Guest post from the beach big Data Festival in Cartagena, Colombia, by Oxfam’s Head of Research and paid up member of the numerati, Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva (@rivefuentes)
A spectre is haunting the hallways of the international bureaucracy and national statistical offices – the spectre of the data revolution. Now, that might suggest a contradiction in terms or the butt of a joke – it’s hard to imagine a platoon of bespectacled statisticians with laptops and GIS devices toppling governments. But something important is indeed happening – let me try and convince you.
A new research report by ODI “Data Revolution – Finding The Missing Million” (launched yesterday in Cartagena during a Data Festival) tries to make sense of the coming data revolution, and what it means for international development. According to the authors: The data revolution is “an explosion in the volume of data, the speed with which data are produced, the number of producers of data, the dissemination of data, and the range of things on which there are data, coming from new technologies such as mobile phones and the internet of things and from other sources, such as qualitative data, citizen-generated data and perceptions data.”
For the numerically minded (I proudly include myself in this group) this is a rather welcome transformation. Data, data everywhere – but then why haven’t we, number geeks, solved all of the world’s problems yet?
In response to feedback he received on a recent post on the myths of governance in development, David Booth of ODI offers some ways to reorient governance work for more effective change.
My Five myths blog questioned several assumptions about governance and development that continue to influence the international agenda despite having little basis in research or historical experience. The animated debate that followed has confirmed that it is a good time to be raising these issues. It also challenged me to spell out some of the practical recommendations flowing from this necessary ground-clearing.
I believe five steps would take us a long way towards a governance-for-development practice with solid grounding in evidence and experience.
Duncan Green of Oxfam reviews a new report from ODI entitled "Adapting development, Improving services to the poor".
Finally got round to reading the ‘Adapting Development’ the ODI’s latest 54 page synthesis of the theory and practice underpinning the ‘Doing Development Differently’ approach. It’s very good – a good lit review, laced with lots of case studies and good insights – and definitely worth a careful read. Weirdly the bit that jumped out for me was on results and monitoring (see below):
The starting point is that "Change is almost always driven by domestic forces, and often occurs incrementally, as a result of marginal shifts in the ways interests are perceived, especially by elites." (pg. 4)
ODI argues that "the best approach for domestic reformers and their supporters combines three key ingredients.
• Working in problem-driven and politically informed ways. This might seem obvious but is rarely the norm. Such an approach tracks down problems, avoids ready-made solutions and is robust in its assessment of possible remedies. Too often, diagnosis only gets as far as uncovering a serious underlying challenge – often linked to the character of local politics. For example, studies of medicine stock outs in Malawi and Tanzania and of human resources for health in Nepal reveal how power, incentives and institutions lead to chronic gaps in supply. It is difficult to identify workable solutions to such problems, and attempts to do so often focus on the wrong things. Doing things differently means understanding what is politically feasible and discovering smart ways to make headway on specific service delivery issues, often against the odds.
• Being adaptive and entrepreneurial. Much development work fails because, having identified a problem, it does not have a method to generate a viable solution. Because development problems are typically complex and processes of change are highly uncertain, it is essential to allow for cycles of doing, failing, adapting, learning and (eventually) getting better results. This requires strong feedback loops that test initial hypotheses and allow changes in the light of the result of those tests. Some of the greatest success stories in international development – the South Korean industrial policy being only one example – are the result of a willingness to take risks and learn from failure.
• Supporting change that reflects local realities and is locally led. Change is best led by people who are close to the problem and who have the greatest stake in its solution, whether central or local government officials, civil-society groups, private-sector groups or communities. While local ‘ownership’ and ‘participation’ are repeatedly name-checked in development, this has rarely resulted in change that is genuinely driven by individuals and groups with the power to influence the problem and find solutions." (pgs. 4-5)
In some areas of development policy, deep-rooted assumptions are extremely hard to dislodge. Like science-fiction androids or the many-headed Hydra, these are monsters that can sustain any number of mortal blows and still regenerate. Capable researchers armed with overwhelming evidence are no threat to them.
The importance of good governance for development is one such assumption. Take last month’s enquiry report on Parliamentary Strengthening by the International Development Committee of the UK parliament. It references the UN High Level Panel’s opinion that ‘good governance and effective institutions’ should be among the goals for ending global poverty by 2030. It would have done better to reference the evidence in 2012’s rigorously researched UN publication Is Good Governance Good for Development?
Here are five governance myths about which the strong scientific consensus might – eventually – slay some monsters.
Spent an intense two days at Harvard last week, taking part in a ‘Doing Development Differently’ (DDD) seminar, hosted by Matt Andrews, who runs Harvard’s 'Building State Capability' programme and ODI. About 40 participants, a mixture of multilaterals and donors (big World Bank contingent), consultants and project design and implementation people, and a couple of (more or less) tame NGO people like me (here’s the participants list).
The purpose was to learn from success, based on 15 short (7m) filmed presentations, which are all online, and ensuing discussions. The premise of the meeting was that there is something like an incipient movement around DDD. As you would expect at such an early stage, it is fragmented and messy (people using the same words to mean different things, lack of clarity on what is/is not included, overlap with other initiatives like the Thinking and Working Politically crew etc), and clearer on what it is against (linear thinking, tyranny of the logframe etc) than what it is for. So this meeting aimed to try and clarify terms and ways of thinking, and build something like a community of practice and consensus among adherents.
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:
Please Do Not Teach This Woman to Fish
Is there anyone out there who doesn't think small business is the lifeblood of any economy? From Washington to Warsaw, politicians and pundits just can't speak highly enough of plucky entrepreneurs. Even in poor countries, entrepreneurship is one of the most important forces underpinning economic growth, but the best way to raise living standards and reduce poverty is not necessarily to make everyone an entrepreneur. So why do so many costly development programs apparently ignore this fact? Once upon a time, people who wanted to fight poverty believed in direct approaches that solved identifiable problems one by one. If you wanted to make farmers more productive, you gave them fertilizer. If you wanted to boost manufacturing, you set up factories. To help both of these sectors grow and export goods, you built roads and ports. These kinds of investments quelled hunger and raised incomes in many countries. But recently, an indirect approach arose with promises of still greater benefits.
Where Next for Aid? The Post-2015 Opportunity
This joint ODI-UNDP paper looks at whether development aid will remain important in the post-2015 era, and asks how the old aid model should change in response to a dramatically new world and new sustainable development challenges. The paper suggests that the label “international public finance for sustainable development” – or IPF4SD – is a more accurate description of the types of interventions that need to be funded in the post-2015 era. This finance will also be needed over the long-term. The authors suggest ways in which these funds could reliably be raised over the long-term, as well as how the architecture which mediates IPF4SD could be improved.
It is 10 years since the World Bank launched its landmark World Development Report (WDR), Making Services Work For Poor People. A decade later, what have we learnt about the science and politics of service delivery – and what are the emerging issues that will shape future priorities? The recent anniversary Conference in Washington D.C., co-hosted by ODI and the World Bank, with support from the UK Department for International Development, discussed new developments, data and trends in public service delivery since 2004 across a range of service delivery sectors.
In the conference report, ODI experts share their reflections on the conference and on future directions in five key areas for service delivery: information and incentives, behavioral economics and social norms, financing service delivery, fragile states and the politics of delivery. This article by Leni Wild talks about information and incentives.
There is still a gap to be filled between having more information and figuring out whether and how services improve. However, February’s joint ODI and World Bank Conference marking ten years since the World Development Report (WDR) on Making Services Work for Poor People flagged up where progress has been made, and what we are learning about the role information can – and cannot – play here.