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Governance

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

Is technology good or bad in the fight against corruption?

Victoria L. Lemieux's picture



Consider that as much as $1 trillion vanishes from the developing world’s economies every year, according to an estimate by the non-profit group Global Financial Integrity.  Now consider that, according to OECD figures, in 2012-2013 Net Overseas Development Aid was $134 billion.  These figures underscore why the fight against corruption and ending impunity are critical to the goals of ending poverty and achieving shared prosperity. 

In December of 2014 the World Bank hosted the 3rd Biennial International Corruption Hunters’ Alliance meeting focused on fighting corruption - and the vast illicit outflows generated by corruption - to share know-how and experiences in the use of both traditional and alternative corruption fighting approaches.

Though there were many examples of the successful use of technology to fight corruption presented at the meeting, a report (pdf) published from one of the sessions raises questions about whether technology always supports anti-corruption efforts. 

Dr. Anne Thurston of the International Records Management Trust spoke about problems that are arising as governments become more reliant on the use of ICTs: digital media deteriorate, software changes, and hardware becomes obsolete. The risk is that if digital records are not managed professionally, their integrity and value as legal evidence can become compromised. 

Public financial management reforms: determined by conditions or resulting from the right approach?

Verena Fritz's picture



Reforms of public financial management (PFM) systems – pursued by many countries and supported by development partners -- have attracted quite a bit of debate and analysis in recent years. Significant variation in progress achieved and lack of broad-based and sustained improvements in metrics of PFM performance, as reflected in CPIA ratings and PEFA scores, suggest to many observers that outcomes have not matched reform efforts and expectations. 

This has led to a search for better solutions in two directions. First, grounding reform efforts in stronger problem analysis, and based on this, developing a better fit of reform approaches to specific country circumstances. Second, seeking a better understanding of non-technical aspects and, in particular, the role of political economy drivers in influencing which PFM reforms are pursued where and with what degree of success. ‘Doing things differently’ along these lines sounds promising – but reformers and development partners may well question whether we know enough to pursue such alternative approaches on a wider scale. 

Technical Education in India: What Makes Good Governance “Good”?

Jessica Lee's picture


During a recent trip to India, we met with Professor Anil Sahasrabudhe, a dynamic, positive man who will likely remind you of a favorite uncle. In 2004, he was in the less satisfactory position of being director at the College of Engineering in Pune (COEP), located 150 km southeast of Mumbai. At that time, the institution had no financial or academic autonomy, no governance structure, and no administrative freedom. Ten years later, in 2014, the institution had turned around, garnering national awards and recognition. What helped spark the change? While several factors made an impact, Professor Sahasrabudhe mentions good governance first.

Blog Post of the Month: Quest For Green, Clean, and True Sport For All

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.

In January 2015, the leader of the pack was Leszek Sibilski's post, "Quest For Green, Clean, and True Sport For All", which covers the corruption of international sport.

Leszek elaborates that, "Due to its size and global reach, two types of corruption plague contemporary sport:
  1. On-the-field corruption by athletes, team officials, referees, and the entourage, for example through hooliganism, doping, and match fixing; and
  2. Off-the-field corruption by sport managers, sponsoring organization officials, and operators through, for example, bribed decisions, rigged contracts, misuse of authority, influence peddling and insider information."

He believes that "both types of corruption are detrimental to the integrity of sport and create unacceptable situations for states and society at large, including money laundering, kickbacks, illegal betting, public health issues, and human trafficking."

So what can be done to alleviate this problem?  Read the post to find out!
 

The importance of open aid data to open governance

Daniel Nogueira-Budny's picture
                                                  
Community Meeting in Indonesia


Open governance is about ensuring that citizens are able to engage with their governments and that those governments are then willing and able to respond to citizen demands. This, in turn, should lead to socially-inclusive economic development and more effective and efficient service delivery, improving the lives of citizens. But how can citizens fully hold their governments accountable without access to—and comprehension of—government data?

The real challenge for fostering open governance lies in promoting transparency among the various sources of funding that make up a country’s public investment portfolio. Without a clear breakdown of their governments’ resources, citizens cannot engage in informed policy or decision-making discussions.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Discarding Democracy: A Return to the Iron Fist- Freedom in the World 2015
Freedom House
For the ninth consecutive year, Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual report on the condition of global political rights and civil liberties, showed an overall decline. Indeed, acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any point in the last 25 years.  Even after such a long period of mounting pressure on democracy, developments in 2014 were exceptionally grim. The report’s findings show that nearly twice as many countries suffered declines as registered gains, 61 to 33, with the number of gains hitting its lowest point since the nine-year erosion began.
 
Digital Inclusion: The Vital Role of Local Content
Innovations, MIT Press
The journal features cases authored by exceptional innovators; commentary and research from leading academics; and essays from globally recognized executives and political leaders.  The current issue contains lead essays entitled “Building a Foundation for Digital Inclusion”, “Inequitable Distributions in Internet Geographies”, and “To the Next Billion”.  It also includes case narratives entitled “A Mobile Guide Toward Better Health” and “A Social Network for Farmer Training” and more.

'It’s the Trust, Stupid!' The Influence of Non-Quantifiable Factors on Policymaking

Steve Utterwulghe's picture



Should trust be something that policymakers need to worry about? I started reflecting on this question after I came across the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer. It suggests that 80% of the people surveyed in 27 markets distrust governments, business or both (see figure 1).

