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The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development: important new book

Duncan Green's picture

The results/value for money steamroller grinds on, with aid donors demanding more attention to measurement of impact. At first sight that’s a good thing – who could be against achieving results and knowing whether you’ve achieved them, right? Step forward Ros Eyben, Chris Roche, Irene Guijt and Cathy Shutt, who take a more sceptical look in a new book, The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development, with a rather Delphic subtitle – ‘playing the game to change the rules?’

Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development book coverThe book develops the themes of the ‘Big Push Forward’ conference in April 2014, and the topics covered in one of the best debates ever on this blog – Ros and Chris in the sceptics corner took on two gung-ho DFID bigwigs, Chris Whitty and Stefan Dercon.

The critics’ view is suggested by an opening poem, Counting Guts, by P Lalitha Kumari after she attended a meeting about results in Bangalore, which includes the line ‘We need to break free of the python grip of mechanical measures.’

The book has chapters from assorted aid workers about the many negative practical and political consequences of implementing the results agenda, including one particularly harrowing account from a Palestinian Disabled People’s Organization that ‘became a stranger in our own project’ due to the demands of donors (the author’s skype presentation was the highlight of the conference).

But what’s interesting is how the authors, and the book, have moved on from initial rejection to positive engagement. Maybe a snappier title would have been ‘Dancing with Pythons’. Irene Guijt’s concluding chapter sets out their thinking on "how those seeking to create or maintain space for transformational development can use the results and evidence agenda to better advantage, while minimising problematic consequences". Here’s how she summarizes the state of the debate:

"No one disputes the need to seek evidence and understand results. Everyone wants to see clear signs of less poverty, less inequity, less conflict and more sustainability, to understand what has made this possible. Development organizations increasingly seek to understand better what works for who and why – or why not. However, disputes arise around the power dynamics that determine who decides what gets measured, how and and why. The cases in this book bear witness to the experiences of development practitioners who have felt frustrated by the results and evidence protocols and practices that have constrained their ability to pursue transformational development. Such development seeks to change power relations and structures that create and reproduce inequality, injustice and the non-fulfillment of human rights.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

 

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Democracy, voting and public opinion in the Arab world: New research evidence
Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University
In 2002 the United Nations issued a much-discussed report highlighting the lack of progress in Arab countries relative to other developing regions, and there has continued to be scrutiny of various social, political and economic indicators there. But a combination of closed regimes, highly nuanced cultural norms and burgeoning areas of conflict often make it difficult to interpret complex political trends and events. The available data relating to perceived changes in public attitudes must be read carefully, with the conflicting results of the 2011 Arab Spring standing as a stark reminder of this complexity. Still, a variety of studies published in 2015 help shed light on emerging trends relating to elections and public opinion in the Arab world, which continues to go through a state of upheaval and transition. Interpreting voter intentions, attitudes and outcomes is particularly difficult in regimes that are neither fully democratic nor totalitarian: Where citizens are not necessarily forced to participate, and yet many turn out to vote despite the fact that the process is highly unlikely to influence the ultimate outcome of the election. A 2015 study published in the journal Comparative Political Studies, “Elections in the Arab World: Why Do Citizens Turn Out?” seeks to explain voter turnout in such situations under authoritarian regimes in Arab countries.
 
Open data ‘not enough to improve lives’
SciDevNet
Governments in developing countries must ensure the statistics they publish can be used to improve citizens’ lives, practitioners told SciDev.Net following an open data meeting. Liz Carolan, the international development manager at host organisation the Open Data Institute (ODI), said countries should instead start with real-world problems and then work out how data can be part of the solution. “A government might say: ‘We put the data on the web, that’s enough’ — but it’s not,” she said. “You could not get away with that”, especially in countries where internet connectivity and literacy are low and it is difficult for people to access the data in the first place.  Ivy Ong, outreach lead at government data provider Open Data Philippines, added: “Do not be blinded by the bright and shiny milestone of developing and launching an open data portal.”
 

Football: A powerful platform to promote respect, equality, and inclusion!

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Less than a year before the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and over one month after the final match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, BC, I would like to share and focus my reflections on the Women’s World Cup, mostly emphasizing the social psychology and sociological milieu around the match as it was extensively covered by all media.

 FIFA Women's World Cup 2015“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Maya Angelou

In the past, I had the privilege of being present at multiple global sporting events around the world in many capacities, but I had never attended an event as a spectator until the final match between USA and Japan on Sunday, July 5 at BC Place Stadium. Women’s sport is very close to my heart as I had the privilege of managing my daughter’s junior and collegiate tennis career for almost ten years. Nevertheless, I was very excited to find myself in a new role as a part of the overwhelmingly American crowd of 53,341. On that day, a golden haze from wildfires blanketed the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver, BC, perhaps due to the 16-year US winning drought at the Women’s World Cup! However, during the 90 minutes of playing time and finishing strong with a winning score of 5-2, the US team extinguished the flames within the boundaries of the football pitch substituting golden smog with flashy golden confetti, a golden trophy, and gold medals around their necks at the award ceremony.
 
