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December 2015

#4 from 2015: Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 22, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for October 2015.
 

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)

Yes, but we also must not fall into a trap which parallels that of the technocratic fallacy – and let our high-minded advocacy of the rights of the poor blind us to the challenges of how to translate our rhetoric into reality. And it is here that Easterly’s Tyranny falls way, way short.

#5 from 2015: The things we do: How a simple text message is the difference between success and failure

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was  originally posted on April 21, 2015.
 

A woman and her child get the anti-malaria drugs distributed in Freetown.Mobile phones are increasingly prevalent throughout the world, and researchers have found that sending text message reminders can help people follow-through with their intentions, significantly increasing the success of development interventions.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

These are the wise words of Samuel Johnson, an English author, critic, and lexicographer. Even though he lived more than 200 years ago, international development interventions are proving him correct today. 
 
Reminders for Malaria
 
It’s widely known that failure to adhere to a full course of antibiotic treatment leads to treatment failure and encourages bacterial resistance to antibiotics, threatening the sustainability of current medications. This is extremely important for malaria, which, according to the World Health Organization, results in 198 million cases each year and around 584,000 deaths.  The burden is particularly heavy in Africa, where around 90% of malaria deaths occur, and in children under 5 years of age, who account for 78% of all deaths. Moreover, low rates of adherence to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) treatments has led to a prevalence of antibiotic-resistant Malaria in many parts of the world, particularly Africa. One of the biggest and simplest  reasons why people fail to complete the full treatment for Malaria is that they forget.

Policy to research to policy in difficult places

Humanity Journal's picture

This post was written by Alex de Waal, the Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School. It is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael WoolcockMorten Jerven.

UNAMID Police Officer Patrols IDP Camp in DarfurThere’s a commendable search for rigor in social science. But there’s also an illusion that numbers ipso facto represent rigor, and that sophisticated mathematical analysis of the social scientific datasets can expand the realm of explanatory possibilities. Social scientific researchers working in what the Justice and Security Research Programme calls “difficult places”—countries affected by armed conflict, political turbulence and the long-lasting uncertainties that follow protracted crisis—should be extremely cautious before setting off on this path.

There’s a simultaneous search for policy relevance: for bridging the gap between the academy and the executive. We want our research to be useful and to be used; we want policy-makers to listen to us. But we risk becoming entrapped in a self-referential knowledge creating machine.

The holy grail seems to be to emulate economists and epidemiologists, whose highly technical analyses of real world data—and in the case of the latter, double-blind clinical trials—set a gold standard in terms of methodological rigor, alongside a truly enviable record of influencing policy and practice. But before embarking on this quest, it would be advisable to examine what social scientific scholarship might look like, if it actually reached this goal.

Evidence based policy or policy based evidence? Supply and demand for data in a donor dominant world

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This post, by Morten Jerven, is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, and Michael Woolcock.

Patients seeking treatment at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, In 2010 I was doing research for Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it. I was In Lusaka, Zambia on a Wednesday afternoon, and was having a free and frank conversation with a specialist working for the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) office there as part of the ethnographic component of my book. One of the themes we kept returning to was the problem that donors demanded evidence that was not necessarily relevant for Zambian policy makers. We were also discussing how results-oriented MDG reporting had created real outside pressure to distort statistics, with donors having the final say on what gets measured, when and how. Indeed, whenever I asked anyone in Zambia—and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa—“what do we know about economic growth?,” a recurring issue was how resources were diverted from domestic economic statistics to MDG-relevant statistics.

Two days later I was sitting in the Central Statistical Office in Lusaka, talking to the then only remaining member of the economic statistics division. In 2007, this division was manned by three statisticians, but when I returned in 2010, there was only one person there. The other two had been pulled from economic statistics to social and demographic statistics where there was more donor money for per diem payments. The phone rang. DfID Lusaka was on the other end. They had a problem. They had financed a report on social statistics, but the office statistician tasked with completing the report had recently travelled to Japan to participate in a generously funded training course, leaving the report incomplete. Could someone help out? And so it was that the last remaining economic statistician for the Zambian government temporarily left the office to come to the rescue.

#6 from 2015: Five myths about governance and development

David Booth's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015.  This post was originally posted on February 26, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for March 2015.

In some areas of development policy, deep-rooted assumptions are extremely hard to dislodge. Like science-fiction androids or the many-headed Hydra, these are monsters that can sustain any number of mortal blows and still regenerate. Capable researchers armed with overwhelming evidence are no threat to them.
 
The importance of good governance for development is one such assumption. Take last month’s enquiry report on Parliamentary Strengthening by the International Development Committee of the UK parliament. It references the UN High Level Panel’s opinion that ‘good governance and effective institutions’ should be among the goals for ending global poverty by 2030. It would have done better to reference the evidence in 2012’s rigorously researched UN publication Is Good Governance Good for Development?
 
