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Civil Society and the Dangers of Monoculture: Smart New Primer from Mike Edwards

Duncan Green's picture

Mike Edwards has just written a 3rd edition of his book ‘Civil Society’. It’s a 130 page primer, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy reading. I found some of the conceptual stuff on different understandings of civil society pretty hard going, but was repaid with some really interesting and innovative systems thinking, leading to what I think are some novel suggestions for how NGOs and donors should/shouldn’t try to support civil society in developing countries.

Edwards sets out some fairly arcane (to me anyway) debates, identifying three schools of thought that see CS as

  • ‘Associational life’ that builds trust and social capital (de Toqueville, Robert Puttnam, etc)
  • The Good Society: a good thing in itself
  • A protagonist in the public sphere, incubating debates that will eventually turn into laws and policies (think tobacco campaigners, or women’s rights)

"'What to do' depends on what one understands civil society to be. Devotees of associational life will focus on filling in the gaps and disconnections in the civil society ecosystem, promoting volunteering and voluntary action, securing an “enabling environment” that privileges NGOs and other civic organizations through tax breaks, and protecting them from undue interference through laws and regulations that guarantee freedom of association" (pg. 108)

"Believers in the good society will focus on building positive interactions between institutions in government, the market and the voluntary sector around common goals such as poverty reduction, human rights and deep democracy" (pg. 108)

"Supporters of civil society as the public sphere will focus on promoting access to, and independence for, the structures of communication, extending the paths and meeting grounds that facilitate public deliberation and building the capacities that citizens require to engage with each other across their private boundaries" (pg. 108)

Unsurprisingly, Edwards advocates a synthesis of all three, but then he gets interesting.

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.

Aid Is Politics: We Need to Act

Maya Brahmam's picture

Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist, of UK’s DFID gave a thought-provoking talk about Aid Is Politics last week, and he made the point that much of what passes as political economy analysis is pessimistic or refuses to make policy suggestions. However, people who work in development do not have that luxury. They are in a country to act, to make a contribution.

Dercon quoted Esther Duflo, “We can do lots of bad policies in good institutional settings, and lots of good policies in bad institutional settings.” He continued, “Development policy as well as aid is still about doing the ‘right things’ and not the ‘wrong things’.” What we need to admit is that the process is political. Development actions are constrained by politics today and will affect politics tomorrow.

By acting, we’re taking a stand. Therefore, we better get some of the things right. And to do that properly, we must take into account the power structures and politics that are endogenous to a particular place. We should think through economic advice based on what tomorrow will bring. This won’t be easy, but we can push for this, and by so doing, gain a better political equilibrium in the countries we advise.

Campaign Art: A Hair-Raising Message

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

In February 2014, a Swedish shampoo advertisement blew people away in Stockholm subways. The electronic ads were equipped with sensors to recognize a train’s arrival at the station. Each time a train appoached, the models' hair blew around, giving the impression that they were windswept.

More recently, Garbergs, a Swedish media agency, developed their own take on the ad for The Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation (Barncancerfonden) but with an unexpected twist that left observers a little stunned. 
 
VIDEO: A hair-raising message

The Things We Do: How Crowd Science Can Help Eliminate Biases

Roxanne Bauer's picture

There is a new and exciting field emerging that combines the insight of analytics and psychology; it’s known as crowd science.  Already, it’s a fairly pervasive industry, involving not just data scientists but also behavioral economists, marketers, and entrepreneurs.
 
Crowd science analyzes data (through mining, algorithms, statistical modeling, and others) and then applies psychological or behavioral theories to make sense of the analyses. It is sometimes referred to as the “guinea pig” economy because it utilizes consumer tests— often without the consumer realizing it— to obtain its data and, therefore, insight.
 
One of the most popular forms of crowd science is A/B testing whereby website visitors are shown different interfaces or versions of the same site. The way in which each visitor navigates through the site is then tracked to determine which version is more appealing or effective. One reason A/B testing is so helpful is that it divides users into a control group and a treatment group, allowing the engineers of the experiment to determine not just what the issues are but how to solve them. It also allows decision-makers to test for biases in project design and implementation.

