We like to think of doctors and teachers as knights in shining armor, focused purely on our well-being, without regard for profit or other personal interests. The reality, we know, is more complicated. Doctors, teachers, and even World Bankers, are motivated by a range of internal and external factors, from altruism through to self-interest.
The technocratic (and ideological) ‘best practice’ approach to development intervention is indeed bankrupt. The world badly needs more imaginative and effective ways of engaging with the stubborn realities of governance in poor developing countries. As Brian Levy has argued, ‘working with the grain in a way that takes institutions and politics into account’ is the right approach. And a typology of realistic governance reform approaches is a good place to start.
When discussing a report last year on devolution and accountability in Vietnam , we faced the challenge of distinguishing accountability from responsibility since they are so similar when translated into Vietnamese. Similarly, Bank documents often find it necessary to explain the difference between (bad) governance and corruption. Clearly, we think these differences are important or we wouldn’t bother explaining them.
I spent four years co-directing a grassroots legal empowerment organization in Sierra Leone called Timap for Justice (“Timap” means “stand up” in Sierra Leonean Krio). One of our clients was a cigarette seller and sometime sex worker from the east end of Freetown—I’ll call her Kadiautu. A drunk off-duty police officer brutally beat Kadiatu after an argument one night, not far from the station.
In Cambodia, similar to many developing countries with considerable service delivery challenges and weak regulatory environments, the first choice for health care is often a private medical provider. But despite the overwhelming popularity of such facilities – in Cambodia, more than 76 percent of health care visits in 2005-2006 were to private providers according to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey -- research and interventions mainly have focused on public sector health services.
After donors released a pair of studies in Vietnam last month, an interesting internal discussion ensued. Although the reports dealt with fairly “sensitive” issues—corruption and transparency in land management—both were welcomed by counterparts in government.
I want to share something puzzling that has troubled me for some time: Why don’t development agencies use results-based financing more consistently as a way of supporting stronger governance in developing countries? Let me explain the source of this puzzle and give you my personal take on the issue.
We are increasingly—and more openly than ever—grappling with what to do about the problems of politics and government accountability. Much emphasis and faith seem to be placed on the role of information and transparency. Using information interventions to enable civil society to hold their governments accountable seems so eminently sensible that it’s become an end in and of itself, an “already known” and ticked box. Is it?
Like most of my friends from the Middle East, I have been glued to media reports from Tunisia, Lebanon, and now Egypt for weeks. What is happening is truly historical. Already, the region has changed in indelible ways. The Arab Street has come roaring back to life – but this time, it is not simply to vent anger and frustration, but also to demand good governance and dignity.
Moving away from ‘best practice’ thinking has profound implications for development policy work. The craft of policymaking is not simply about delineating the desirable: it is about finding entry points that are both feasible and value-adding. How is this to be done? After all, practitioners desire more guidance than the simple dictum that the answer is ‘country-specific’.