Here are five governance myths about which the strong scientific consensus might – eventually – slay some monsters.

#7 from 2015: 5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal

Vinay Bhargava's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015.  This post was originally posted on June 8, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for June 2015.

South Sudanese prepare for independenceVinay Bhargava, the chief technical adviser and a board member at Partnership for Transparency Fund, provides five takeaways on governance and development interactions from a recent panel discussion hosted by the 1818 Society.

On May 27, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist at an event organized by the Governance Thematic Group of 1818 Society of the World Bank Group (WBG) Alumni.

The panelists were: Mr. Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution; Ms. Heike Gramckow, Acting Practice Manager, Rule of Law and Access to Justice at the Governance Global Practice at the World Bank Group; Mr. Brian Levy, Professor of the Practice, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University; Mr. Jerome Sauvage, Deputy head of UN Office in Washington DC. Mr. Fredrick Temple, currently Adviser at the Partnership for Transparency Fund, moderated the workshop. 
 
The panel presentations and discussion were hugely informative and insightful. I am pleased to share with you my five takeaways that anyone interested in governance and development interactions ought to know.

Campaign Art: One bad decision on the road can be fatal

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Most of us are familiar with the “hot seat”, a game in which an individual is asked a series of questions in rapid-fire with limited time to respond.  The game tries to get the person being quizzed to answer without thinking too much so his/her responses are more candid. But what if the answers are a matter of life or death? What if the choices we make decide our future?

This is the message of Transport for London: life is made up of a series of small decisions, and one bad decision one on the road can be fatal. 

According to the World Health Organization, around 1.25 million people worldwide die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Distracted driving is a common cause for traffic accidents, with mobile phones becoming increasingly more problematic. Indeed, drivers using a mobile phone are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who are not. Texting or calling while driving leaders to slower reaction times— notably in braking reaction— impaired ability to keep in the correct lane, and shorter following distances.  
 
Transport for London: One Risk is Too Many


Beyond the quest for "policy implications": Alternative options for applied development researchers

Humanity Journal's picture

This post, written by Michael Woolcock, is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott and Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo.

Indonesia fills out form on riceMy nomination for development’s ‘Most Insightful, Least Cited’ paper is Ariel Heryanto’s “The development of ‘development.'”[1] Originally written in Indonesian in the mid-1980s, Heryanto’s gem has been cited a mere 79 times (according to Google Scholar), even in its carefully-translated English incarnation. For me, this paper is so wonderful because it makes, in clear and clever ways, two key points that bear endless repetition, especially to today’s junior scholars. The first point is that inference from evidence is never self-evident: significance must always be interpreted through theory. Consider the seemingly obvious fact that the sun rises in the east every morning, he writes. What could be more universally and unambiguously true? The problem, of course, is that the sun does not rise in the east; instead, despite every piece of sensory evidence to the contrary, the earth rotates counterclockwise on its axis and revolves around a stationary sun, making it appear as ifthe sun rises in the east. But we only know this – or, more accurately, claim to know this – because today we happen to have a theory, itself based on more complex forms of observation and theory, that helps us interpret the prevailing evidence, to reconcile it with evidence from analyses of other cosmic phenomena, and thus draw broadly coherent conclusions and inferences.

Heryanto’s second key point is that we are all captives of language, of the limits of any given tongue to convey the subtleties of complex issues. From this premise he proceeds to unpack the clumsy, alluring yet powerful word that in English we call ‘development’, noting that in Indonesian there are at least two very different interpretations of its meaning, and with this, two very different words – perkembangan and pembangunan – connoting two very different teleologies and policy agendas: the former a natural, ‘organic’ process akin to flowers blooming (“software”); the latter to an overt, intentional and ‘constructed’ political project of nation building (“hardware”). When translated into English, however, both perkembangan and pembangunan are typically rendered simply as “development,” thereby collapsing into a singular popular conception what in Indonesian discourse is a distinctly pluralist one. In the opening week of my class at the Kennedy School, which typically has 50 students who between them speak around 30 languages, we begin with a lively discussion of what “development” means in Arabic, Hindi, French, Turkish, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish… It turns out to mean all sorts of things.[2]

I open this way because I think the next article we need in this “genre” – though hopefully one that quickly transcends it because it is both highly insightful and highly cited! – is something akin to what Desai and Tapscott have begun with their ‘Tomayto Tomahto’ paper. In short, echoing Heryanto, we need more development research on development research. Such scholarship, however, would go beyond providing a mere chronology of changing professional styles, methodological emphases and funding characteristics (scale, sources, time horizons, expectations) to explanations of how and why such changes have occurred. Such explanations would be grounded in analyses of the shifting historical experiences and geo-political imperatives different generations of researchers have sought to accommodate, the particular ideas these experiences and imperatives rendered normative, and the concomitant gains and losses these changes have entailed for those finding themselves managing the “trade-offs” (such as they are) between scholarly independence and public utility.