A staggering number, to say the least. The year 2014 did not spare us from economic, geopolitical and environment turmoil. Nonetheless, the trend over the last few years has been a growing distrust in our leadership, despite the fact that progress has been made in the three main pillars of trust: integrity, transparency and engagement. More needs to be done, it seems.

Figure1. Trust in business and government, 2015



As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist and poet, wrote: “Our distrust is very expensive.” The lack of trust in our government affects policies and reforms, and thus damages the overall economic environment. Investors will lack confidence and shy away. Growth will stagnate, sustainable jobs won’t be created, and trust in government will erode even further. A vicious circle is being created.

Professor Dennis A. Rondinelli, lately of Duke University, argues: “What are called 'market failures' are really policy failures. The problems result from either the unwillingness or inability of governments to enact and implement policies that foster and support effective market systems.” Distrust thus influences policymakers in multiple ways: They will either adopt bad policies, or overregulate. A study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that “government regulation is strongly negatively correlated with measures of trust.”  “Distrust creates public demand for regulation, whereas regulation in turn discourages formation of trust. . . . Individuals in low-trust countries want more government intervention even though they know the government is corrupt” (see figure 2).

Figure 2. Distrust and regulation of entry. Regulation is measured by the (ln)-number of procedures to open a firm.
Sources: World Values Survey and Djankov et al. (2002).




The evaporation of trust in government institutions requires that governments and development agencies rebuild trusted institutions. However, it also behooves all of “society’s stakeholders” to rebuild trust among themselves and “engage.”

Integrity and transparency are two of the pillars of trust that have received a lot of attention during the past decade. Indeed, tackling corruption and ensuring transparency have been at the top of the institutional and corporate development agenda. The third pillar, engagement, has been more rhetorical or grossly underestimated.

A prerequisite for inclusive and responsive policymaking is that citizens use their voice and engage constructively with government institutions. As we have seen, increasing social and political trust helps market economies function more effectively. In turn, sound economic policies foster social and political trust. In recent years, the practice of structured public-private dialogue (PPD) has helped the private sector and other stakeholders engage in an inclusive and transparent way with governments. PPD mechanisms have resulted in better identification, design and implementation of good regulations and policy reforms intended to create an improved investment climate and increase economic growth. As a result, this process has built mutual trust between institutions and business.

Confidence-building has been most critical in post-conflict and conflict-affected states where deep mistrust among stakeholders is prevalent. That topic will be discussed in greater depth at our 2015 Fragility Forum’s session on public-private and multi-stakeholder dialogue, coming up on February 13. Foreshadowing the Fragility Forum, a panel discussion in Preston Auditorium on Monday, February 2 – featuring, among others, Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who is the author of  “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” – will focus on "Corruption: A Driver of Conflict."
 
In an age of distrust, this type of policy reform – through multi-stakeholder engagement – is not an obvious exercise. The economist Albert Hirschman claims that “moving from public to private involvements is very easy because any single individual can do it alone. Moving from private to public involvements is far harder because we first have to mobilize a lot of people to construct the public sphere.” But the increase of PPD platforms across the world  the WBG Trade & Competitiveness’ Global PPD Team currently supports 47 PPD projects worldwide  suggests that there is an appetite for engagement among citizens, business and governments alike.

Trust can be slowly restored by, among other things, designing adequate interventions such as PPD mechanisms. By their inherent iterative process of discovery, collaborative identification of issues and joint problem-solving, PPDs can activate favorable mental models of stakeholders. According to the 2015 World Development Report on "Mind, Society and Behavior," these “mental models can make people better off.” I would argue that these mental models drawn from their societies and shared histories can help build trust as well.
 
Trust matters for policymakers. Ultimately, it matters for all citizens. Designing interventions and offering a safe space where stakeholders can engage with governments in an inclusive and transparent fashion will go a long way toward restoring that valuable trust.
 

Innovation in procurement: why and how

Enzo de Laurentiis's picture
Photo: © Arne Hoel/The World Bank

For governments to carry out their day-to-day functions, procurement -- or their ability to purchase goods and services -- is critical. It is both a service function and a strategic policy tool which can help achieve a broad range of social and economic welfare objectives. It cuts across all areas of public administration and builds on cooperation among multiple public and private stakeholders.

For procurement to better contribute to institutional effectiveness, then, it needs to innovate. Promoting innovation in procurement means processes that are transparent and efficient, and that facilitate equal access and open competition. Innovative solutions to public service needs are instrumental to delivering better services with long-term value for money.

Means versus ends: Deconstructing the Sustainable Development Goals and the role of identification

Mariana Dahan's picture
The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The United Nations recently released a report that synthesizes the full range of inputs received from various stakeholders. These inputs, among which the ones from the World Bank Group, are a substantive contribution to the intergovernmental negotiations in the lead up to the September 2015 Summit that will officially launch the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

But today, with 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs are a big mouthful for the global development community to chew on, let alone to digest. Some see a risk that they will be simply unimplementable.

However, the problem becomes a little more manageable if we reflect on the means towards the goals. Not all of the goals are unrelated. Measures towards some targets can open up new ways to achieve others. 

Consider, for example, target 16.9: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. These are actually two different, though related, targets as explained in the recent working paper by the Center for Global Development. Regardless the modalities to achieve it, the recognition of legal identity – together with its associated rights – is becoming a priority for governments around the world. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would urge states to ensure that all have free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.[1]

With legal identity – including name, nationality and recognized family relationships – one of the basic human rights set out in the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be achieved and target 16.9 can stand on its own merits.

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