22 December 2010

Top Reads in 2010 from IDS Staff

For all of the readers of this blog, here is a modest gift from all your friends and colleagues at IDS: -- some of our top reads in 2010. Enjoy.

John Thompson (Knowledge, Technology and Society team)

Critical Transitions in Nature and Society by Marten Scheffer. 2009. Princeton University Press.

In recent years, there has much talk about how complex dynamic systems, ranging from climate systems to financial markets, can have ‘thresholds’ or ‘tipping points’ at which a sudden shift to an alternative regime may occur. Although predicting such critical points before they are reached is extremely difficult, work in different scientific fields is now suggesting the existence of generic ‘early-warning signals’ that may indicate for a wide class of systems if a critical threshold is approaching. Findings reported in a recent book by Marten Scheffer and colleagues suggest that ‘flickering’ – i.e. those tell-tale signals – may occur before epileptic seizures, the end of a glacial period and in lakes before they shift to a turbid state; self-organised patterns can signal an imminent transition in desert vegetation and in asthma; increased autocorrelation may indicate critical slowing down before all kinds of climatic transitions and in ecosystems; and increased variance of fluctuation may be a leading indicator of an epileptic seizure or instability in an exploited fish stock. Some of these complex systems are better understood than others. However, turning the reasoning around, it could be argued that the generic character of some early-warning signals suggests that these transitions may be somehow related to bifurcations, where universal laws of dynamic systems govern the pattern (though this may be stretching the cross-system comparisons a bit).

Despite the complex nature of the topic, Scheffer’s book provides an accessible introduction to ‘dynamical systems theory’, covers critical transitions in lakes, oceans, terrestrial ecosystems, the climate, evolution and human societies, explains how to predict tipping points and offers strategies for preventing ‘bad’ transitions and triggering ‘good’ ones. Worth a read.

Tom Tanner (Climate Change and Development cluster)

Barnett, J. and O’Neill, S. 2010. 'Maladaptation' Global Environmental Change 20: p211–213

This is my stand-out, although not development directed. It is one of the most practical papers of the year, looking at the (often misused) concept of maladaptation (broadly speaking climate adaptation that inadvertently increases vulnerability). This is a great example of academics providing conceptual clarity and a proposed operational framework for a concept that practitioners and policy makers were struggling with. Oh and its nice and short!

Keetie Roelen (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

One of the most notable papers of 2010 for me would be the OPHI working paper by Sabina Alkire and Emma Maria Santos “Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries.”

The mere data work underlying the poverty comparisons across 104 countries is mind-boggling but beyond its empirical results, I think it provides a new and timely impetus into the debate on multidimensional poverty measurement in terms of methodology and use of such measures.

Andrew Newsham (Climate Change and Development cluster)

Li, Tania (2009) ‘To Make Live or Let Die? Rural Dispossession and the Protection of Surplus Populations.’ Antipode Vol. 41 No. S1 2009 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 66–93 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2009.00717.x

I only got round to reading this in 2010, even though it was out the previous year. But it is remarkable in a number of ways. Its use of the stats on people living with less than a dollar a day as an indicator of the lack of incentive in a market system for full employment is quite sobering. Its coverage of right-to-food initiatives in Kerala offers powerful arguments for the transformative potential of social protection and wellbeing perspectives. And it has something important to say about how “social forces [can] mobilize in a wholly make live direction”. To be sure, the paper is not beyond critique; not least because its author spent much time in previous work deconstructing the relationship between policy and practice to the point of suggesting the impossibility of policy ever governing practice.

The implications of this argument for building coalitions for making (people) live are not, as far as I can tell, really dealt with in the paper. And it is not clear at the end of the paper whether we should abandon an economic system still based on the accumulation of capital or reform it. But I found it such an intensely thought-provoking work, and could not think of another to which my thoughts had returned so often when working on a range of different issues.

Allister McGregor (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

In the wake of ‘the crisis’ and prompted by Reimagining Development , I have been reading ‘The Great Transformation’ by Karl Polanyi – thanks John Spall for the loan. It is subtitled ‘The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time’ and it is refreshing (or alarming) to see how many passages could simply be taken from this book and be thought of as speaking of our time. Charles Gore has written a nice piece in The Journal of International Development this year using Polanyi to reflect on our crisis.

Richard Longhurst (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

I have been reading and enjoying: George A Akerlof and Robert J Shiller, 'Animal Spirits - How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and why it matters for Global Capitalism', Princeton University Press, 2009.

The authors take as a starting point the 'animal spirits' as defined by Keynes and show how psychological forces drive financial events worldwide, both boom and bust. Where else will you find an economics Nobel Prize Winner (Akerlof, 2001) and his equally distinguished co-author admit that economic theory alone is nowhere near enough to help us understand economic events.

Gabrielle Kohler (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

Can the MDGs provide a pathway to social justice? The challenges of intersecting inequalities” by Naila Kabeer

It is such a useful compendium of evidence on social exclusion impact and it provides a comprehensive set of policies to respond.

Also noteworthy is the manifest produced by French economists, making a clear and well argued and passionate case for heterodox economics for Europe - showing how there are alternatives for Europe to austerity and neoliberalism. See http://atterres.org/ manifeste des économistes attérés.

Patricia Justino (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

My all time choices are Jose Saramago’s ‘Blindness’ and ‘Seeing’. These two books are masterpieces. They show so well what is wrong with the world we live in, and what we can hope for. They are beautiful accounts about what is bad and good in humans. The books should be read together and in the order above.

For more academic material (and published in 2010), I am reading ‘Natural Experiments of History’ by Jared Diamond and James Robinson. This is an interesting collection of methodological papers using natural experiments to derive causality across a series of subjects and disciplines.

Richard Jolly (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism would be high on my list for a serious but highly readable critique of neo-liberalism, more serious and analytical than its title might suggest.

Lawrence Haddad

Prosperity Without Growth? by Tim Jackson is top of my list. Published in 2009, I only got around to reading it in 2010. Unlike most books on the financial and climate crises, it is strong on diagnosis and on how to do things differently (at least for the rich countries). One gets to glimpse a picture of what an alternative future might look like, and that is rare, especially in such a well written book.

My second, is a short article called “Shining for the Poor Too?” by Gaurav Datt and Martin Ravallion, in the Indian newspaper Economic and Political Weekly (February 13, 2010 vol xlv no 7). It is great to see two highly technical economists come to grips with the economic and the political consequences of their findings (that pre 1991, rural growth was more poverty reducing than urban growth, but for the post 1991 period the reverse held true).

Martin Greeley (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

Human Development Research Paper 2010/01. Human Development: Definitions, Critiques,
and Related Concepts. Sabina Alkire.

