Let us go back to the main theme of this blog: why sound technical solutions devised by top ranking technical experts and supported by plenty of resources from the richest countries have failed to deliver the expected results. A review of past experiences identified a number of causes for the failures of past approaches, but most of them appear to be traceable to one directly linked to communication/dialogue, or the lack of; i.e. the limited involvement of the so-called ‘beneficiaries’ in the decisions and the design of activities that concerned their lives. To sum up, lack of results in development initiatives due to people failing to adopt the prescribed behaviours were largely due to the neglect of the voices of those who were expected to adopt and live with such innovations and technical solutions.
"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when a man has only one idea."
- Alain (Emile-Auguste Chartier), Propos sur la religion, 1938
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
From Poverty to Power (Oxfam)
What does the future hold for civil society organization?
"I’ve been struggling to make sense of the changing landscape for civil society organizations, North and South, and could do with your help. Here are some initial thoughts, but please send in your own, plus useful references:
One door opens, another shuts
There are contradictory and ambiguous trends for civil society at national and global levels. On the plus side:
- Growing size, strength and sophistication at national level and globally of CSOs of all shapes, sizes and coalitions. (For an example, see previous post on the Global Campaign for Education)
- Recognition from other actors (international institutions, aid donors, TNCs) of the importance of CSOs as partners and stakeholders"
Recently I was invited to hold the XI Raushni Deshpande Oration at the Lady Irwin College in New Delhi, India. This blog is a summary and a reflection of that presentation. As it can be inferred from the title, the focus is on why so many development initiatives have failed in the past and many are still failing in the present. Why after all these years, after all the money poured in, all the construction being made and all the resources dedicated to address this issue, are latrines still not being used in many places? Or they are used but not for the intended purpose? And why are bed nets aimed at preventing malaria adopted even when they are easily available? And many more ‘why’s’ such as these could be added to the list.
As I see it, the civilian-led movements in demand for good governance fall into two camps: ‘Project-instigated’ and ‘Organically-grown’. My interest in dissecting ‘the organic’ vs. ‘project-instigated’ processes is induced by the significance of (i) the authenticity of the movement in the context of the actual need or interest, and (ii) the sustainability of the movement, or its impact at the system level, in changing norms, behavior patterns and institutional culture and processes.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Kimberly Process, and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) are just a few examples of major Multistakeholder Initiatives (MSIs). Through comprehensive deliberative processes, involving a broad set of stakeholders from governments, private sector, and civil society, MSIs form and adopt new norms, which they seek to make part of the global agenda, and implement on the ground. MSIs gained traction in the late 1990’s, as a means of filling “governance gaps,” due to the failure of existing structures and processes, and as a means to solve problems through collective action. Lucy Koechlin and Richard Calland, have identified five functions of MSIs: 1) dialogue/forum, 2) institution building, 3) rule setting, 4) rule implementation and 5) rule monitoring.
As the use of MSIs is fairly recent, it might be too soon to question their effectiveness. However, Koechlin, Calland, and N.K. Dubash have identified challenges in their analysis of the EITI and the World Commission on Dams. These challenges, involving effectiveness, legitimacy and accountability, can impede a successful outcome.
In my last blog post I wrote about the dangers of biased communication to a fair and level political playing field. In Western media systems the political polarization of media reporting (I hesitate to call it "news") is a somewhat recent phenomenon, but it's stark reality in countries where the media is owned by the government or a few influential political factions. Biased communication is not only problematic with regards to misinformation of the public.
In fragile states in particular biased communication can keep conflict alive, stir up unrest among the population, and endanger the formation of one unified idea of a nation. In fragile and post-conflict countries, communication, including the mass media, should ideally contribute to restoring a shared national identity and strengthen citizens' loyalty to their country. But consider the case of, for instance, Iraq: Ownership of private media is in the hands of competing political and ethnic factions. Their respective broadcasts reflect conflicting agendas, potentially widening the gap between Iraq’s communities, weakening a sense of national belonging and furthering the development of competing identities along sectarian lines, setting the country on a course of partition.
"Without criticism and reliable and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern."
- Walter Lippmann
The video posted above is third in a series featured on this blog. The interview was conducted last June, during a learning event jointly organized by the World Bank Institute’s Governance Practice and CommGAP entitled “The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action.” Featured in the video is Larry Cooley, president of Management Systems International, a firm that manages and implements development projects globally. From years of experience working on governance reforms in various countries, Cooley stresses the centrality of public opinion in bringing about successful and sustainable change:
For me the ultimate test on these change strategies is the legitimacy that they enjoy with the population, locally. And I think in most countries the days have gone when some narrow set of technical experts could simply decide something and expect the rest of the world to implement it… I think that puts the burden on people who would see themselves as technical experts to translate whatever it is they know into a language that can be generally understood. If they can’t do that, they’re unlikely to sway public opinion and, frankly, from my point of view, they shouldn’t be swaying public opinion… (which is) the ultimate test.”
In my nearly two-decades of living in the West, I have always been fascinated by the operatic displays of rage directed by some activists and campaigners at open societies and democracies. They do this in a world where sundry totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are getting stronger, stamping on ordinary citizens with gigantic boots, and shutting down nascent public spheres with total ruthlessness. Some of these regimes are now major players on the world stage, and the brave souls who fight for openness, transparency and citizen voice in these societies get very little support. They are mostly on their own.
Yet who are we supposed to see as a hero right now? Answer: a computer hacker whose philosophy ranges from naive libertarianism to anarchism. And what are the self-evident truths that we are supposed to line up behind?