If you see it, you can be it

Rosie Parkyn's picture

Rosie Parkyn explores the opportunities and challenges online media presents in addressing the gender equality gap.

 School girls gathering around a computer If you see it, you can be it’ could have been the unofficial slogan of the International Development Cooperation meeting on Gender and Media, where I was invited to talk about the opportunities created by the internet and online media to counter gender stereotyping, or the assignment of particular characteristics and roles according to sex. This is a theme touched on by our Policy Briefing, Making Waves: Media’s Potential for Girls in the Global South.

Much has been said about the need to achieve better visibility for girls and women in the media if gender equality is to be realised. This year’s Global Media Monitoring Project reported that women make up only 24% of people heard, read about or seen in news reporting. That coverage is often characterised by gender bias and extensive stereotyping.

So could the onward expansion of digital spaces fast track the process of ensuring girls and women are seen in a diversity of roles? The short answer is yes of course, it has transformative potential. But there are significant caveats.

Corruption in fragile states: A panel discussion on the intersections of development, conflict and exploitation

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Just say NO to corruptionCorruption is a global threat to development and democratic rule. It diverts public resources to private interests, leaving fewer resources to build schools, hospitals, roads and other public facilities. When development money is diverted to private bank accounts, major infrastructure projects and badly needed human services come to a halt. Corruption also hinders democratic governance by destroying the rule of law, the integrity of institutions, and public trust in leaders. Sadly, the vulnerable suffer first and worst when corruption takes hold.

In fragile environments, however, the effects of corruption can be far more expensive. Corruption fuels extremism and undermines international efforts to build peace and security.

This was the theme of a panel discussion, entitled “Corruption in Fragile States: The Development Challenge,” which brought together Leonard McCarthy, the World Bank’s Vice President of Integrity; Jan Walliser, the World Bank Vice President of Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions; Shanta Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist of Middle East & North Africa; R. David Harden, USAID Mission Director for West Bank and Gaza; Daniel Kaufmann, President of Natural Resource Governance Institute; and Melissa Thomas, Political Scientist and author of “Govern Like Us.”

Quote of the Week: Tidjane Thiam

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Tidjane Thiam"You can commit to what you control; if you commit to what you don’t control, you are just a fool.”

Tidjane Thiam, in response to criticism of his new plan for Credit Suisse. Rather than dramatic restructuring seen at other banks, Credit Suisse will reduce the amount of risk-weighted assets by about a fifth and raise equity through a combination of increasing capital by $6.3 billion from sales of shares, scaling back investment banking, slashing costs and a modest shake-up among senior management.

Thiam is a French Ivorian businessman and former politician who became the Chief Executive of Credit Suisse in June 2015. Born in Côte d'Ivoire, he holds dual Ivorian and French citizenship.  

#8 from 2015: The things we do: How money can buy you happiness

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on September 22, 2015.

People have been arguing for centuries about whether or not money can buy happiness. New research provides a fuller understanding of the relationship between what we earn and how we feel.

Cambodian farmer, Khout Sorn, stands in front of his banana trees in Aphiwat Village, CambodiaIt may seem a bit obvious: people with higher incomes are, generally speaking, happier than those who struggle. They worry less about paying their bills, they have greater choice in where they live or how they work, and they can provide creature comforts for themselves and their loved ones.  However, wealth alone is not a golden ticket. Indeed, what kind of money one has and how they spend it matters a lot more than a large income. 

The basics on happiness
When looking at all of these research results, it’s important to understand what is meant by the term ‘happiness’. Those in the field of happiness research divide it into two components, and individuals need both to be truly happy. But only one of those components keeps improving the more you earn. The other tops out after a certain point.

Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-Raq’: The Maestro Handles Complexity Adroitly

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Chi-Raq movie billDifficult social problems are fiendishly difficult to communicate. For, these are issues about which experts disagree and citizen-voters, too. The causes are unclear, the solutions are unclear, and then there is the ideological deadweight that tends to drag meaningful debate and discussion all the way down to seedy depths. Above all, public debate on complex social problems also leads to framing battles: you frame the discussion to privilege the ‘solution’ you want. So, for instance: what do we do about homelessness in our cities? If you don’t want public funds spent on it, you frame it as an individual responsibility issue. You argue that the homeless need to pull themselves up by the straps of their dirty sneakers. If you want public funds spent on the problem, you frame the issue as a structural challenge. You ask for a focus on unemployment, targeted welfare schemes, improved care for the mentally ill and so on.