Human Nature is Not Always Rational- How Behavioral Science can Aid Development

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

I am not sure if I was more surprised, glad, or excited to see the recent 2015 World Development Report published by the World Bank Group. Knowing well this institution, I admit I did not expect to see the day when it would acknowledge that human behavior is not necessarily guided by rational considerations and that behavior change is not a linear process and needs to reflect the complexity of factors affecting such process. The possibility that rational thought is not at the basis of every human action is something quite revolutionary, at least within the mainstream boundaries of economic discourse.

The WDR entitled “Mind, Society and Behavior” seems to suggest that economists might actually have something to learn from behavioural scientists! However, such concepts have been floating around for a quite some time. A handful of social scientists, development scholars, and practitioners have been exploring, advocating, and applying to a different degree principles, which are now illustrated in the WDR and applying approaches that promote human agency and facilitate social change.

A Storied Approach to Capacity Development

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

Engaging individuals to share their knowledge and learning on development challenges and solutions with the wider community is a core value of  the WBG’s Open Learning Campus.  In this context the story is often a powerful learning tool.  This idea is not a new one; in fact, stories have been a universal form of knowledge transfer for over 100,000 years as a way of connecting people and creating a common perspective on social, economic, political and cultural issues that they care about.

However, the above statements apply only to effective storytelling, which requires sustained  engagement with the community, and adequate influence over the learning and knowledge accretion process of the community. Research has shown that information alone—even critically valuable information—without the context, relevance, and engagement provided by effective story structure—is markedly ineffective in changing core attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors (in influencing).

Quote of the Week: Cass R. Sunstein

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Public figures are ordinarily rewarded for what they say, not for what they don’t. Grace is an underrated virtue; gracelessness is an insufficiently acknowledged vice.”

- Cass R. Sunstein, an American legal scholar and author. He taught at the University of Chicago Law School for 27 years and is currently the Robert Walmsley University Professor and Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Sunstein also served as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He is the author of numerous books on legal philosophy and co-authored, with Richard Thaler, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008).
 

Who Decides What is Acceptable Speech in the Global Public Sphere?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Is free speech a fundamental right and does it have appropriate limits? Pope Francis has provided the most memorable recent attempt at an answer. Yes, there is such a thing as a right to free speech but if you upset people you might have a punch travelling towards your face. But the Pope’s intervention is only one amongst many. In the wake of the recent terrorist outrages in Paris, and the massive responses to it globally, a debate has erupted about the nature of free speech and its appropriate boundaries. It is an intense and global debate, but, as often happens when human emotions are all aquiver, there has been more heat than light. In what follows, I will make an effort to untangle the issues before tackling the question I posed in the heading.

And in doing so, I am going to take two views of free speech. The first is what I call the internal view: free speech considered within the boundaries of specific countries and legal systems. The second is what I call the global view: free speech within the emerging global public sphere.  I begin with the internal view.

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.

#Davosproblems: The financial crisis isn‘t over, and the inequality crisis is just beginning
Quartz
The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting has kicked off in Davos, Switzerland under the banner of “The New Global Context.” Falling in the long shadow of the financial crisis, the WEF’s theme reflects as much hope as a creeping sense that economic turmoil is the new normal. Some seven years into the current crisis, the participants at Davos are acutely aware that the world economy still hasn’t recovered its past momentum.

The Power of Market Creation, How Innovation Can Spur Development
Foreign Affairs
Most explanations of economic growth focus on conditions or incentives at the global or national level. They correlate prosperity with factors such as geography, demography, natural resources, political development, national culture, or official policy choices. Other explanations operate at the industry level, trying to explain why some sectors prosper more than others. At the end of the day, however, it is not societies, governments, or industries that create jobs but companies and their leaders. It is entrepreneurs and businesses that choose to spend or not, invest or not, hire or not.

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