For World Bank staff, it’s the announcement on the intranet: at a rate of about once a month, missions are being suspended to some country. All upcoming trips to the concerned country are being cancelled. Sometimes, the events – a disputed presidential election, riots against rising food prices, an increase in bus fares or the price of electricity, or a sudden clash between different ethnicities who previously seemed to live together peacefully – makes international news. At other times, the country concerned is too obscure and the instability is either too short-lived or too recurrent and there is barely a mentioning in the media.
The history of the power sector in Lao PDR is relatively new. 15 years ago, Laos counted with just a couple of large hydropower plants, and a meager 16% of the households throughout the country counted with electricity access, mostly concentrated in Vientiane, the capital city, and few provincial towns such as Luang Prabang and Savannakett.
Infrastructures needed an urgent push to help the economy start up and reduce the extreme poverty rates of the population. During the beginning of the 90’s, several donors including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) began different infrastructure development programs, including roads, water supply and electrification.
The third and final day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance' (Cape Town, South Africa) looked to the future. But, in a sense, it was not possible to look ahead without looking back at the same time. Again and again, participants reflected on the amazing road already travelled. Stories were told of the time when the World Bank and other donors would not discuss the terrible scourge of corruption in developing countries, let alone the role of politics and political institutions in either enabling or hampering development results. Yet now, all these things are part of not only the agenda but concrete practice in the field. A director summed up the state of play succinctly:
“Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” by Atul Gawande seems an unlikely place to find governance reform ideas and development inspiration but I found both therein last week. The book was recommended by a dear colleague who knows of my interest in organizational change. An accomplished non-fiction writer "Atul Gawande, a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, is a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.” He tackles the “universal struggle to perform well” through the eyes of a surgeon. Along the way we are introduced to countless examples of organizational seizure, organizational change and the people at the center of these operations.
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Culture and Development
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Tufts University
- The New Yorker
- positive deviance
- organizational change
- MacArthur Fellow
- Institite of Development Studies
- Harvard School of Public Health
- Harvard Medical School
- Centre for the Future State
- Atul Gawande
- An upside down view of governance
There are so many things in the world that need fixing, don't you think? More people need health insurance - but not from my money! Refugees need space and facilities in order to live halfway decently - but not in my backyard! Religious groups have the right to open their centers wherever they want - but not in my neighborhood!
It's a common public phenomenon - NIMBY, Not In My Backyard. It's a hurdle for many reforms: people opposing reasonable reforms because they don't want to have to deal with the consequences or pay the price. We don't want to pay higher taxes in order to cover a national reform that benefits a large number of people. We don't want certain groups of people in our neighborhoods (might bring property values down!). We do want to help, but preferably without having to do something about it. It's rather understandable - after all, we have our own interests to look after. If we don't, who will?
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will know that we in CommGAP are interested in learning how to change social norms for better governance and accountability. In a forthcoming paper, I will take a closer look at the journey of norms in development; how they emerge, become global norms and diffuse to local contexts. In reviewing global advocacy campaigns that led to transformational and normative change, it’s hard to ignore one of the most successful and important reform movements of the 19th century, namely the UK’s Anti-Slavery Campaign. How did the campaign manage to change such deeply entrenched norms as slave trade and slavery throughout the British Empire in some 50 years? Clearly, it’s a unique case that involved many institutional and environmental factors, and it would be impossible to cover all of them in a single blog post. However, the campaign would not have succeeded if it wasn’t for a number of critical components that are of great interest to what we are learning about social norms and successful reforms.
For two days last month (June 21-22) CommGAP and the Governance Practice in the World Bank Institute organized a workshop on the theme: The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action. In attendance were practitioners and academics from around the world, including several leading donor agencies. While the insights from the very productive workshop are being organized - they will be made available as soon as they are ready - I want to share this report regarding an unanticipated leitmotif of the meeting.
Without prompting, several donor agency officials, and they were senior ones, turned their attention to the challenges posed to reform efforts by the behavior of donor bureaucrats. I have just been through the notes I took during the meeting, and what follows are some of the comments that were made. The meeting took place under Chatham House rules, so no names will be mentioned here:
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Browsing bills, bill and veto jackets and state contracts is not exactly my idea of a good time but it has its use, just ask the people of the State of New York where SunlightNY.com is promoting access, reform and accountability in both English and Spanish. Created largely by the Office of the Attorney General and Blair Horner, a leading advocate for government transparency who was on loan to the office from the New York Public Interest Research Group, SunlightNY.com is an innovative approach to keeping the public engaged in government. An approach that’s seems to have no equal in the US.
- United States
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Public Sector and Governance
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Transparancy & Accoutnability Project Minnesota
- Texas Transparency
- state contracts
- Project Sunlight
- NYS Attorney General
- New York State Public Interest Research Group
- elected officials
- digitial democracy
- developing world
- campaign finance
- Blair Horner
An important new book tells the story of a tradition of governance reform. The book is The Logic of Discipline: Global Capitalism and the Structure of Government. The author is Alasdair Roberts, the Jerome L. Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School.
According to Roberts:
"The logic of discipline is a reform philosophy built on the criticism that standard democratic processes for producing policies are myopic, unstable, and skewed towards special interests and not the public good. It attempts to make improvements in governance through changes in law that impose constraints on elected officials and citizens, often by shifting power to technocrat-guardians who are shielded from political influence." (p. 135).
These Spring Meetings will probably be remembered for the capital increase – the first in 20 years – and the historic changes to the voice and representation of developing countries within the Bank. They are important milestones, and deserve to be recognized. But something much more profound is happening within the Bank, something that historians will look back on and regard as a pivotal moment in the organization’s evolution.
The key to understanding what is underway is Mr. Zoellick’s speech to the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 14. This was probably the most important speech by a Bank president since McNamara’s Nairobi speech of 1973 – even more important, I would argue, than Mr. Wolfensohn’s 1996 speech on corruption. For the first time in many years, the Bank is at the leading edge of thinking about global trends. Mr. Zoellick’s blunt declaration that the era of the Third World is over and a new, more complex arrangement is emerging, challenges everyone at the Bank and everyone working in development to think and act differently. It sets in context why the reforms underway across many areas of the Bank are really necessary, why we need a new approach to investment lending, to knowledge, to our location and operation as a global bank.
The end of the Third World does not mean that there are no poor countries, or that all countries are equally advantaged. It means the landscape has changed so much that our thinking and behavior must shift. To think of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Malaysia as developing countries seems anachronistic. Yes they have poverty and challenges, but… “developing”? They play a regional and global role of real significance. They have civil servants, academics and businesspeople as skilled as (and many more skilled than) World Bank staff. Developing just doesn’t capture it.