“There has been a broad recognition amongst economists that “institutions matter”: poor countries are not poor because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions”. Francis Fukuyama, the Origins of Political Order, Vol 1 (2009)
For development professionals, there is no getting away from the fact that politics shapes the environments in which we work—that our programs can and do fail when we don’t take politics into account. But despite growing evidence that political economy analysis (PEA) can contribute to new ways of working and ultimately better results, the politics agenda remains what Thomas Carothers calls an “almost revolution” in mainstream development practice.
There are many factors at play: limited staff capacity to engage with politics, bureaucratic incentives to meet lending targets, a preference for best practice solutions and institutional blueprints. Many continue to argue that it is not the business of development banks or aid agencies to analyse politics, let alone act on key findings. This resistance is posited on several arguments—or myths—which I address below.
The World Bank
This year will see a major milestone with the adoption of sustainable development goals (SDGs) by the UN’s member states. Expanding on the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000, the currently envisioned 17 SDGs are aiming to address broader, transformative economic, environmental and social changes. For the first time, however, the centrality of justice in achieving sustainable development has been recognized in the Open Working Group’s proposed Goal 16:
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
, but one that will pose many challenges. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has put his support behind the inclusion of justice as a central pillar for achieving sustainable development.
“Transparency is the best antidote to conspiracy theories.”
Robert B. Zoellick. As quoted in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012. Why We Still Need the World Bank – Looking Beyond Aid.
A few weeks ago, I was wrestling with how to frame the narrative on the open development agenda—open data, open knowledge, open solutions – at the Bank. The work in this area has multiplied across the Bank and for many it was a bit bewildering – lots of new initiatives, interesting ideas, experimental projects – and so it was important to explain in a simple and compelling way how all of these pieces fit together.
I drew in a number of colleagues working on open data and open knowledge to discuss and think about ways to do this. We agreed that Open Development properly executed should allow us to ask and answer 3 basic questions:
This question may have been hard to respond in the affirmative some years back, as Civil Society Organization representatives were still a rare sight at the Bank. It may be hard to believe today, but 20 years ago visiting CSOs had to be physically escorted throughout the buildings, and it was not uncommon for some CSOs to be refused entry. Today, CSOs are actively welcomed and some even have long-term building passes to facilitate their daily meetings at the Bank. As a matter of fact, the recently concluded Annual Meetings represented a milestone for CSO presence at the Bank. Not only was it the largest gathering of CSOs in a Washington-based AMs, but CSO leaders were invited, for the first time, to participate in the official Opening Plenary.
There is growing Bank – CSO policy dialogue occurring via blogs which is generating unexpected thoughtful and frank exchange of views. The most recent case was a few weeks back when Justin Lin, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, was invited to be a guest blogger on the “From Poverty to Power” blog page maintained by Oxfam/GB’s Head of Research, Duncan Green. The exchange was on Justin’s recent paper "Growth Identification and Facilitation" on the role governments play in promoting economic growth. Many CSOs, such as Oxfam, feel that the Bank is undergoing a paradigm shift by now providing developing countries with more ‘policy space’ to design their own economic plans, including industrial policies to support nascent industries.
On November 17, 2009 the Board of the World Bank approved a new policy that will help strengthen the norm of transparency in governance in the global system. It is the Access to Information Policy. The new policy goes into effect on July 1, 2010. The following elements of the policy are notable:
I was asked to join forces with other bloggers to blog on Blog Action Day (October 15) and write about Poverty. What better platform than the World Bank’s People, Spaces, Deliberation blog? I encourage others to do the same.