Chi-Raq’, Spike Lee’s new movie, tackles a horrendously difficult problem: the horrific and persistent gang violence in inner cities in the United States of America (and, by implication, several such places across the globe). His setting is the South Side of Chicago. The title of the movie is a play on Chicago and Iraq. The movie opens with these stunning statistics: while American deaths in the Iraq War between 2003 and 2011 came to 4,424, between 2001 and 2015 there were 7,356 homicides in Chicago. Think about that for a second: 7,356 homicides.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Corruption Is Just a Symptom, Not the Disease
Wall Street Journal
If you ask development experts, Western politicians and pundits how to end global poverty, you’ll hear one answer more than any other: Fight corruption. Even the Catholic Church agrees. In Nairobi last week, Pope Francis urged young Kenyans, “Please, don’t develop that taste for that sugar which is called corruption.” In a packed stadium in the same city in July, President Barack Obama was even more emphatic: “Corruption holds back every aspect of economic and civil life,” he said. “It’s an anchor that weighs you down and prevents you from achieving what you could.” In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, two days later, he told the African Union, “Nothing will unlock Africa’s economic potential more than ending the cancer of corruption.”  But this conventional wisdom has it backward. For all its crippling costs, corruption is a symptom, not the disease. To get rid of corruption (and, for that matter, global poverty), we must build and strengthen institutions that work for the people of the developing world, rather than tolerate existing structures that typically serve the narrow, graft-addicted elites that often suck poor nations dry.

Global Media Monitoring Project 2015
Who makes the news?
Every five years since 1995 a growing number of scholars, activists, media professionals and policy-makers around the world has looked forward with intense anticipation to the results from the Global Media Monitoring Project. The 2015 edition, spanning a record number of 114 countries, has been awaited with particular intentness. This 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) has catalysed much reflection. Two decades after the BPfA identified the media as one of the ‘areas of particular urgency that stand out as priorities for action’ in advancing gender equality and women’s human rights, where do things stand? The GMMP findings provide some answers.

Turning the gaze on ourselves: Acknowledging the political economy of development research

Humanity Journal's picture

This post by Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo is a contribution to an online symposium from Humanity Journal on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries, beginning with Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott's piece.

IBM Research - Africa Scientists at Riara School, NairobiWhile researchers (ourselves included) now consistently underline the importance of understanding the political economy of developing countries and donors that support them in order to achieve better aid outcomes, the research industry remains largely ambivalent about questions of our own political economy. Desai and Tapscott’s paper is therefore a refreshing attempt to start unpacking this and the ways in which ‘evidence’ is produced within the development industry.

Here, we offer reflections on three stages of this process: building evidence, translating evidence and dislodging evidence. But a word of caution is also merited upfront. The fact that we are talking about “evidence,” rather than research, is itself telling and underscores a shift in the development industry in the last ten years. Speaking about ‘evidence’ rather than about “research” suggests something much more concrete and indisputable. Evidence is taken as proof. But surely research is also debate. While there are, of course, things for which largely indisputable evidence can be found (the effects of vaccines on disease, for instance), the use of this terminology, particularly in the social sciences where little is concrete or universal, suggests that final answers are discoverable. It can, thus, be used to close down debate, as much as to encourage it. Research, on the other hand, recognizes that most findings are contributions to knowledge that helpfully allow to move us towards deeper understanding and greater awareness but do not claim to be the final word on a given topic.
 

#9 from 2015: A global movement against corruption: It is happening now!

Leonard McCarthy's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 26, 2015.


Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Third Annual International Corruption Hunter AllianceTaking note of headline news in recent weeks, one cannot escape the reality that efforts to fighting corruption are succeeding. A decade ago, success was a privilege to societies who -by virtue of democratic gains- could claim rights to holding public officials accountable. Today, it is not easy to get away with corruption. Not even if you are a major multinational, a senior government official, or an institution with millions of followers across the world.

Within our network- the World Bank International Corruption Hunters Alliance- we feel optimistic about all that is happening to support our mission; that of ensuring every development dollar is spent with integrity. We go to work every day and the focus is how do we prevent bad things from happening. To achieve that at the World Bank Group, we are continually advancing our investigative techniques, our preventive advice, monitoring the compliance standards of debarred entities and engaging with partners across multilateral development banks, national enforcement agencies and CSOs to strengthen this young global movement against corruption. It is critical that this momentum continues to sustain change at a global scale.

Undoubtedly we face a few challenges along the way; some more complex than others, none that cannot be overcome. Last fiscal year, the World Bank prevented approximately $138 million across 20 contracts from being awarded to companies that had attempted to engage in misconduct. This is progress that could not have been achieved without years of investigative experience invested in gathering evidence, recognizing patterns of misconduct, and documenting lessons learnt.

