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What would persuade the aid business to ‘think and work politically’?

Duncan Green's picture

Women attend a community meeting in IndiaSome wonks from the ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) network discussed its influencing strategy last week.

There were some people with proper jobs there, who demanded Chatham House Rules, which happily means I don’t have to remember who said what (or credit anyone).

The discussion was interesting because it covered ground relevant to almost anyone trying to shift an internal consensus (in this case towards aid donors taking more account of politics, power, institutions etc in their work). Some highlights:

Who are your target groups? The ‘aid industry’ or ‘governments’ is far too wide. The best effort identified four: in the rich countries, professional advisers within donors and relevant academic networks; in the developing country, politicians and senior officials.

Within those target groups, there are ‘natural allies’, who entirely understand the importance of thinking in terms of locally specific politics, incentives, institutions etc rather than checklists of best practice. Interestingly, they may not be obvious – diplomats and foreign office types ‘get’ this much more easily than their more econo-technocratic aid ministry counterparts. Sectoral specialists in health and sanitation have done a lot of thinking on systems, but (reportedly) education and water engineers  less so.

The next question is ‘what persuades your targets?’ My bet would be that the most important factor is the messenger, not the message – if a senior politician hears about TWP thinking from their university professor, or a retired political heavyweight, they are far more likely to listen. So perhaps we should deliberately recruit a lot of ‘old men in a hurry’ – apologies for gender bias there, Mary Robinson and Graca Machel are great counterexamples – retired big cheeses keen to make a difference.

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

Remittances to developing nations to hit $500 billion in 2015 - U.N. official
Reuters
An estimated 230 million migrants will send $500 billion in remittances to developing countries in 2015, a flow of capital expected to do more to reduce poverty than all development aid combined, a senior official of the U.N. agricultural bank said. Ten percent of the world's people are directly affected by this money, Pedro De Vasconcelos, programme coordinator for remittances with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, told a conference on Tuesday. "Migrants are investing back into poor regions," Vasconcelos said, adding that about $200 billion is expected to go directly to rural areas.

The Aid Industry- What Journalists Really Think
International Broadcasting Trust
There has been growing media criticism of the aid industry in recent years. Some of this has been ideologically driven and some opportunistic but it also appears that journalists are more insistent on holding aid agencies to account than they have been in the past. This is a good thing but often the aid sector has appeared unduly defensive in the face of criticism. This report seeks to understand what a broad range of journalists – both specialists and generalists – think about aid and the agencies that deliver it. The criticisms are wide ranging but several themes emerge. There’s a consensus that the aid sector as a whole needs to be more open and transparent.  Since media reporting of the aid industry undoubtedly has a big influence on public opinion, it’s important that we take the views of journalists seriously. A better understanding of what journalists really think will also enable those working in the aid sector to deal more effectively with media criticism.

14 Ways for Aid Agencies to Better Promote Active Citizenship

Duncan Green's picture

As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a series of 10 case studies of Oxfam’s work in promoting ‘active citizenship’, plus a synthesis paper. They cover everything from global campaigns to promoting women’s leadership to labour rights. They are now all finished and up on the website. Phew. Here’s the accompanying blog which summarizes the findings of the exercise (with links to all the papers). Huge thanks to everyone who commented on the draft studies when they appeared on the blog.

Programme design

1. The right partners are indispensable

Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners. Usually this means local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh). They often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power and will carry on working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

2. Start with the ‘power within’

Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their ‘power within’ – their self confidence and assertiveness – especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building this ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organizations that enabled poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice with which to confront and influence those in power. This approach has led to some impressive progress in what are often the most unfavourable of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

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.

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.

Working With The Grain: An Important New Book on Rethinking Approaches to Governance

Duncan Green's picture

Even though it’s relatively short (223 pages), Working With the Grain (WWTG) took me two months to finish, but I’m glad I did. It adds to a growing and significant body of literature on ‘doing development differently’/’thinking and working politically’ – Matt Andrews, Adrian Leftwich, David Booth, Diana Cammack, Sue Unsworth etc. (Like Matt and Adrian, WWTG author Brian Levy is a white South African – what attracts that particular group to rethinking governance would make an interesting study in itself.)