The piece from Sabina Alkire is an important contribution to the Human Development debate. Just on Friday, Martin Ravallion wrote “The HDR has never made clear how exactly one goes from the theoretical idea of capabilities to the specific form taken by the HDI. It is not an “index of capabilities” in any sense that is obvious to me, so I am inclined to think that this is little more than theoretical hand waving.”

The MPI paper is very good (see Keetie Roelen’s selection). However, this paper may be a better one to encourage others to read. It makes a serious attempt to address the underlying Ravallion concern so far as is practicable without specific focus on any of the HD indicators, except a long section on the MDGs. The review of key messages in each of the HDRs since 1990 is not a good start, at least stylistically, but the paper warms up and I think it helps our understanding of how different welfare indicators mesh with its sections on human security and on happiness.

Carlos Fortin (Globalisation team)

Although published in late 2009, Paul Blustein’s Misadventures of the Most Favoured Nations came to prominence among WTO watchers in 2010. Blustein, an economic journalist, provides both a history of the World Trade Organisation and a sophisticated analysis of the main issues in its negotiating agenda, which in effect leads to central questions about the role of trade in the contemporary globalised world economy and in development. In so doing he deftly brings into play structural elements, political economy and the more mundane but no less important factors of –to paraphrase his subtitle- clashing egos and inflated ambitions, leading to what he terms the Great Shambles of the World Trade System. The result was aptly summarized by a reviewer in the Washington Post as: “the transmutation of the leaden history of the WTO into a shimmering, essential read for those seeking a deeper and more nuanced perspective on the modern commerce of nations.”

Jerker Edstrom (Knowledge, Technology and Society team)

A top read on gender and economics – although published in 2009, which I read in 2010 – is Nancy Fraser’s ‘Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History, which was suggested by my colleague Alan Greig. Fraser charts second-wave feminism’s critique of state capitalism (in particular its ‘economism’, andro-centrism and Westphalianism), its subsequent ‘collusion’ with neoliberalism and some current post-neoliberal possibilities. She concludes that “this is a moment in which feminists should think big. Having watched the neoliberal onslaught instrumentalize our best ideas, we have an opening now in which to reclaim them. In seizing this moment, we might just bend the arc of the impending transformation in the direction of justice—and not only with respect to gender”.

Another good and well written piece is Alex De Waal’s “Dollarised” in the London Review of Books. He looks at the marketplace for loyalty and order in “fragile states” and how that intersects – or not – with “the international community’s” notions and practices of nation building. Quite topical , if unconventional, in today’s development discourse.

Richard Crook (Governance team)

Not my favourite paper of the year, but the favourite one I was involved in is from the 'Local Justice in Ghana' research for our DFID-funded Africa Power and Politics RPC. (A shorter version is to be published in the next issue of IDS Bulletin). I am proud of it because: 1. It is based on original, in-depth fieldwork in Ghana so that it shows how state-run or state-supported justice institutions in Ghana really work in practice, and what local people believe about justice and fairness. 2. It challenges a number of common stereotypes about justice in Africa, both from the point of view of what ordinary people think and how the state works and 3. It shows how basic original research can lead to useful and relevant policy lessons.

Robert Chambers (Participation, Power and Social Change team)

Among short pieces, Andy Sumner’s The New Bottom Billion (IDS Draft). Both visually and verbally this challenges the conventional wisdom about the location of poverty, and forces us to rebalance priorities.

Among books, David Lawson, David Hulme, Imran Matin and Karen Moore eds What Works for the Poorest? Poverty reduction programmes for the world's extreme poor, Practical Action Publishing. For too long development practice has focused on the moderate poor and left out those who suffer from extreme or chronic deprivation. Now at last, by gathering and presenting current ideas and experience on assisting the poorest and helping them to help themselves, this book does an outstanding service....this is one of the most important development books of the decade - a treasury of ideas and experience.

18 December 2010

Winding Down

Now that the dust (and snow) has settled on an intense past week at work, a few reflections on some of the meetings and events that got in between the deadlines.

1. A fascinating meeting with some folks on opinion polls and aid. Key questions raised in meeting (a) what is the minimum percent of UK public support for aid that is needed to keep driving us towards 0.7%? (b) should we expect the percent "supporting increases in aid" to decline as we get closer to 0.7%? and (c) how sensitive is the behaviour of the UK Government and the UK NGOs to changes in these numbers? These are important questions that I hope IDS and others will help answer in 2011.

2. A stimulating meeting with colleagues from a relatively new hedge fund-originated philanthropic organisation with a mission to transform children's lives. We had a very enlightening (for me at least) discussion about strategies and tactics to blend the best urges of social movements and those of the private sector. Mike Edwards' book Small Change had a lot to say on these general issues and I look forward to reading other perspectives on this topic in 2011.

3. Last week we had a reception for Hilary Standing, one of the senior Fellows at IDS, who is retiring at the end of this year. Hilary is incredibly well known in the field of women's health and reproductive and sexual rights. She is the Director of the now winding down Realising Rights Research Programme Consortium supported by DFID. Hilary has been a major source of wise counsel for me over the past 6 years at IDS and fortunately for us will continue to work with IDS in various ways in 2011. If you have never read her stuff, I highly recommend it.

14 December 2010

Breaking cycles of violence and poverty

Guest blog by Patricia Justino, Research Fellow, IDS

The World Bank presented some preliminary messages of the World Development Report 2011 on Conflict, Security and Development at the European Development Day last week. I was invited as a discussant.

The report will be launched in the Spring of 2011 (and we have been promised that the title will improve!). Despite the snow, the Madrid strikes and general mayhem across Europe, we had a good meeting in Brussels.

The WDR 2011 has been long awaited. For a long time now, development policy has been planned without much recognition of the constraints caused by violence and conflict. Until that is it became obvious that no conflict affected country will achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015! This has resulted in a recent explosion of reports by international organisations and donors on conflict and development.

IDS has a longstanding tradition of research on the links between conflict, violence and development. Recent major work at IDS has been done on the links between citizenship and violence and the social and political implications of everyday insecurity in the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. The Governance Team manages significant projects on state failure, security sector reform and multi-level governance. The Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team has been working on the micro-level analysis of conflict processes, and has recently formed the Conflict, Violence and Development Cluster.

Some important findings of this IDS research are reflected in the WDR 2011, some are not. I want to discuss here three areas that have been emphasised in two ongoing research programmes at IDS which I direct and co-direct, respectively: MICROCON – a large Integrated Project funded by the EU – and the Households in Conflict Network.