This summer has seen North America pleasantly packed with global sporting events. First we had the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, then the Pan-American and Parapan-American Games in Toronto. In between, there were the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, and coming in late September, the City of Richmond will be hosting the UCI Cycling Road Championships. One would wonder what these events have in common… The answer is relatively simple. In all of these events, female athletes play either the main role or a shared role as competitors. I am very cautious with the usage of the term “equal participation” as we hear some critics voicing their opinions. During and after the Women’s World Cup some complaints were raised about the artificial turf.  Others complained that the opposing teams were staying in the same hotel, and that offensive comments about player’s appearances had been made. There were also comments about paltry financial rewards for women athletes as compared to the Men’s World Cup.  But on the day of the final in the packed-to-the-brim BC Place, no one was thinking about these shortcomings.
 

Campaign Art: Water is... Life

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Did you know that more people in rural India have access to phones than to safe drinking water? It is estimated that only 18% of the total rural population of 833 million have access to safe, treated water while 41% of the rural population, or 346 million people, own mobile phones.
 
While access to drinking water in India has increased over the past decade, the tremendous adverse impact of unsafe water on health continues. Every year, about 600,000 Indian children die because of diarrhea or pneumonia, often caused by toxic water and poor hygiene, according to Unicef.

Likewise, did you know that more than 40% of Ghana's 25 million people lack access to safe water. Due to drinking contaminated water, diarrheal disease is the third most commonly reported illness at health centers across the country and 25% of all deaths in children under the age of five are attributed to diarrhea.
 
Clearly, water is a ticket to better health. This short video from the Safe Water Network provides insight into what water is and how important it is to community and individual health outcomes through a succession of images and statements. The music was written and performed by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club.

VIDEO: Water is...


 

The things we do: Mobilize your potential through self-talk

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People often talk to themselves.  This was once thought to be a hallmark of the self-absorbed.  Social science research, however, suggests it may be a powerful way in which we can motivate and cheer ourselves on.

thinkingHave you ever spoken to yourself?  Have you spoken to yourself in third person? Most of us have done so, but we may not have considered why we do it.

In 2013, Malala Yousafzai appeared on the Daily Show and Jon Stewart asked her when she realized the Taliban had made her a target. She begins her answer in first person but switches to third person part-way through, saying “When in 2012 I was with my father and someone came and she told us ‘have you seen on google if you search your name that the Taliban have threatened you?’ I could not believe it. I said ‘No, it’s not true.’ Even after when we saw it, I was not worried about myself that much. I was worried about my father because we thought the Taliban are not that cruel that they would kill a child because I was 14 at that time. But then later on, I started thinking about that. I used to think a Talib would come and kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do, Malala?’ Then I would reply to myself that, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with a shoe then there would be no difference between you and the Talib.’ ”

Ethan Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, studies self-talk, the introspective conversations we have with ourselves about ourselves, and believes that speaking to or about ourselves in the third person may be one way in which we help ourselves cope.

Fukuyama’s history of the state, book 2: Political Order and Political Decay

Duncan Green's picture

Last week, I reviewed Volume 1 (from pre-history up to the French Revolution), but before reviewing Political Order and Political Decay, the second volume of Francis Fukuyama’s monumental history of the state, it’s probably worth asking, why bother?

Political Order and Political DecayBecause whether providing/denying services, freedoms or functioning markets, the state is the most important institution underpinning development, and yet people in the foreign policy and development world operate with hazy and simplistic understandings of where states came from and how they evolve. Another example of historical amnesia, alas.

That blindness was epitomised by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where the US government "seemed to think that democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which the country would automatically revert once Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was removed." Oops.

According to Fukuyama, that is a particular problem because "If there is a single theme that underlies many of the chapters of this book, it is that there is a political deficit around the world, not of states, but of modern states that are capable, impersonal, well organized and autonomous."

The second volume picks up from the late 18th Century (French and American Revolutions) and brings us up to the present day. It feels both dryer in style and more fragmented than Volume One, hopping between discussions of the spread of democracy, geographical determinism, political Islam, the role of the Middle Classes and the experiences of various continents and countries in the developing world, before returning to Fukuyama’s two overriding interests – will China’s rise continue, and will anything arrest the US’ ‘political decay’? So instead of trying to identify a single thread, here are some highlights/insights:
 

Quote of the Week: Justin Farrell

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Justin Farrell, author of The Battle for Yellowstone"Environmental conflict is not ultimately about scientific true and false, but about moral right and wrong. It is not about the facts themselves, but what makes the facts meaningful. There are important moral and spiritual bases of conflict that observers and participants in the conflict have ignored, muted or simply misunderstood."