Brian summarizes the common elements of this emerging school of thought as:

"An insistence that the appropriate point of departure for engagement is with the way things actually are on the ground — not some normative vision of how they should be;

A focus on working to solve very specific development problems – moving away from a pre-occupation with longer-term reforms of broader systems and processes, where results are long in coming and hard to discern [...]

Recognition that no blueprint can adequately capture the complex reality of a specific setting, and thus that implementation must inevitably involve a process of iterative adaptation." (pg. 207)

What makes this book special is Brian’s CV – two decades at the World Bank, which experience he raids to provide great case studies throughout. It feels like he’s now gone back into academia (he teaches at Johns Hopkins and the University of Cape Town) partly to make sense of what he’s learned from 20 years of success and (more often) failure (he characterizes the orthodox governance approach as ‘a breathtaking combination of naivete and amnesia’). Unlike most such tomes, I found it clearer on the ‘so whats’, than the general diagnostic, which tends to get bogged down in endless 3 point lists and typologies (hence the two months).

DFID is Changing its Approach to Better Address the Underlying Causes of Poverty and Conflict – Can it Work? Guest Post from two DFID Reformers

Duncan Green's picture

Aid donors are often maligned for bureaucratic procedures, a focus on short-term results at the expense of longer-term, riskier institutional change, and a technical, managerial approach to aid with insufficient focus on context, power and politics. Are these institutional barriers insurmountable? Can aid agencies create an enabling environment to think and work politically? 

Tom WingfieldTom Wingfield (top) and Pete Vowles (bottom) from DFID’s new ‘Better Delivery Taskforce’ have been trying to do just that. Here’s where they’ve got to.

For the past year DFID has been focussing on these issues and how we can both guard taxpayer’s money and have transformational impact in the countries where we work. The result has been the introduction of a comprehensive set of reforms targeting our process, capability and culture. Pete VowlesThis is about creating the conditions that allow us to better address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict, and respond effectively to the post-2015 agenda. At the heart of the reform is a revamp of DFID’s operating framework (ie the rules and principles which govern our work). Known as the ‘Smart Rules’, it can be downloaded here.

Like any institutional reform, this is a long term change process.  The next 12 months provide a real opportunity to strengthen our partnerships with a wide range of partners and enhance our collective effectiveness.

How Change Happens: Great New Case Studies + Analysis on ‘Politically Smart, Locally Led Development’

Duncan Green's picture

The research star of the show at last week’s Thinking and Working Politically event was a great new ODI paper from David Booth and Sue Unsworth. Bioversity International/Ronnie Vernooy

Politically smart, locally led development seeks to identify the secret sauce behind 7 large and successful aid programmes: a rural livelihoods programme in India; land titling and tax reform in the Philippines; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in the Eastern Congo; the EU’s global plan of action to reduce illegal logging; civil society advocacy on rice, education and HIV in Burma and inclusive governance in Nepal.

The paper identifies a number of common elements:

The Best Evidence Yet on How Theories of Change are Being Used in Aid and Development Work

Duncan Green's picture

If you are interested in Theories of Change (ToCs), you have to read Craig Valters’ new paper ‘Theories of Change in International Development: Communication, Learning or Accountability’ or at least, his accompanying blog. The paper draws on the fascinating collaboration between the LSE and The Asia Foundation, in which TAF gave LSE researchers access to its country programmes and asked them to study their use of ToCs. That means Craig has been able to observe their use (and abuse) in practice.

What this paper helps answer is the question I raised a while ago – will ToCs go the way of the logframe, starting out as a good idea, but being steadily dumbed down into a counterproductive tickbox exercise by the procedural demands of the aid business?

Campaign Art: #WorldHumanitarianDay

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

World Humanitarian Day, celebrated on August 19, seeks to raise awareness around the important activity of humanitarian workers, as well as the dangers that they face.

This year's campaign featured the theme "The world needs more Humanitarian Heroes" and a call from popular personalities to show support for humanitarians by tweeting with the hashtags #humanitarianheroes and #theworldneedsmore.  A new platform, Messengers of Humanity, was also launched to encourage individuals to become members of an online community where they can share images, important facts and figures, opportunities to get involved, and messages of hope. 
 
World Humanitarian Day 2014: Voices from the Field

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