Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on August 15, 2013
It was a sunny, hot Saturday afternoon and I mingled with farmers, community leaders, coffee producers and handicrafts entrepreneurs who had traveled from all parts of Bolivia to gather at the main square of Cliza, a rural town outside of Cochabamba. The place was packed and a sense of excitement and high expectations was unfolding. It was to be anything but an ordinary market day.
Thousands of people had been selected from more than 700 rural communities to showcase their products and they were waiting for a special moment. President Evo Morales, Nemesia Achocallo, Minister for Rural Development, Viviana Caro, Minister for Development Planning, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, on his first official visit to Bolivia, would soon be meeting them.
While waiting among them, I felt their excitement, listened to their life stories and was humbled by the high expectations they had in their government, their leaders and the international community to support them in reaching their aspirations for a better future for their families and communities. From many I heard the need to improve the well-being of their families and communities and their goal of “Vivir Bien!”
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2013
There seems to be a growing consensus among experts in different fields that in today’s highly interdependent world, effective collaboration has become crucial for achieving results.
As part of the World Bank's Internal Justice System Week a few days ago, we attended a presentation by Dr. Peter Coleman, Director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University and heir of an illustrious research tradition in social-psychology going back almost a hundred years. Dr. Coleman is part of an inter-disciplinary team of global experts that also includes mathematicians, astrophysicists, anthropologists and computer modeling experts in a quest to answer the following question: what are the conditions that support or hinder collaboration in social relations?
Using computer simulations they observed the results of competitive and cooperative behaviors, and detected how dynamic patterns develop over time. They realized that the dynamic social relations created behaved in ways similar to those that have been observed in other complex systems, from cancerous cellular mutations to global climate shifts. Like such systems, social dynamics are not only complex but also “non-linear”, which means that the different elements constantly influence each other, acting as both cause and effect of each other’s behaviors. The tool available to study such systems is known as “dynamical system theory”, and Dr. Coleman’s team has been applying its methods to social systems.
"Why do you want people to complain about our project?" Jacques Buré, a Senior Highway Engineer in the World Bank, faced his incredulous client. They were building a major road in Kazakhstan, with a $2.13 billion World Bank investment and over 1,000 kilometers across Central Asia. Jacques had just broached the subject of a grievance mechanism and he could hear the skepticism behind the question: yet another condition imposed by the World Bank. And this one seems too much: what could possibly be the rationale for soliciting complaints?
This story kicked off a day-long deep dive which brought together over 40 staff from the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation. It touched core issues about how to better manage complex risks on development projects; improve client relations; build on country systems; and shift the way the World Bank presents its policies and standards from 'because we tell you' to 'here's how this adds value and improves performance'. Building on experienced practitioners and outside experts, the session was run by the Dispute Resolution and Prevention team – part of the World Bank’s Risk Management unit. It emphasized how to overcome operational challenges related to implementation of grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) and make the business case to our clients on how a GRM can add value. It struck a deep chord with many of the project teams in the room.
Much of what we do in international development as a field of practice is designed to make Babu move, yet more often than not Babu does not make the move we would like her to make, a move that we are convinced is clearly, evidently, certainly, demonstrably in her overall best interest. As a result, we are, at turns, surprised, frustrated, angry, resigned, cynical even. The fault is with Babu, we are convinced, and not with us.
As you must have guessed by now, Babu is the prototypical intended beneficiary of many of our development programs and initiatives. Depending on how you pronounce her name, she could be from any of the continents to which most developing countries belong. We work in development largely because we want to improve Babu’s life. We have a passionate concern; we want to do the very best that we can for her. We bring money, expertise and oodles of benevolence to Babu’s hometown. But we know that for the initiative to go well (and produced those magical ‘development results’) we need Babu to play her part. We need her to make a move of some kind. Perhaps we want her to:
A little over a year ago, I wrote on this blog that communicative norms on the use of social media were shifting around, but would eventually settle down. This would happen, I argued rather naïvely, as patterns and preferences of user communities determined the contours and content of fast changing information and communication ecologies. I should also have said that vested interests –both good and bad--would attempt to exert influence on this process.
We’ve all probably come across stories of the ways in which news and media organizations, businesses, schools, and international donors have been struggling to remain relevant within shifting information environments around the world. So have governments, parliaments, and bureaucracies. Much has been written about these struggles for relevance, and a dominant theme in much of this writing has been the need to provide users with tools to manage unrelenting information gluts.
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.
The third and final day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance' (Cape Town, South Africa) looked to the future. But, in a sense, it was not possible to look ahead without looking back at the same time. Again and again, participants reflected on the amazing road already travelled. Stories were told of the time when the World Bank and other donors would not discuss the terrible scourge of corruption in developing countries, let alone the role of politics and political institutions in either enabling or hampering development results. Yet now, all these things are part of not only the agenda but concrete practice in the field. A director summed up the state of play succinctly:
This is an extended quote from the New York Times of February 19, 2010, from a story titled 'Afghan Push Went Beyond Traditional Military Goals':
"Before 10,000 troops marched through central Helmand Province to wrest control of a small Afghan town from a few hundred entrenched Taliban fighters, American officials did something more typical of political than military campaigns: they took some polls.
This is my first blog since I left the World Bank and relocated to New Delhi to work for UNICEF. Different cultures, different contexts, different communication challenges. Every change implies dealing with unknown and unexpected situations and it usually also entails refining a different way of thinking in approaching new challenges. In this case, the change I went through allowed me to see even clearer the critical role of communication for development (C4D), or program communication as it is also called in UNICEF, for achieving sustainable change.
The current trend in most international organizations towards results-based management planning is a further element confirming the crucial role of C4D. Results are now defined basically at outputs level and outcomes level. The former refers to results directly related to activities carried out as technical solutions (e.g. production of infrastructure or provision of services), but outcomes are results of a higher level, capable of achieving a greater impact, linked with institutional or behavioral change. That is where C4D becomes a sine-qua-non for the success of most development initiatives. No matter what is the technical solution to be adopted; i.e. latrines, water irrigation schemes, a new kind of crop, children immunization or better governance, these can only be achieved through a professional and systematic use of communication for social and behavior change.