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What have We Learned about Crisis/Fragile States? Findings of a 5 Year Research Programme

Duncan Green's picture

Cards on the table, confronted with a closely argued 11 page exec sum, I am unlikely to then read the full report. But the short version of Meeting the Challenges of Crisis States, by James Putzel (LSE) and Jonathan Di John (SOAS), is a meal in itself. It summarizes 5 years of DFID-funded research by the Crisis States Research Centre, led by the London School of Economics, and is a great way to take the temperature of academic thinking on ‘states with adjectives’ – fragile, failing, crisis etc etc.

The key question it seeks to answer is why the daily and inevitable tensions of politics and ‘conflict as usual’, which exist in any society, tip some states over into a downward spiral of distintegration, grand theft and violence, while others, even poor ones, prove resilient. Key Findings?

Like most political scientists, Putzel and Di John believe that if you want to understand politics, you have to understand elites. And that means jettisoning preconceptions of ‘good governance’ (aka how much do the institutions resemble an idealized notion of American/European democracy) and thinking instead about the underlying political settlement. How do individuals and groups with different slices of power protect and negotiate over their pieces of the pie?

What leads to fragility? In the rather disturbing language of the report:

Sierra Leone’s Cold Spot? Young People, Elections and Accountability in Kono

Jessica Sinclair Taylor's picture

Ibrahim Fanday, Chairman of Kono Youth Commission smiled proudly as he says ‘Kono is known as a trouble hot-spot – but at the end of the day, the elections were peaceful.’ Martha Lewis, a member of the local women’s network, agreed, saying ‘Hot spot? Cold spot!’ 

When Sierra Leone went to the polls in November last year, it followed months of speculation and fears that the hotly contested elections would be a flash-point for violence.  And Kono, the state which saw the worst of the ten year civil war, and remains notorious chiefly for its diamond miles and its instability, was predicted to be at the centre of any trouble.

The elections passed without major disturbances and were pronounced free and fair by the EU observers following them.  Ibrahim believes that the youth of Kono played a role in keeping the polling peaceful, by acting as ‘peace ambassadors’ in their communities.  His pride is echoed by everyone I speak to - Sierra Leone seems to have passed some kind of test, in both national and international eyes, by holding an election where 87.3% of the population turned out to vote, and the peace held.

Civil Society, Public Action and Accountability in Africa

Duncan Green's picture

An important new paper from some big development names – Shanta Devarajan and Stuti Khemani from the World Bank, and Michael Walton (ex Bank, now at Harvard Kennedy School) – directs a slightly fierce (but welcome) political economy gaze at donor efforts to strengthen civil society (one of the more recent developmental fads). As with most such papers, after a monumental literature review, one of the striking conclusions is how little we really know, but it gropes gamely through the fog of ignorance and confusion and arrives at some interesting conclusions.

First, the authors find that something significant is going on among Africa’s citizens: “a large shift in Africa in organization among citizens. Village-level group formation in Africa increased dramatically over the 1990s when participatory approaches were emphasized in international development paradigms, promoted through aid, and adopted deliberately by country governments to deliver projects to communities.” Interestingly, that increased participation applies to both democratic and less democratic systems. The question is in what situations that upsurge in civil society has impact, and how (if at all) aid agencies can help.

The paper adds its support to the growing demand that aid interventions abandon futile searches for ‘best practice’ in favour of understanding what are the ‘best fits’ for any given context:

#4 from 2012: Openness for Whom? and Openness for What?

Soren Gigler's picture

Citizen consultations in Bolivia.Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on April 9, 2012

The emerging concept of “Open Development” has become a topic of keen interest to citizens, policy makers, and development practitioners alike.

Opening data to enhance transparency, accountability and development outcomes sounds great. However, two main issues remain unclear: Openness for whom? And openness for what?

Two weeks ago, I participated in a fascinating panel, entitled ‘Does Openness Enhance Development?’ at the ICTD2012 Conference in Atlanta. At the center of the discussion were the following issues: (i) what do we mean by open development? (ii) Can openness close the ‘accountability loop’ between citizens, governments and international donors? (iii) Can openness lead to a more inclusive development? (iv) What is truly open and what not? and (v) What are the main barriers to opening up the development process?

#10 from 2012: Technology Drives Citizen Participation and Feedback in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Tiago Carneiro Peixoto's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on May 29, 2012

A common theme in the field of open government refers to the use of technologies as a means to foster citizen engagement. A closer examination, however, shows that most initiatives facilitated by information and communication technologies (ICT) have been characterized by low levels of citizen engagement.

In Brazil, the state of Rio Grande do Sul stands out as an exception. For instance, in a recent web-based policy crowdsourcing initiative supported by the ICT4Gov Program of the World Bank Institute (WBI) and the Open Development Technology Alliance (ODTA), “Governador Pergunta” (“The Governor Asks”), citizens were invited to co-design solutions to address health challenges in the state. The process has generated over 1,300 proposals, with more than 120,000 votes cast on the prioritization of the different proposals.