* The first is the association between different types and levels of conflict. The WDR 2011 rightly emphasises the correlation between organised criminal violence and civil conflict. Violent conflicts cross over a range of intensities of violence from violent protests and rioting to wars and genocide, involve a broad spectrum of actors, and are closely related to other forms of violence and insecurity such as crime, illegality and terrorism. The Universidad de los Andes hosted the annual meeting of the Households in Conflict Network on 2-3 December in Bogotá on precisely these issues (call for papers here and programme here). It is clear that the complex links between these different forms of violence are central to breaking persistent cycles of conflict and misery. It is therefore a welcome step to see the World Bank calling for development planning to adapt accordingly.

* The second is the need to get institutions right. The WDR 2011 has a strong focus on the complex long-term challenges faced by conflict-affected countries in building democratic institutions, the rule of law and sustainable security. The Bank takes a refreshing approach, highlighting the perils of short-term interventions that have characterised development interventions in conflict-affected countries.

But I would like to see more attention paid to the other side of the story – what do we do about the institutions that emerge from conflict? Violence has an instrumental role beyond destruction. It is used strategically by political actors to transform the state institutions that determine the current and future allocation of power. Conflict-affected countries are not ‘blank states’, especially once wars have ended. Rather, they are the sites of intense institutional change, as different actors gain the monopoly over the use of violence in contested areas. The actions of these actors have profound impacts on the survival and security of ordinary people, and the emergence of social, economic and political organisation in the areas they control. Largely ignored in post-conflict policy interventions, such forms of institutional transformation are central to explaining why violent conflicts persist, or mutate into different forms of violence and criminality. A new IDS/Yale research project addresses these issues, and we hope to see more of this reflected in future policy planning.

* The third point is agency. Very little was said at the WDR meeting about the people that live in areas of conflict and violence (although more may feature in the final report). Programmes of conflict prevention, mediation and resolution are typically driven by concerns with state security and state capacity.

A key message in the MICROCON programme is that, at a fundamental level, the outbreak and viability of violent conflicts are closely linked to the conduct and motivations, not only of elites and states, but also of ordinary members of society living in (potential) conflict areas. We have focused on the victimisation aspect of violence, but have forgotten those that just get on with their lives, even under the threat of violence. People adapt to strenuous circumstances to survive, either within or outside the margin of the rule of law. These forms of adaptation change the face of local and regional institutions in ways that profoundly affect the likely success of peace- and state-building interventions.

Yet we know very little of how people live in conflict situations, what options they have and what choices they make, and how institutional arrangements affect and are affected by these decisions. This is not to say that national and international policy processes do not matter. The outbreak of violence, the emergence of new actors, and the (eventual) establishment of democracy are not purely driven by local factors. But neither are these processes entirely dependent on the broader political strategies of state and non-state factions that fight for sovereignty and legitimate authority at the macro level. This is an issue where research and policy still need to make significant progress in order to enable the design of development policies that will break the long-term negative legacies of violent conflict, and bring about positive structural transformations.


13 December 2010

Communicating Research: 'Tis the Season

In the Anglo world, this is the time of the year for end of term rituals at school. My daughter's school were studying India this term and they invited me along to talk about my work on India and undernutrition for their end of term India Day on December 10.

I was quite anxious about trying to explain my work to forty 9 and 10 year olds. But I prepared for it and it went well. I contrasted the India I first visited in 1991 with the India I visited this year. I showed them some short video clips I had taken in September. The questions were good: why did the preschools mix up 2, 3 and 4 year olds? how did the teachers get 50 kids in each preschool to listen? what were the parents doing while the kids were in preschool? why were the kids eating with their hands? what did the kids do when the ground got really hot and they had no sandals? I thoroughly enjoyed it (and I didn't embarrass my daughter.)

On a lighter note, another feature of the Anglo world at this time of year is the pantomime (a non-serious play with singing and general silliness). Putting together two incongruous themes from the current zeitgeist, vampires and research impact, the annual IDS panto came up with "Bloody Impact" featuring songs from "Thriller". Our staff and students put on the show with tickets sold for charity and good fun was had by all. I got to sing Michael Jackson's "Beat It" to the lyrics of (of course) "Blog It".

11 December 2010

Measure for Measure

"Measure for Measure" was the title given to the European Development Research Network to their annual conference in Paris last week on assessing impact.

It is interesting that the conference was named after one of Shakespeare's problem plays--one that raised more questions than it answered and one that "leaves us with moral issues which remain ambiguous to the end and because it refuses to be neatly classified."

Neil McCulloch, who heads up the Globalisation Team at IDS attended the Conference. Based on this report perhaps the organisers got the naming just right.

08 December 2010

UK public: use aid to promote human rights

Today is the 60th anniversary of the UN-sponsored Human Rights Day.

So its fitting that the UK Public Opinion Monitor (which IDS co-manages and analyses data from) asks, in its latest report, what the UK public thinks about aid and human rights.

The Monitor assesses and analyses what the UK public think of a range of international issues, including international development. It is a panel of UK residents, and the repeat interactions with the respondents allow us to do more serious causal analysis that opinion polls.

The panel were asked "how important should each of the following factors be in deciding how and where the aid budget is spent?"

The options were (and multiple factors could be selected)
  • Benefits to the UK economy
  • Reducing Poverty in poor countries
  • Offsetting the impact of climate change on poor countries
  • Promoting better government in poor countries
  • Historical links with other countries
  • Promoting the UK's influence in the world
  • Promoting economic growth in poor countries
  • Promoting human rights in poor countries
  • Promoting UK security
Each factor could be ranked from very unimportant to very important (including a don't know response)

Promoting human rights came top, with over 84% of the 2700 respondents saying this was important or very important. Reducing poverty in poor countries, promoting better government and promoting economic growth were at almost the same level as this.

With this high level of support for human rights, there was not much difference by age, gender or political affiliation.

What to make of this result? On the one hand, should we be surprised? Who can argue against human rights as a motherhood and apple pie issue, especially when choosing human rights does not crowd out choices about the other factors? Or perhaps the other factors split the non-human rights responses? Also, the previous round of the survey did find that despite severe austerity measures and cuts to public services, more than 6 out of 10 people still thought it morally right for the UK to help developing countries.

Nevertheless, I find 84% a surprisingly proportion (although I don't know why it surprises me--perhaps I am completely out of touch).

But let's say it is real. Beyond rhetoric and box ticking, what might an aid agency do to incorporate human rights more strongly into its core business? Some examples might be:
  • incorporate human rights performance into aid allocation formulas
  • lobby to include performance on human rights as one of the post-2015 MDGs
  • incorporate human rights performance of aid into definitions of aid quality
  • withdraw aid more quickly in the face of widespread rights abuses
More analysis of these tantalising data need to be done to establish causal drivers, but while DFID is thinking hard about how to allocate our aid, this is a timely reminder to not forget about a potential aid recipient's performance on human rights.

Action or Protraction? The Nutrition Council of India meets!

