Taking politics seriously
The idea political incentives play a powerful role in development—creating opportunities for change in some contexts, frustrating efforts in others—is not a new one. For many years now, academics and aid agencies have acknowledged that the uptake and impact of best practice reforms depends, in part, on the incentives of leaders and citizens, on formal and informal institutional arrangements, on historical legacies and structural drivers. And as a result, many aid agencies have made efforts to “take politics seriously.”
Taking politics seriously
The post-conflict literature amongst practitioners (including the Bank’s WDR 2011 and the OECD’s INCAF) has increasingly focussed on the role of ‘inclusive enough’ political settlements as a precondition for political stability and economic growth. What does this mean? Can an understanding of political settlements help mould the Bank’s responses to moments of crisis in our client countries or inform our “business as usual” operations in countries where the seeds of future violence are apparent or looming? How do we recognize tenuous settlements, where grievances are likely to lead to an outbreak of, or return to, widespread conflict?
The WDR 2004 report certainly puts politics centre stage. Ten years on, the picture remains the same: where there’s any form of accountability relationship, there is some form of politics. A key insight of the WDR 2004 report was the trio of accountability relationships for service delivery and demand for improvement involving citizens, service providers and the government.
Some 1.5 billion people live in fragile states, “a group of countries at the bottom that are falling behind, and often falling apart” (The Bottom Billion, Collier, 2007). These states are marked by repeated cycles of violence, and weak institutional capacity and an inability to deliver basic services to their citizens.
On Friday last week I attended the final session of the United Nations Open Working Group – the body tasked with putting together global development priorities to replace the Millennium Development Goals. The session covered rule of law, along with peace and governance.
- Law and Regulation
We are curating a new monthly series on Digital Gov in developing countries seeking fresh perspectives and insights into the policy, institutional, and technical dimensions of using technology and public management to make services work for businesses and citizens.
Over a cup of tea, on a January afternoon of freezing rain, Emily, who works on Digital for the US Government, and I met to exchange perspectives on what it takes for governments to get digital right. Although our contexts are vastly different, we agreed that there remain similar pain points in the developed and developing world. In the first edition of the Digital Gov. blog, we consider factors common to good digital service delivery.
Sometimes, development approaches work. Policies are adopted, implemented, and – perhaps not perfectly, but overall – have the expected effects. Sometimes, they don’t work. Policies are debated and delayed for years. They are undermined during implementation, are quickly back-tracked in the face of stronger-than-expected opposition, or are implemented, but end up triggering negative and unexpected consequences. There are also constraints related to fiscal resources and capacity. However, political economy dynamics often play a decisive role with regards to whether these constraints are addressed, or conversely, remain in place.
King James had it right early on. “All Treasurers, if they do good service to their masters, must be generally hated”, he remarked after he couldn’t protect his own treasurer Lionel Cranfield from being thrown into the Tower of London in chains. Cranfield had made too many powerful enemies by opposing an expensive war the treasury couldn’t afford. His many successors through the ages can probably relate without too much difficulty.
The World Bank is in the middle of restructuring itself into fourteen 'global professional practices.' One of them will be governance. At the moment, its orientation and its priorities are still in the melting pot.
I took my first bird flight over London on Friday courtesy of Pigeon Sim, an app developed at University College of London that simulates flying over the city, drawing on real time environmental data, such as air pollution levels. This was one of many attention grabbing displays within the Festival of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Annual Summit. The conference provided a similarly dizzying overview of the terrain of open government.