Will CSOs Follow Bono’s Lead?

John Garrison's picture

International rock star Bono recently visited the World Bank where he was hosted by Bank President Jim Kim (see photo).  In a packed and electrifying session, moderated by CNN news anchor Isha Sesay, Bono and Kim talked about corruption, transparency, food security, and gender inclusion.  Bono called on the Bank to join civil society efforts to fight for the end of poverty.  While praising the Bank’s recent open development reforms, he noted that open data and transparency would “turbo-charge” the fight against extreme poverty as it will shine a light on this urgent problem.  He jokingly referred to Bank economists as “jedis for development” and said that he never thought he would say publicly “I want to go work for the Bank.”  As the head of One, Bono has been an effective advocate for greater aid to Africa over the years.  One reason for his success has been his willingness to work with both donor and recipient country governments to push for greater aid.  In the US, he has reached out to both Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress to lobby for foreign aid, and is credited for having convinced the Bush Administration to sharply expand funding for Africa and HIV/AIDS in the mid-2000s. 

'Bricifying' International NGOs is Hard Work: The Challenges Facing Oxfam India

Duncan Green's picture

I spent last week trying to understand an intriguing experiment. About five years ago, Oxfam GB’s 'white men in shorts' left India, along with all the other Oxfam affiliates, and a new, completely Indian-run Oxfam India took over. All part of ‘Bricification’ within the Oxfam family (there’s an Oxfam Brazil in the pipeline too).

So what’s changed? After a period of reflection Oxfam India has opted for a strategy combining programming with increased levels of advocacy in areas such as smallholder agriculture & climate change, natural resource management, right to education and health, violence against women and women’s empowerment, along with a hefty dose of emergencies work and disaster risk reduction. Its two ‘emerging themes’ are urban poverty and ‘India and the World’ – for example the impact of Indian investment in Africa, or India’s role in the G20.

But it hasn’t been easy. The apparently unanswerable political logic of ‘Indianizing Oxfam’ has faced some pretty steep challenges, as I found out in a consultation with partners from Indian civil society. These come in two broad areas: political and financial.

How Can a Post-2015 Agreement Drive Real Change? Please Read and Comment on this Draft Paper

Duncan Green's picture

The post-2015 discussion on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is picking up steam, with barely a day going by without some new paper, consultation or high level meeting. So I, along with Stephen Hale and Matthew Lockwood, have decided to add to the growing slush-pile with a new discussion paper. We want you to read the draft (see right) and help us improve it. Contributions by 5 November please, either as comments on the blog, or emailed to research[at]

The paper argues that there’s an urgent need to bring power and politics into the centre of the post-2015 discussion. To have impact, any post-2015 arrangement has to take into account the lessons of over a decade of implementing the existing MDGs, and be shaped by the profound global change since the MDGs were debated over the course of the 1990s and early noughties.  We’re hoping that this will be at the centre of this week’s discussions in London linked to the High Level Panel and in Berlin at the Berlin Civil Society Center on Development post 2015.

When Participation Works: Increasing CSO Involvement in Annual Meetings

John Garrison's picture

Involving CSO representatives in the planning process for the Civil Society Program has led to increased and more substantive civil society participation at the Annual Meetings over the past few years. This was vividly exemplified at the recently concluded Annual Meetings in Tokyo which witnessed the largest number of CSO participants and policy sessions to date.  The cornerstone of this participatory approach was the convening of a CSO Planning Group composed of 17 CSO and Youth Leaders from throughout the world invited to help plan the CSO Program (see photo and list).

Increased CSO participation in Tokyo was most evident in the number of CSOs who attended the Meetings.  A total of 630 CSO representatives from a wide range of constituencies such as NGOs, labor unions, youth groups, faith-based organizations, and foundations participated.  The Bank and Fund also sponsored the largest number of CSO / Youth Leaders and Academics – 56 from to 45 developing countries – who travelled to Tokyo to ensure that Southern voices and perspectives were represented (see sponsored CSOs list).  They participated in a week-long schedule of events which began with an orientation session on the Fund and Bank and included attending the Opening Plenary of the Annual Meetings which featured Crown Prince Naruhito.

Migration, Sir Duncan, Instant Spouses and Inflight Barry Manilow: Final Impressions of the Philippines

Duncan Green's picture

As always after an intense ‘immersion’ in our programme work, I left the Philippines with my head buzzing. Here are some impressions, memories and ideas that don’t fit into a more structured blogpost:

Migration: One in 9 Filipinos are outside the country, constituting a major export sector (the government deliberately trains more nurses than the country needs, to encourage outmigration). On the way in from Qatar, I sat next to a Filipino gold miner, working for an Australian/Filipino company in Tanzania, 2 months on, 1 month off. OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers – this country loves acronyms) even have their own immigration channels at the airport (see pic).