Media (R)evolutions: As Internet access expands, demand for freedom of expression online also increases

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Despite a widely documented global decline in Internet freedom, people around the world still embrace fundamental democratic values, including the right to free speech.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that majorities in 32 of 38 countries polled state it is important to live in a country where people can use the internet without government censorship. Pew interviewed 40,786 people between April 5 - May 21, 2015 and found that even though internet freedom ranks last among the six broad democratic rights included on the survey, a median of 50% believe it is very important to live in a country with an uncensored internet. The strongest support for internet freedom is found in Argentina, the U.S., Germany and Spain, where about 70% of the populations consider it very important, and it the lowest support can be found in Burkina Faso and Indonesia, where only 21% in both countries think it’s important.  

There is a strong correlation between the percentage of people in a country who use the internet and the percentage who say a free internet is very important, demonstrating that as people gain access to the Web, the salience and desire for freedom in cyberspace also grows.
 
Global Support for Principles of Free Expression
Publics with Higher Rates of Internet Usage More Likely to Prioritize Internet Freedom

Tomayto tomahto: The research supply chain and the ethics of knowledge production

Humanity Journal's picture

Pre-test of Rural Household Survey, PakistanThis post is the first in a symposium from Humanity Journal on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. It was written by Deval Desai, a Research Associate at ODI, and Rebecca Tapscott, a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Aid in the 21st century is increasingly evidence-driven. Between 2000 and 2006, the World Bank spent a total of $630 million on research. By 2011 the World Bank was spending $606 million per year, or about a quarter of its country budgets. In September of this year, by signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals, the global community enshrined a commitment to “increase significantly” a range of high-quality data over the next 15 years, to facilitate qualitative as well as quantitative understandings of growth and progress.

As the international community seeks to tackle the “hard problems” of development—fragility, conflict, endemic poverty—qualitative research is ever-more important. These problems are not amenable to best-practice solutions but must be tackled through deep contextual understanding of their drivers. Or so the policy story goes.[1] As a result, conducting qualitative research today is different from the days when Geertz set out for Bali. Gone are the intrepid individuals setting off to explore and explain an untouched environment, unaware of the demands of policymakers.[2]

We argue that while practice has changed, the ideology of qualitative research has not. Qualitative research is generally understood as the individual exercise of research methods to produce knowledge about the world, knowledge that can then be taken up by governance actors of all stripes. By contrast, we believe that today we must understand research as asystemic intervention, within the broader context of globalization and international development. Therefore, we should start with the political economy of contemporary research—an iterative, professionalized and increasingly saturated practice—to rethink the political and ethical implications of the research that we do.

As a first step to this end, we contrast two stylized frameworks for understanding qualitative research in fragile contexts: The “fragility research” framework, which we argue dominates the current debate; and the “research supply chain” framework, which we offer as a new framework and a provocation to discussion. We discuss each in turn, first considering how fragility research frames knowledge production in fragile or conflicted-affected states, identifying some assumptions the fragility research framework rests on, and critiquing some of its key conclusions. We then discuss the research supply chain as an alternative framework to explore the relationship between knowledge generation and policy. Finally, we raise some questions based on the new framework’s implications.

#10 from 2015: Has the governance agenda lost its mojo globally?

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 29, 2015. 
 

Romanian RevolutionWhen I started work in international development in London in the late 1990s, a more experienced colleague gave me the following insight. At some point, she said, I would either catch the bug and stay in the field or I would not and leave it to go and do something else. And it is usually some agenda within the broad field that would get you hooked, she added. She was right. I caught the bug and stayed in the field, and the agenda that excited my passion was and remains governance: efforts to improve governance systems in developing countries in order to do real and permanent good. The reason was obvious. I had moved to London from Lagos, Nigeria, having participated actively in the public affairs of the country; and I had left thoroughly convinced that unless governance improved in Nigeria there was no way that the abundance in the country would lead to improved welfare for the vast majority of its citizens. That remains my conviction.

In those days working on governance issues was exciting; for, it was like joining an army on the march, one that appeared ready to sweep everything before it. There was definite intellectual energy in the field. Practitioners had poise and confidence. Initiatives were being dreamt up by different donor agencies. Funds were pouring into the field. And we began to see a new breed of development professional: the so-called ‘governance advisers’. But behind it all, I suppose, was a powerful zeitgeist: the Berlin Wall was down, communism was on the ropes, and liberal constitutional democracy appeared to have triumphed with resounding finality.