Nearly 1000 days after it was established the Nutrition Council in India finally met. The conclusion was that Indian nutrition efforts should be much more focused on the nutrition of mother and baby for the 1000 days after conception.

There were plenty of positive statements of intent coming out of the meeting:

1. The Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) will be restructured in a way that allows for flexibility, with a special focus on pregnant and lactating mothers and children under three (although under 2 would be better).

2. There will be a a multi-sectoral programme to address undernutrition in 200 high-burden districts. This programme will bring together various national programmes through strong institutional and programmatic convergence at the State, District, Block and Village levels (how?).

3. A nationwide information, education and communication campaign would be launched to address issues of status of women, the care of pregnant mothers and children under two, breastfeeding, and the importance of balanced nutrition, health, hygiene and sanitation. The campaign would involve people’s representatives, civil society activists, the media and leaders of the entertainment industry (what would be different about this campaign?)

4. The Ministries that deal with Health, Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation, School Education, Agriculture and Food & Public Distribution will bring strong nutrition focus to their programmes (and what will incentivise them to do this?)

The Prime Minister, who chaired the meeting, requested the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Planning Commission to review the progress in implementation of the decisions of the Council after three months.

These action points are very good, but I have real worries about delivery, enforcement and accountability (as you can see from my comments in parentheses).

Several of the participants in the meeting called for things that would help: a National Nutrition Mission Authority, the assignment of the ICDS to a mission mode programme, the creation of new institutional arrangements with executive authority under the Nutrition Council, the establishment of a Policy Coordination Unit and new nutrition surveillance systems.

These would all have helped convince us that delivery, enforcement and accountability were not being left to chance and yet they were not mentioned in the action points.

So does this meeting set in train action or protraction on tackling undernutrition in India? I very much hope it is the former.

In 3 months time the picture should become clearer.

05 December 2010

What should the next FAO Director General have?

The UN is in the middle of a nominations process for the next Director General (DG) of it's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The FAO is a potentially vital organisation in the fight against hunger, and the DG position is critical to its effectiveness.

So, what kind of FAO DG do we want?

Nearly twenty or so years on from the start of Jacques Diouf's tenure in the early 1990s, the world has changed. The good news is that there is much more interest in hunger reduction now. The bad news is that hunger seems to be stuck at around 900 million; and the world food system seems more fragile and complex than ever before.

The following attributes would be on my person specification for the position:

1. A track record of leadership in hunger reduction. By leadership I mean dedicating themselves to the issue, not the organisation. By a track record I mean credible evidence that progress on hunger would have been delayed without this person's relentless and energy applied in strategic and tactical ways to reduce hunger in a given context.

2. An understanding that hunger cannot be tackled by agriculture and food alone, but that agriculture's prime focus should be hunger reduction. What is agriculture for? It is not to produce more food. It is to reduce hunger. There are two different tribes out there and the new DG has to be rooted in the latter, but able to form coalitions with the former.

3. A willingness and ability to form alliances and coalitions with familiar and unfamiliar partners. The Rome based UN agencies need to add up better on hunger, so this will be one challenge for the new DG. More importantly perhaps will be new strategic alliances with the citizen movements and the private sector--to harness the energy of the interaction of the two.

4. The boldness to set up systems to hold her/himself --and FAO--to account. We don't have good numbers on hunger. We don't have good ways of assessing commitments to hunger reduction and the fulfilment of those commitments. The new DG should make it a priority to lead the development of new measures of hunger that are accurate and responsive to rapid change and also new accountability measures and then support efforts to measure FAO's performance against them.

5. A willingness to speak out on hunger. The commitment to eradicate hunger has to be built. The world has become comfortable with 900 million people going hungry every day. The DG must speak out on hunger, make us uncomfortable, guide us on what to do, and do all of this from a strong evidence base.

May the best person win the FAO DG position. But given the political nature of the UN selection system, I'm not holding my breath.

01 December 2010

The Sorry State of M&E in Agriculture: Can People Centred Approaches Help?

The context for Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is rapidly changing. Two overlapping drivers are challenging M&E: impact and value for money on the one hand, learning and adapting on the other. My sense is that M&E as we currently know it is threadbare. It does not attract enough investment. It is viewed as an enabler of compliance rather than of competence. When it is done well, it is done to satisfy donors, not intended beneficiaries.

A recent IDS Bulletin that I co-edited with Yvonne Pinto, David Bonbright and Johanna Lindstrom has a paper in it that concludes that agriculture is no different and may even be one of the worst offenders. M&E in agriculture is woeful. Why is M&E so weak? The paper provides some evidence to back up the assertions and argues that investment and interest is low because the multiple benefits of good M&E are not identified and when they are, they cannot be captured. The fact that so much M&E goes on undercover allows this situation to persist.

What can be done? In a paper available here, we suggest a new type of M&E is needed, one that is people centred. People centred in the sense that it focuses on wellbeing outcomes, and in the sense that it asks people about what they need and what they think is working. What are some of the components of this approach? It has three.

First, it balances multiple accountabilities through greater participation in programme design and in programme evaluation. The literature on the impacts of these approaches has grown in the past 10 years and shows more successes than failures.

Second, it focuses on enhancing organisational incentives for learning. What needs to change for organisations to engage in single and double loop learning? Beneficiary feedback systems represent one such incentive change, and new donor requirements would provide another.

The third feature of this people-centred M&E is that it seeks to build wider learning about M&E, its users and its providers. The semi-closed nature of M&E is killing learning about what works. We need to find ways to let more light into the system.

ALINe, a collaboration between IDS, Keystone Accountability and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one new contribution to the construction of this different view of M&E. It builds on other initiatives such as ILAC and Farmer First Revisited. It is helping farmers get engaged in theory of change discussions, it is evaluating farmer feedback mechanisms in terms of process outcomes and development and wellbeing outcomes, it is analysing organisational incentives for M&E use and it is seeking to open up the M&E sector by promoting the open access of data and new research. We would welcome additional partners.

I believe that M&E in agriculture has to be improved -- this paper has some ideas about how to do it. There are lots of other very good papers in the Bulletin on this and similar issues.

If M&E in agriculture is not improved then we will have wasted the political opportunity represented by the current high interest in food and agriculture. We will have no excuses when the budget axe is eventually aimed at food and agriculture and we will have failed to meet our obligations to the current and future generations of hungry and malnourished people.

30 November 2010

Climate Architecture: Stirring the ‘bowl of noodles’?

The thousands of participants in the on-going Cancun Climate talks not only represent dozens of countries, they also represent a plethora of international agencies working on the environment.

Does this gaggle of organisations help or hinder the talks?

I invited Matthew Lockwood of ippr to do a guest blog on the topic, based on a new paper by Uma Lele and colleagues. The paper picks up on the "donor schizophrenia" theme in an IDS paper earlier this year by Paul Isenman and Alexander Shakow. The paper will also be forthcoming as a Lincoln Institute of Land Policy working paper.