- Justin Farrell, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University and the author of The Battle for Yellowstone
 

‘Authoritarianism Goes Global’

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Policeman patrols 99% protestNorms, especially global norms, are exceedingly fragile things…like morning dew confronting the sun. As more players conform to a norm, it gets stronger. In the same way, as more players flout it, disregard it or loudly attack it, it begins to lose that ever so subtle effect on the mind that is the basis of its power.  When a norm is flouted and consequences do not follow the norm begins to die.

Looking back now, we clearly had a magical moment in global affairs a while back. Post 1989, as the Berlin wall fell, communism ended in most places, apartheid South Africa magically turned into democratic South Africa, and so on; it seemed like an especially blessed moment. The bells of freedom tolled so vigorously mountains echoed the joyous sound. It seemed as though anything was possible, that the form of governance known as liberal constitutional democracy would sweep imperiously into every cranny of the globe.

Just as important, there were precious few defenders of autocracy in those days. Almost every regime on earth claimed to be democratic, even if the evidence was discrepant. They could at least claim to be ‘democratic’ in some utterly singular if implausible way. Now, all that has changed. Despots and sundry autocrats strut the earth. They are not ashamed. They are not afraid. They are brazen. They are in your face. They say to anyone who asks: “Hey, I am a despot. I have my own League of Despots. Deal with it”.  And what is confronting the brazenness? The apparently exhausted ideals of liberal constitutionalism suddenly bereft of defenders.

The specific occasion for these reflections is the July 2015 issue of the Journal of Democracy (Volume 26, Number 3). It is a special issue focused on these matters, and I took my title from the lead essay: “Authoritarianism Goes Global: Countering Democratic Norms”, written by Alexander Cooley, Director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. His basic claim is as follows:

"Over the past decade, authoritarians have experimented with and refined a number of tools, practices, and institutions that are meant to shield their regimes from external criticism and to erode the norms that inform and underlie the liberal international political order." (Page 49)

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week
 

Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Finalised text for adoption
United Nations
This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognise that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.  All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.  The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which we are announcing today demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve.

There Are Still Tons of People Around the World Who Haven't Heard About Climate Change
Vice
Whether a person is aware of climate change or not — and how much they worry about it — depends on a range of factors, including what country someone lives in and how developed it is, their education level, and even what the local air quality is like, according to a report published in the journal Nature Climate Change.  In fact, when researchers analyzed data from over 100 countries collected by Gallup in 2007 and 2008, they found two big trends. The report could help to explain why, as extreme weather events displace tens of millions of people each year and diplomats prepare to meet in Paris for a historic climate change conference, public attention remains low in many countries, even ones most impacted by climate change.
 

Can WASH deliver more than just sanitation?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

WASH interventions can save lives and engineer social changes within communities-- but only when an inclusive approach is taken. Sanitation issues should be framed as a collective action problem that requires everyone's input to solve.

The abysmal state of access to safe water and sanitation facilities in the developing world is currently a major cause for alarm; 580,000 children die every year from preventable diarrheal diseases. This is due largely to the Boy getting water from community water pipe in Sri Lanka. 2.5 billion people around the globe who do not have access to safe sanitation. Not only can an effective WASH intervention save lives, it can also engineer changes in the social fabric of communities that adopt these behavioural changes. This points to a key attribute of a successful WASH intervention – that through these programmes, communities not only access a new service that improves their quality of life, but they also learn from being part of a concrete intervention that emphasises equity and inclusion.

Let me explain how. Safe sanitation is essentially ‘total’. In a community, even one family practising open defecation puts the health of other families at risk. Also, unsafe sanitation practices pollute local potable and drinking water sources in the habitations. Together, this can undo any gains from partial coverage of WASH interventions. This much is now widely accepted by sanitation practitioners around the world. However, there remains a serious challenge when it comes to the implementation of this concept.

When a community is introduced to a WASH-focused behaviour change campaign, there are often variations in the levels of take-up in different families. This could be because of several barriers – financial ability, cultural beliefs, education levels, etc. In response, external agencies have many options. They can focus more on families in their behaviour change campaigns, offer them material and financial support or incentives, or exert peer pressure (which may in some cases become coercive, etc).

However, the best approach – whether facilitated by an external agent or not – is for a community to devise a collective response. The issue should be framed as a collective action problem that requires solving for the creation of a public good. In many instances, communities have come together to support the poorest families – social engineering at its finest. At its best, recognising the needs of every member of a community will lead to a recognition of the challenges that the typically marginalised groups face. It is this recognition that could prompt a rethink of social norms and relationships.
 

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