But now, in late 2015, it all feels very different globally. In the words of the B.B. King classic: ‘The thrill is gone’. Or so it seems. And I pen these reflections because in the last month or two I have had conversations with practitioners in the field of governance from around the world in the normal course of an intellectual engagement with the issues, and the news seems uniformly depressing. I have been asked again and again: What do you think is happening to the agenda these days? First, there is a feeling that the intellectual energy behind the field is not what it used to be. Second, the commitment of leaders in international development seems to have waned. Units are being closed, initiatives wound down, budgets cut and so on. And practitioners do not seem like a powerful army on the march any longer. The old swagger appears to have vanished. In other words, the field is no longer seen as ‘hot’. Young recruits are not queuing to be a part of the field by any means necessary. They are targeting the current set of ‘hot’ issues in development.

So, what went wrong? From the conversations I have had here is a partial list of challenges:

Quote of the Week: Michael Ignatieff

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Michael Ignatieff​"One of the essential skills of democratic politics is to know the difference between an enemy and an adversary. An adversary wants to defeat you. An enemy wants to destroy you. If you treat your opponents as the enemy, you conduct politics as if it was war and all means become fair. If you regard your opponent as an adversary, all means are not fair: you are hoping to turn an adversary today into a friend or an ally tomorrow.”

- Michael IgnatieffCanadian author, academic, and former politician. In addition to leading the Liberal Party and the Official Opposition of Canada from 2008 until 2011, he has held senior academic posts at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Toronto.
 

Rethinking research: Systemic approaches to the ethics and politics of knowledge production in fragile states

Humanity Journal's picture

Classroom in MaliRecently, Humanity, a peer-reviewed academic journal from the University of Pennsylvania, has been hosting an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. In light of the intensification of evidence-based policymaking and the “data revolution” in development, the symposium asked what the ethical and political implications are for qualitative research as a tool of governance.

We are presenting their articles in the coming days to share the authors' thoughts with the People, Spaces, Deliberation community and generate further discussion.

The symposium will begin tomorrow with a short paper from Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott, followed by responses during the coming weeks from Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo (ODI); Michael Woolcock (World Bank); Morten Jerven (Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Simon Fraser University); Alex de Waal (World Peace Foundation); and Holly Porter (LSE). We hope that you enjoy the symposium and participate in the debate!

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Economists tested 7 welfare programs to see if they made people lazy. They didn't.
Vox
For as long as there have been government programs designed to help the poor, there have been critics insisting that helping the poor will keep them from working. But the evidence for this proposition has always been rather weak. And a recent study from MIT and Harvard economists makes the case even weaker. Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Gabriel Kreindler, and Benjamin Olken reanalyzed data from seven randomized experiments evaluating cash programs in poor countries and found "no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work." Attacking welfare recipients as lazy is easy rhetoric, but when you actually test the proposition scientifically, it doesn't hold up.

COP21: 'Fireworks' expected as new climate text published
BBC
A critical "clean" draft text has been published at UN climate talks here in Paris after delays. This new version, 29 pages long, marks the first time the French presidency of the meeting has pulled together an outline of a deal. The new draft has significantly reduced the options on many of the key questions after days of negotiations. One observer warned that there could be "fireworks" if countries are unhappy with the compromises proposed. Last Saturday, negotiators from 195 countries agreed on a weighty 48-page document, the summation of four years of talks that began in Durban in 2011. That document was handed to the French president of COP21, Laurent Fabius. Over the past few days he has asked pairs of ministers from around the world to try to advance aspects of the document. 

A Life Adventured: The migrant/refugee

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the current migration and refugee crisis, is scale trumping humanity?

Refugee crisis in EuropeSomething about the way the story of the ongoing epic migration and refugee crisis is being told perturbs. Scale trumps humanity. Overwhelmingly, the focus is on the sheer girth and amplitude of the crisis. Mind-numbing statistics tumble from the mouth of broadcasters, and the cameras pan over and around scenes of multitudes on the move almost the same way that documentary makers film the flight of sky-darkening flocks of migratory birds or the earthquake mimicking stampede of wild bulls across a great river. The tragedies that occur with saddening frequency are anonymous: another boat sinks in the Mediterranean, hundreds are dead. We don’t see victims; we don’t know them. We see pictures of the flotsam and jetsam, of the foul detritus of failed voyages. And the cameras move on.

Until the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach turns up and the world is stunned and horrified. For instance, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently told Fareed Zakaria of CNN that that picture transformed policymaking in parts of Europe from indifferent to totally engaged. That, I would argue, is because that picture foregrounded a powerful truth.

What is this truth? It is this: while this migration and refugee crisis might be on a biblical scale, it is still about discrete, distinct, singular human lives. Each one of these people on the move is an individual, a bundle of consciousness, a brain, emotions, feelings, deep needs and aspirations, parents, families, friends, the whole nine yards. Above all, the truth is that each one of these individuals has chanced, gambled her life. In other words, each life caught up in this crisis is a life adventured. And when a human life is adventured a tragic ending is often the result.