Here it is.

Matthew Lockwood

"Lawrence has forwarded me a copy of a paper written by Uma Lele, Aaron Zazueta, and Benjamin Singer based on a review of over 55 independent evaluations of international environmental organisations.

There are some interesting nuggets in the report about what is happening on the ground – for example, suggestions that the rate of tropical deforestation is slowing right across Africa, Asia and Latin America, for a variety of reasons. But mostly it makes for depressing but predictable reading, mainly because it is clear that the same problems that have plagued the institutional delivery of aid in general for decades are already applying in spades to climate finance.

One familiar problem is the multiplication of funds and initiatives. There are 29 bilateral agencies providing climate or forest funds, and the World Bank alone manages 12 carbon funds. Meanwhile there are 45 UN organisations that have responsibility for some aspect of the environment. Lele and colleagues describe the international environmental architecture as a ‘bowl of noodles’ because of the complex interactions between all these funds and agencies.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, it is also a dysfunctional architecture; donor-driven, with a generally poor record on learning and evaluation. The report also emphasises the failures to build capacity for adaptation and mitigation that was supposed to be a key part of the road map from the 2008 climate summit in Bali: “many more resources go to the international consulting industry (dominated by the north) than to capacity building in developing countries”. While it somewhat glosses over the political and governance problems in many countries that need the capacity the most, all of this does give a sense of why some of the larger players, such as Brazil and China, are relying on their own programmes and resources instead.

Given the continuing scarcity of climate finance (the report details the funding gap), and the fact that the North really does owe affected people in the South this money, surely it is time to rationalise this architecture and produce something simpler and more effective. It would be nice (although probably unrealistic given the nature of the UNFCCC) if a way could be found at Cancun to stir the noodles into something more appealing."

28 November 2010

From Russia, With Love

This week we are hosting a study visit from an elite group of Russian analysts and researchers working on international development. Kick-started by holding the G8 Presidency in 2006 and by a need for consistency in working with Former Soviet Union countries, Russia is on track to become a $1bn a year aid donor. The study visit is supported by the World Bank.

There are many questions that new aid donors need to decide on. To work in line with ODA good practice or not? If yes, to make a firm commitment to the Paris principles or not? To make the aid programme subservient or equal to other levers of foreign relations and other arms of government? To allocate aid by need or by neighbourhood relationships? To tie aid or not? To favour bilateral or multilateral aid? To focus on key gaps in the aid portfolio? To align themselves with the OECD or a new BRICS aid club? Where to locate the balance between cash and technical assistance?

It seems to me that energy, relations to Europe and the role of remittances can be lead areas for Russia in aid thinking. It will also be a lead player in addressing the needs of the strategically important Central Asian Republics, some of which are very fragile, many of which have high incidences of poverty.

We will be working alongside these Russian scholars for the next two weeks to learn from them and to share our experiences on the above issues. Marc Berenson, a Fellow at IDS, is leading the collaboration from the IDS side. m.berenson@ids.ac.uk

24 November 2010

Development N,S,E & W

Are we at a point where the terms “developed” and “developing” countries have less meaning than at any time in the past?

Are there increasingly common drivers of poverty in North, South, East and West?

Does an international development frame give us only a very partial view of these global drivers?

Is there potential to learn from country experiences in a way that is liberated from the shackles of GDP labels?

If there is value added of bringing together the worlds of UK poverty and change with the worlds of international development, what is stopping it happening and how can these barriers be overcome?

These were some of the questions posed and discussed at a joint workshop organized by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and IDS earlier this week. JRF is a leader on work on poverty, inequality and exclusion in the UK, while IDS has an international development focus. Together, we are trying to explore this space.

My take on the discussion?

1. It was clear that several trends make the developed/developing labels seem anachronistic:
  • The emergence of Brazil, India, China, Indonesia and South Africa and their powerful role in global economics, governance and politics
  • Increasingly powerful global drivers of development from climate, finance, security and health
  • And the connectedness generated by ICTs
2. How well do we see the global drivers from the perspective of the international development world? Probably not very well. For example, those who work on climate change and development don’t focus enough on the climate politics of Europe and North America. Those who work on finance and development don’t have a listening post in the American housing market. Those working on the double burden of malnutrition in Asia don’t follow policy developments in the USA.

3. Even if we believe that global drivers are not becoming more powerful in connecting countries, are country level development experiences becoming more diverse and does this increase the potential for cross-country learning? From growth diagnostics models which say there are many ingredients and recipes to a new plethora of home-grown models of development, the potential to learn across for example, Lahore, Lagos, St Louis and Leeds about how to tackle exclusion, means testing and stigma, to name a few issues, seems enormous.

Other issues that seem to have strong relevance across time zones included:

The development of indicators of development that have resonance for the whole world (it may be the current MDGs—how would the UK’s performance rate?)
  • Lessons for the Big Society from the Global Society around participation, voice and empowerment
  • Work on the informal economy
  • Incentives to save and invest
  • Employment and wellbeing
4. But this connection and comparison does not happen. What is stopping it?

  • Organisations tend to be strategically positioned along developing/developed lines
  • Funding is similarly segmented (it is difficult to find funders willing to do truly global work)
  • Journals are also separate
  • Training choices are similarly shoehorned into one world or another – we are labeled at an early age
5. What can be done? There are some practical steps such as:

  • The JRF and other such foundations could explore becoming a member of the funding club on development, the UK’s Collaborative on Development Sciences (the Wellcome Trust is a member and they do work in the rich, emerging and poorer countries) and in doing so add a new dimension to it’s work
  • Research Councils can be more open to work that spans development labels
  • Journal editors could be lobbied into doing truly global editions, e.g. World Development
  • North-South postgraduate training programmes in social policy, economic policy or health policy could be twinned, e.g. the Masters in Development Practice network could admit US or European programmes that focus on poverty and inequality but are not called “development” programmes
  • Media outlets could link up more clearly e.g. the Times of London and the Times of India
  • Global networks of editors could construct and serve truly globally constructed knowledge hubs
But ultimately it will require people who have worked in both worlds (I worked on the US Food Stamp Programme and the US WIC nutrition programme early in my career) to to create a critical mass.

Watch this space.

22 November 2010

The Power of Prizes

Most of the best work in international development is done in unglamorous places, where resources are scarce, systems are weak, and conditions are harsh.

In these places and spaces resourcefulness, innovation and leadership are priceless commodities. And yet much of this innovation , resourcefulness and leadership goes unnoticed outside of its immediate location. Even within organisations it is difficult to capture innovations, share them and learn from them. IDS is working with groups like UNICEF to see if we can use multimedia approaches (short video clips, audioblogs) to systematically do this.
Another way of unearthing and sharing innovations, especially those on less fashionable issues or from more remote areas, is to give awards for them. Awards can be self-serving and can reinforce the status quo, but if set up with the right governance and rules they can surprise and inspire.

