions from poverty.

Economic transformation can have a strong disruptive effect on political governance – giving rise, for example, to interest groups that push for accountable leaders and effective institutions. As countries get richer, more effective institutions also become more affordable. Over time, economic transformation can therefore advance core governance objectives.

But this is easier said than done. Economic development is an inherently political process that challenges vested interests. Often the surest ways for elites to hold onto power and profit aren’t in step with measures to spur investment, create jobs and foster growth. Shrewd power politics can be bad economics.

3 big problems with how we think about results and development

Craig Valters's picture

How useful is 'focusing on results' for development work? It may make an organization more cost-efficient but not necessarily more effective as it is usually unrealistic, time-consuming and misleading.  

Justine Greening sees the building of Kerry Town Ebola treatment centre in Sierra LeoneHow do donors aim for “results” without setting up a counterbureaucracy that disrupts rather than encourages good development programs?

A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact report has taken the U.K. Department for International Development to task for doing just that, which in turn demands a serious reconsideration of how DfID thinks about results and accountability.

Of course, these critiques are hardly new. However this isn’t another nongovernmental organization or academic report slating the “results agenda,” but an independent body that has specifically been set up to ensure the effectiveness of aid and — based on 44 previous reports — is providing evidence about how the results agenda unfolds in practice.

In a nutshell, ICAI argues that DfID today knows better than ever before when and where taxpayers’ money is being spent, but not what that spending actually achieves. ICAI found that the results agenda has tended to prioritize short-term economy and efficiency over long-term, sustainable impact. It has brought “greater discipline” and “greater accountability for the delivery of aid” but also a focus on quantity of results over quality.

Not everything ICAI has to say is bad news; but most of it is. The ICAI findings undoubtedly hold broader relevance for other donors who are taking a similar approach to their result agenda.
 

Living with the ‘results agenda’, redux

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

What is the 'results agenda' and how does it relate to transformational change within development? The recent publication of a report from The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), which scrutinizes UK aid spending, has brought these questions to life once again.  Here are some takeaways on the report and the need for systems thinking, accountability, and flexibility from Suvojit Chattopadhyay.

ash transfer payments to women in Freetown, Sierra LeoneCraig Valters’ Devex post, based on yet another newsworthy ICAI report, seems to have somewhat revived the debate over the ‘results agenda'. The criticism is sharper, castigating DFID for the “unintended effect of focusing attention on quantity of results over their quality” – but also one that clearly implies that the ‘results agenda’ is not well-understood or widely shared within donors like DFID. Focusing on ‘results’ cannot mean a divorce from long-term outcomes. What ICAI describes sounds more like an outputs agenda that is transactional (what your money can buy) rather than transformative (the good change).

The consequence of this bean-counting is that complex problems risk being ignored: donors and the partners they fund will tend to focus on projects, rather than systems. Also, genuine accountability along the aid-chain takes a hit due to a general break-down of trust between the different actors. So what can we do about this?
 

Politics, Economists and the Dangers of Pragmatism: Reflections on DFID's Governance and Conflict Conference

Duncan Green's picture

DFID really is an extraordinary institution. I spent Monday and Tuesday at the annual get together one of its professional cadres – about 200 advisers on governance and conflict. They were bombarded with powerpoints from outside speakers (including me), but still found time for plenty of ‘social loafing’, aka networking with their mates. Some impressions:

They are hugely bright and committed, wrestling to get stuff done in some of the most difficult places on the planet, familiar with all the dilemmas of ‘doing aid’ in complex environments that I talk about endlessly on this blog. A visitor muttered about the quality and nuance of discussion compared to the uncritical can-do hubris of much of what they hear in Washington.
 
In fact, since the Australians and Canadians wound up their development departments, DFID looks pretty well unique in the international scene – heroic keeper of the flame or aid’s Lonesome George heading for species extinction? We’ll find out over the next few years.

DFID is Changing its Approach to Better Address the Underlying Causes of Poverty and Conflict – Can it Work? Guest Post from two DFID Reformers

Duncan Green's picture

Aid donors are often maligned for bureaucratic procedures, a focus on short-term results at the expense of longer-term, riskier institutional change, and a technical, managerial approach to aid with insufficient focus on context, power and politics. Are these institutional barriers insurmountable? Can aid agencies create an enabling environment to think and work politically? 

Tom WingfieldTom Wingfield (top) and Pete Vowles (bottom) from DFID’s new ‘Better Delivery Taskforce’ have been trying to do just that. Here’s where they’ve got to.

For the past year DFID has been focussing on these issues and how we can both guard taxpayer’s money and have transformational impact in the countries where we work. The result has been the introduction of a comprehensive set of reforms targeting our process, capability and culture. Pete VowlesThis is about creating the conditions that allow us to better address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict, and respond effectively to the post-2015 agenda. At the heart of the reform is a revamp of DFID’s operating framework (ie the rules and principles which govern our work). Known as the ‘Smart Rules’, it can be downloaded here.

Like any institutional reform, this is a long term change process.  The next 12 months provide a real opportunity to strengthen our partnerships with a wide range of partners and enhance our collective effectiveness.


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