Campaign Art: Every day, 500 kids don't make it. But you can save them.

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

According to World Health Organization figures, 500 children are killed each day in road crashes globally.  In fact, road traffic injury ranks among the top four causes of death for all children over the age of five years.  To raise awareness of this deadly reality, Jean Todt, President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the international motoring federation, and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Road Safety, turned to world renowned film director Luc Besson to deliver a potent message: children face incredible danger when crossing the road!

‘Save Kids Lives’, shows children in the townships of South Africa and in central Paris, France walking to and from school to show that the risks children face are almost universally shared, whether they are due to a lack of safe infrastructure or as a result of heavy traffic. The film is shocking, and may contain images some people find disturbing. But that’s exactly the point, according to Todt, who believes that it will help focus attention on making roads safe for children everywhere.

The film was launched the first week in October to coincide with International Walk to School Day and to support #SaveKidsLives, a UN initiative that calls for action to stop the growing number of road deaths worldwide and for decision makers to prioritize children’s safety.
 
VIDEO: Save Kids Lives

Now Accepting Applications! Summer Institute 2016 - Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment

Roxanne Bauer's picture

WB-Annenberg Summer Institute group exerciseInstituting reforms can be tricky business. The push and pull of politics, the power of vested interests, varying degrees of institutional capacity for implementation, and contrary public opinion can all make the success of a reform agenda tenuous. 
 
So how can leaders and strategists increase the likelihood they will be successful at achieving sustainable reforms? The 2016 Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment was developed on the premise that successful implementation of policy reforms depends significantly on non-technical, real-world issues that relate to people and politics; and communication, when done right, may be the key to converting reform objectives into achievements.
 
During the 10-day program, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, May 23- June 3, 2016, participants will learn the most recent advances in communication and proven techniques in reform implementation. Participants will develop the skills required to bring about real change, leading to development results.

Humanitarian broadcasting in emergencies

Theo Hannides's picture

A recording of BBC Media Action’s ‘Milijuli Nepali’ (Together Nepal)It is several days after the earthquake in Nepal. A small group of Nepali women sit on the side of the road in a village in Dhading district, 26 kilometres from Kathmandu. In this village, many people lost their homes and several died in the earthquake.

The women are listening attentively to a radio programme, Milijuli Nepali meaning ‘Together Nepal’. After it finishes, one of the women starts asking the others questions: What did they think to the programme? Did they learn anything? What else would they like to hear to help them cope in the aftermath of the earthquake? The women start discussing some of the issues raised around shelter and hygiene, they like the creative ideas suggestions, particularly as they comes from a source they like and trust - the BBC.  They give the researcher their ideas for future programmes and she writes them down.

BBC Media Action’s ‘Milijuli Nepali’ (Together Nepal)

Quote of the Week: Marilynne Robinson

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Marilynne Robinson"History has shown us a thousand variations on the temptations that come with tribalism, the excitements that stir when certain lines are seen as important because they can be rather clearly drawn. This is old humankind going about its mad business as if it simply cannot remember the harm it did itself yesterday."

- Marilynne Robinson, an American novelist and essayist. She has received several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 for her novel Gilead (2004) and the 2012 National Humanities Medal.

Blog post of the month: If using ‘Theories of Change’ cannot transform the way you operate, why bother?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In November 2015, the featured blog post is "If using ‘Theories of Change’ cannot transform the way you operate, why bother? " by Suvojit Chattopadhyay .

Learning computer skillsIn a new (and commendably short) paper, Craig Valters advocates ‘modest radicalism’ in the use of Theories of Change (ToC) as an approach to improving reflection and learning in the development sector. In this paper, Craig reflects on the role of the ToC in the context of the ‘results agenda’ and suggests four principles that could help development organisations develop knowledge and improve practice: Focus on processes; Prioritise learning; Be locally-led; and ‘Think compass, not map’. Do read the full paper!

In this post, I share some additional thoughts on the use of ToCs and how they might be improved. I start with two problems in the way we do things.

  • In development, failures are hard to detect: Often, organisations that fail find ways to mask failure – by either refusing to acknowledge failure, finding external factors, or moving on to a different desk officer/donor/location. So within the aid industry, we have a peculiar situation where it is real hard to fail – or at least, it is hard to know when a project has failed.
  • It’s harder still to ensure that projects that fail face significant consequences of failure: Organisations that implemented the failed projects should be required to make significant changes to key aspects of design or management.

Sir Philip’s paralympic team yearns to play hoops with US President Obama

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

“It’s surprising the impact [the Paralympics] really has on you… It’s an untapped fuel for humanity that we really need to start using.” - Bode Miller, U.S. Olympic Skier

Sir Philip CravenDecember 3, 2015 - The International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Since December 3, 1992, the world annually celebrates The International Day of Persons with Disabilities to promote awareness, knowledge, and support for critical problems related to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons and from the period 1983 to 1992 was named the UN’s Decade of Disabled Persons.