For example, a programme that IDS supports, ALINe, is working with agricultural organisations to support their efforts to hear systematically from farmers about whether agricultural interventions are working for them. Working with Keystone Accountability we had a hard time identifying which organisations were experimenting with these social accountability mechanisms. We then set up a Farmer Voice Award, where the prizes were to work with us! A group of 12 or so innovations were selected (most of which we had never heard of before) and we are sharing their innovations and helping them document their experiences. For a couple of them we are helping them evaluate the innovations. The award--not glitzy, not expensive--worked much better than I thought it would.

So I was pleased to accept an invitation to be a judge for the Guardian's International Development Achievement award. The award is for people who are having a demonstrable impact on people's lives in a sustainable way, are helping transform systems and attitudes more widely and are inspirational leaders. In our work at IDS with our partners around the world, we see many examples of this quiet and transformative leadership. That is why the shortlisted nominees for the award were so extraordinary.

The winner, Odette Kayirere, was judged to be the most extraordinary of all. She overcame her own personal grief in the Rwandan genocide and in 1995 established Avega, the Association of Widows of the Genocide. Today Avega has 4000 members and provides them with psychological support, training in trauma healing, and paralegal support. The most important thing perhaps that Avega does is to provide its members with hope and self esteem. Avega funds a large chunk of its costs through local fundraising efforts. In meeting Odette, I was struck by her modesty and quiet nature, but also by her inner strength and calm charisma.
There is no shortage of leaders and innovations out there. What we are short of is mechanisms to unearth these unsung heroes and ideas so we can learn from and celebrate them. Prizes, done right, might be one way to help us do this.

18 November 2010

The Politics and Portability of Social Protection

There isn't enough research on the politics of social protection. Most of the current research is on effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. These studies are obviously important and tend to be focused on the people the scheme aims to support and the internal validity of the evaluation (i.e. how able is the study to identify the independent impact of the social protection scheme in question?).

But little attention is given to the portability (or external validity) of schemes, nor to the people excluded from such schemes and the drivers of that exclusion.

A new report out called Social Protection in Asia, a project coordinated at IDS out of our Centre for Social Protection, partnering with 11 Asian organisations, highlights the value added of focusing on these issues.

The report highlights how portability depends on many issues including the lifecourse of an intervention (how it is conceptualised, how it views vulnerability, who is mobilised behind it) and the capacity to adapt the intervention (itself a function of the adequacy of real time monitoring).

Exclusion from schemes happens because many schemes are politically driven in terms of who is included, are motivated by a mix of electoral politics, are intended to quell social unrest, and seek to build political legitimacy. And so community based organisations and NGOs that can legitimately claim to represent more marginalised groups can play an important role in extending the programmes into neglected realms.

The importance of the portability and politics of social protection was brought home by an interesting seminar given at IDS earlier this week by Rômulo Paes de Sousa, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry for Social Development and the Fight against Hunger of the Government of Brazil. Dr. de Sousa was presenting on the value and challenge of South-South collaboration between Brazil and African countries on the design of social protection programmes.

Much of the anticipated success of transfer and adaptation of this Brazilian "social technology" depends (as with any technology adoption) on ex-ante analysis of whether the conditions are favourable for successful uptake. And much of this ex-ante analysis will be political, sociological and anthropological. We need to see more of this kind of analysis taking place before plans for the ex-post big evaluations are drawn up.

16 November 2010

Slicing and Dicing Development

Last week I was at a presentation by Nicholas Kristof the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist (who was also cited recently by the folks at Aidwatch on DIY Aid).

He was telling the nutrition community that they needed to do a better job of "slicing and dicing" the issues and the solutions if they wanted ordinary citizens to pay attention to malnutrition. He cited the "malaria=bednets" branding as one example. Why the need to resort to this? Because the media has no interest in covering things that happen everyday (e.g. children dying of malnutrition). There is, he said, "no day in which this is news". He argued that the humanitarian community was not particularly good at "pitching itself" either.

Not much new there really (Charlie Beckett has written much more thought provoking stuff on the role of the media in development).

I tried and failed to ask Kristof a question: why wasn't his newspaper, the New York Times, doing what the Guardian is doing with its Development pages and supporting informed debate among its readers who are interested in development? Of course the Guardian experiment runs the risk of insiders talking only to insiders, but at least the Guardian is trying and will presumably evaluate whether there is any valued added.

Come on New York Times, DIY!

14 November 2010

The Taxing Issue of the Tobin Tax, part 2

When you are having dinner with friends who live outside of the development bubble and they mention a paper by your colleagues, you know it has had an effect beyond the insiders. Such is the case with  McCulloch and Pacillo's systematic review of the merits and demerits of the Tobin Tax.

This post is labelled part 2 because I blogged on the review in June. It is fascinating to see how the same systematic review has been used to support contradictory positions.

Larry Elliott in the Guardian gave it a neutral "just the facts" treatment, with an accompanying pro-Tobin Tax statement from Max Lawson from OXFAM. The readers’ comments that this article generated ranged from “Meaningless twaddle proposed by people who don't like or understand finance" and "It's a nonsensical idea proposed by people who clearly have no understanding of the fine-line ramifications" to "The Robin Hood tax would be a small step in the right direction. A start. But why so low - why not 5 percent?”

I suspect that not many of these commentators read the paper that Larry Elliott was reporting on. Someone who did, was Owen Barder. Owen is on record as being skeptical of a Tobin Tax and as he said on Nov 9 2010: “as I explained in February the Robin Hood tax isn’t a very good way to achieve any of these perfectly reasonable objectives. They would be much better pursued separately. This analysis was confirmed by this new research published today by Neil McCulloch at the Institute for Development Studies”.

So, this paper gives succor to both perspectives—pro and con. Duncan Green has been blogging on this issue for some time (but not lately) and his blogs give a good sense of the complexities.

Neil’s paper, is however, the first serious review of the research literature on a Tobin Tax and tries to debunk some myths:
  • Will a Tobin Tax Reduce Volatility? The empirical evidence suggests no decrease in volatility and in a few cases, even an increase.
  • Is a Tobin Tax Workable? Although these questions are not easy, there is a large literature on these questions and the consensus is that a Tobin Tax could be successfully implemented.
  • How Much Money Would a Tobin Tax Collect? If a tax rate of 0.005 % was applied only to spot transactions it would raise $26 billion globally and $11 billion in the UK only.
  • Who Would be Affected by a Tobin Tax? Would this really soak the rich? Or would it simply be passed on to consumers? The evidence base is weakest here and the politics most raw, but this is what the authors actually say:
“In summary, the incidence of a Tobin Tax is far from clear. On the one hand there is general agreement that wholesale traders, particularly those involved in short-term foreign exchange transactions would bear the initial cost of the tax. However, as Spahn points out, the final incidence will depend on the extent of competition in different segments of the financial sector. Most casual reasoning suggests that, in the long run, a significant proportion of the tax would end up being passed on to consumers in the form of lower returns or higher spreads. Even so, given that most households earn relatively little of their income in the form of returns to capital, it would seem likely that a Tobin Tax would be more progressive than several other forms of taxation. However, we currently have no credible estimates of what proportion of the tax would be passed on to consumer nor a clear sense of how it compares with the incidence of other forms of taxation.”

So the authors are clear: they think a Tobin Tax would be more progressive than other forms of taxation, but are also clear about the lack of evidence.

As I said in my original blog, what is really interesting is that we get a sense that the authors were surprised by their findings. The review made them more predisposed to a Tobin Tax than they were prior to having done the review.

I wonder if it changed the minds of anyone else or just reinforced their pre-held positions?

Is the systematic nature of systematic reviews helpful in reconciling different views or do they merely offer the cover of authoritativeness to opposing sides? I have to think the former will outweigh the latter in the long run. The short run, however, is a different matter.

11 November 2010

Growing More Nutritious Cereals and Tubers: Will It Work?

In about 1993, Howarth Bouis, then a Research Fellow at IFPRI, now Director of HarvestPlus, asked plant breeder Gurdev Khush at IRRI about the variation of bioavailable iron in rice. “No one ever asked me that before” said Khush. Thus the strategy of trying to breed food staples such as cereals and potatoes that are high in micronutrients such as iron, zince and vitamin A.

Seventeen years later, 300 researchers from nutrition, agricultural and economics came together to review progress and think about next steps in the First Global Conference on Biofortificaiton, organized by HarvestPlus, the CGIAR organization leading the development of high micronutrient staples.

To date, biofortification has relied on conventional breeding techniques and behavior change research to answer 3 questions:
  1. Is there a significant, in terms of human nutrition, variation in the micronutrients zinc, iron, provitamin A in naturally occurring varieties of rice, wheat, maize and tubers?
  2. Can these varieties be crossed with high yielding varieties so that they are equally profitable for farmers to adopt?
  3. Will they be acceptable to consumers?
The evidence is accumulating and is looking increasingly positive on all 3 counts--but not for all crops and not in all contexts. Contextual factors such as consumption patterns, deficiency profiles, technology, innovation and adoption systems and farmer ability and willingness to take risks have a large impact on the benefit-cost ratios (see Meenakshi et al. on this) and hence on the competitiveness of this strategy to improve human nutrition vis a vis other nutrition strategies. No matter how promising, the public health impacts are only confirmed for orange flesh sweet potato (see Low, J. of Nutrition 2007).

I gave a presentation arguing that: (1) it was in agriculture’s own interests to forge closer links to nutrition (e.g. the emphasis from donors on the need for agriculture to demonstrate impact at the human level), (2) we could learn from biofortification’s success in getting the different scientific silos to work together, and (3) there are many carrots and sticks that can be used to create an environment in which it is easier for agriculture to improve nutrition. I argued that public investments in agriculture have a solemn obligation to actively seek to improve nutrition: to move from a Harvest Plus to a Harvest Driven mode. My paper is here and my powerpoints are here.

Key points I took away:
  • Resist the temptation to put off the public health impact pilots on biofortification. Make sure that there are enough positive nutrition impacts before attempting to deliver these crops in real world contexts. Everything hinges on these studies. Succeed and they will create momentum. Fail and they will force a re-think.
  • Don’t separate delivery and scaling from M&E—learn from BRAC’s experiences with the scaling of oral rehydration therapy
  • Innovation and scaling are two very different skill sets—bring in new partners with proven track records in inclusive scaling
  • Science is always about political choices, but biofortification as a strategy is entering a much more explicitly political stage, so make sure (a) that political scientists and anthropologists are included in the research programme, (b) to design inclusive non hierarchical processes that allow multi-stakeholder deliberations on what is acceptable risk, sufficient regulation, necessary access, relative prioritization, and definition of success, (c) to be as open and transparent as possible—share all results (good and bad), share data, and create open democratic spaces for exchange of views. Commission external evaluations. HarvestPlus should consider signing up to Publish What You Fund and IATI.
  • Trusted stakeholders for shaping biofortification adoption are different in each context—trusted brokers will include religious leaders, community based organizations, food traders, food preparers, all depending on time and place. We had presentations telling us that governments, businesses, UN agencies and researchers are near the bottom rung of the trust ladders on these issues
  • Don’t let biofortification crowd out other nutrition improvement strategies—it needs to be positioned where it can generate the biggest net addition. There are plenty of critics who say diet diversification is the way to go to improve the quality of diet. This is the ideal goal, but even in rich countries there is a need for salt iodization. If biofortification is proven effective (and cost effective) it is well placed to do this since it focuses on staple food crops which are relatively more important than other foods in the diets of people living in poverty.
My IDS colleague, Sally Brooks at the STEPS Centre has done some really interesting work on the politics of biofortification and the need to build space for multiple perspectives to influence the forward shape of this innovative strategy.

If those working on biofortification can be sufficiently self-critical, resist the seduction of thinking the strategy is going to be an inevitable success, and be healthily skeptical about biofortification’s chances to make a positive net difference, they will maximize its chances of actually doing so. I wish them well.

09 November 2010

Redefining the measurement of poverty

If access to money is not the sole determinant of the things that comprise “development” how can its absence (as in below a $1.25 a day threshold) be the sole determinant of a lack of development?

Of course, despite the widespread use of the $1.25 and $2 a day measures, few people think a lack of money is the sole determinant of poverty. Some material things that are important for poverty avoidance cannot be purchased because markets don’t exist for them or state provision is not responsive in a legitimate way to increased household income. Just as problematically for the $ measure, some things –such as freedom, dignity, and respect--cannot be purchased.

A major advance has been made in addressing the first of these issues by Sabina Alkire and the OPHI team with their new Multidimensional Poverty Index. I was fortunate enough to be a commentator at a panel on this at the recent DSA Conference. The index was officially launched in the Human Development Report 2010 last week.

The multidimensional poverty index uses existing household and individual data from surveys (MICS and DHS surveys) and combines incidence (is a household/individual below a certain threshold for a poverty indicator?) with the breadth of poverty (how many of 10 indicators is the household below?) to give a measure of poverty that more closely mirrors lived poverty. The details of how it is constructed are to be found here.