According to the 2011 World Report on Disability, published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank Group, more than a billion people globally have some sort of disability, and 80 percent of them live in developing countries. One third of all out-of-school children have disabilities, and fewer than 2 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries are in school. More than 800 million individuals with physical and/or cognitive impairments live in poverty, 3.5 million of whom are refugees. Between 50-70 percent of them are unemployed.

The 2015 theme of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was: Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of All Abilities. There were also three sub-themes: Making Cities Inclusive and Accessible for All; Improving Disability Data and Statistics; and Including Persons with Invisible Disabilities in Society and Development.

The polluters of the public sphere

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Defending Freedom of Speech?As it should, the world is worrying about the pollution of the atmosphere and its deleterious impact on our planet, and efforts to do something about it all are, happily, intensifying. But there are pollutions and polluters of a different kind, and, sadly, there is no global effort as yet to do something about them. I refer to the polluters of national public spheres and the polluters of the global public sphere.

Let’s begin at the country level. What is going on is truly scary. In both developing countries and supposedly mature democracies more and more political leaders are giving themselves the permission to spout incendiary nonsense. Most political communities these days are deeply plural, often multiethnic, multinational or multi-sectarian, or all of the above. It was always understood that if you want peace and harmony in these political communities there are things major leaders or candidates for high office simply do not say; there are lines that they simply do not cross. Now, all these restraints are being sundered in several countries. Major figures are willing to say just about anything no matter how offensive or provocative.

In the supposedly advanced liberal constitutional democracies, the raw competition for power, the pressure of the migrant/refugee crisis, shifts in the composition of the electorate, all these things appear to be leading to an outbreak of demagoguery. There is a race to the bottom as right wingers seek to outbid frankly racist political parties. Rhetorical excesses are undoing the work of many decades in these societies. I refer to hitherto successful efforts to evolve norms of restrained and civil discourse in the public sphere, and to promote rationality in public affairs generally. Now, in more and more of these societies there seems to be a competition to see who can be the most brazen and offensive, to see who can go ‘there’ with the most reckless abandon.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

How the new peace and violence development goals can be met
The Conversation
For the first time, issues of violence and peace are part of a global development framework. The recently launched Sustainable Development Goals aim to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere”.  While admirable in its intent and ambition, is this possible? And, if so, how? Earlier global agreements, notably the Millennium Development Goals, did not consider issues of conflict and violence. Critics point to the omission as one reason areas affected by conflict and violence lagged so far behind peaceful and stable countries on achieving the goals. Human development indicators are often far worse in conflict areas.  On top of this delivering development is made more difficult by continuing violent insecurity, politicised divisions and militarisation. Unsurprisingly, people in these areas see reducing levels of violence and conflict as the most important way in which their lives could be improved.

Understand COP21 in these 7 graphics
GreenBiz
Today marks the third day of COP21, a key milestone in the global effort to combat climate change. For the next two weeks, representatives from more than 190 countries will work towards creating a legally binding and universal agreement that spells out how countries will cooperate on climate change for decades to come. A strong Paris agreement can send the signal to the world that the global transformation to a climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy is underway. Here’s a visual look at recent progress the world has made, as well as what needs to be done in Paris and beyond to truly overcome the climate change challenge

Media (R)evolutions: Internet freedom in decline across the world

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

In its 2015 annual “Freedom on the Net” reportFreedom House, a US-based organization, analyzed 65 countries to assess the degree to which individuals enjoy rights and freedoms online within each country.

Unfortunately, the report finds internet freedom around the world has declined for a fifth consecutive year as more governments censored information of public interest while they also expanded surveillance activity and cracked down on privacy tools. Authorities in 42 of the countries analyzed required internet users or private customers to restrict or delete online content related to political, religious, or social issues, while authorities in 40 of 65 countries went a step further to imprison people for sharing information concerning politics, religion or society through digital networks.  Additionally, governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014, and others upgraded their surveillance tools.  Globally, democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

However, it is not all bad news. Nearly one-third of Internet users worldwide are in countries that are considered "Free". Internet freedom has also increased in eight countries over the past few years, including Cuba, Iran, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Zambia. All of these fall into the "Partly Free" or "Not Free" categories. This occurred while many other poor performers showed further declines in freedom.

This chart, created by Niall McCarthy at Statista, shows the state of internet freedom around the world in 2015, as compiled by Freedom House.

Internet Freedom Across The World Visualized | Statista
Infographic: Internet Freedom Across The World Visualized | Statista