The MPI’s development has involved Jim Foster, the lead architect of the FGT Po, P1 and P2 indices which are sensitive to the depth of poverty and are fully decomposable (capable of disaggregation by subgroup unlike the $ a day measures which use extrapolation methods based on more infrequent income and consumption surveys) and is methodologically sound. It is also timely: it feeds into debates about what “progress” is, the design of MDGs post 2015, and it helps round out discussions of impact.

And the MPI and the $ income measures do give very different results for some large countries: Ethiopia and India have much higher poverty rates with the MPI, while China has a slightly lower MPI poverty rate (see page 2 of OPHI Working Paper 38). These results feed into the poor countries/poor people debate about how to prioritise development cooperation.

The MPI cannot incorporate some dimensions of poverty such as freedom, rights, and empowerment but this is not a conceptual issue, more a lack of data. The MPI is not perfect of course and currently it does not do a very good job of capturing mortality (unlike the single data point per country Human Development Index which captures it through the inclusion of life expectancy at birth).

I have a few worries about the use of the MPI:

• Will the mass of data required to construct the MPI make poverty rates less nimble when it comes to evaluating the impacts of fast moving events? It would be useful if each context could identify one of the 10 indicators as a bellwether that tracks the MPI fairly well. This could be collected annually in-between more comprehensive data collection exercises.
• Will the processed data will become available (and easily accessible) for others to use or will the complexity of the programming required to construct the MPI lead to a climate-gate situation where processed data are not freely available?
• Will the World Bank embrace these measures? They set the standard for much development orthodoxy and my sense is that the HDI has not been very influential at 1818 H Street or in Ministries of Finance around the world.
• Will we get too many replication studies which merely substitute single poverty measures with the MPI? We need some, but I suspect we will get into negative marginal returns pretty quickly unless we are careful.

Having done my fair share of data intensive work, trying to tame surveys I salute the OPHI team on their vision and persistence in giving life to the MPI. Data crunchers the world over please use it (and explain it).

07 November 2010

Finding Common Moral Ground

The opening plenary of the Development Studies Association (DSA) Conference on November 5 was fascinating.

We had Stephen Chan (above left) from SOAS and Chris Whitty from LSHTM and DFID as our two panellists. Each made excellent presentations with lots of time for questions from the audience.

Key points I took away from the session:

  • The notions of goodness that motivate much aid work in the West may be very different from notions of goodness in the countries that we work in
  • We must be careful of equating “our aid” with “our values”, especially in conflict zones where lazy assumptions can have fatal consequences
  • The challenge is not to prioritize one set of morals over another, or to look for universals, but to engage in a struggle between multiple moralities in the search for common ground
  • Development research has to pay particular attention to ethics because the people we work with and for are often the most vulnerable to bad choices and stand to gain the most from good choices, so we have a special responsibility to act morally and ethically
  • When does development research with no immediate impact pathway become voyeurism and unethical? If the research is done in partnership with researchers and practitioners from the country, does this mitigate this worry or reinforce it?
  • Participation in randomised controlled trials requires individual consent , but often the principle that no individual can give consent for another individual is violated when randomization is not at the level of the individual (e.g. at a cluster level). Can the presence of a democratic process compensate for this absence?
  • What is our ethical responsibility as researchers to make data and analysis available? We have surprisingly few explicit guides in this area.
  • The issue of directing aid resources came up: Do we target poor countries or poor people? Do we target countries that are trapped or people that are trapped? Each of these give very different answers in terms of aid priorities. We need a study that asks: is poverty more persistent in countries that are deemed to be trapped by conflict and fragility (e.g. where governments are unwilling or unable to reduce poverty) or countries that on the face of things seem willing (e.g. put in place the right policies) and able (e.g. have GDP/cap growth and a growing tax base). The rules for engaging are not straightforward and will rely on a substantive knowledge of national politics to make a case by case assessment.
  • Finally, is the emphasis on morality and “what works” simply a diversion from the politics of change that underpin development but which the development industry is uncomfortable dealing with? We need to find ways of understanding and engaging in political discourses.
All DSA papers are to be found here.

04 November 2010

President Obama's record on development: Does it deserve a "shellacking"?

President Obama came to office with some optimism about his views on international development. The optimism was tempered by the reality of the huge domestic issues he would face and the knowledge that he was a foreign policy realist and so likely to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in foreign affairs. See my powerpoints presented at Westminster on the eve of the 2008 US elections.

On Tuesday the President got a shellacking from the US voters on his domestic record. Should he get one from the citizens around the world on his global development record?

This is not easy to answer without a comprehensive review, I'm afraid. The closest such was in January 2010 by Noam Unger and Colin Bradford at Brookings (if you know of others please let us know). They summarize the record then as:"The Obama administration’s mixed track record on seizing global development leadership opportunities merits a mediocre grade for 2009. However, several late-breaking developments and ongoing efforts could help the administration improve this grade in 2010". The late breaking developments were the appointment of Raj Shah as USAID Administrator and an ongoing review of where USAID is located in the Federal Bureaucracy.

Do we have any evidence to infer that the US is moving in the right direction?

* The CGD Development Commitment Index shows the US moving up in the rankings from 15th to 11th in the past 2 years

* Data from the OECD's Development Assistance Committee published in April 2010 show that US net ODA flows increased by 5.4% in real terms over 2008 and that the ODA/GNI ratio rose from 0.19% in 2008 to 0.20% in 2009

* His track record on the the environment is mixed: better for domestic green issues than international ones. In response to the questions "Do you think the environment is better now than when Obama became President?" the bloggers at Greenanswers.com conclude "Even after looking at all the data from the last two years, the only possible answer is deeply unsatisfying but ultimately legitimate: we just don't know yet."

* His MDG speech in September 2010 was welcomed widely and began to lay out the elements of the new US Global Development Policy. The 5 planks: (a) going beyond aid, (b) partnering with countries willing to take the lead, (c) broad based economic growth, (d) mutual accountability, and (e) division of labour in development cooperation.

* In terms of specifics, the Feed the Future initiative seems to have the potential to galvanise new investments in agriculture in African countries--of course in what the investments are made and how that is determined remain crucial to its success.

* Beyond words, perhaps the most significant change is the inclusion of USAID in the National Security Council (NSC). As in the UK, this could lead to the better use of aid for peacebuilding and conflict prevention to prevent poverty and inequality or it could lead to aid being used purely military reasons. The UK Independent Commission on Aid and the increased focus on transparency should help mitigate these risks in the UK (although the data in the excellent new report from Publish What You Fund show that what agencies say on transparency is not necessarily correlated with what they do). The US will need strengthening of the checks and balances to ensure the NSC becomes a greater force for development rather than the other way around.

Back in November 2008 I suggested that the incoming President should

> Reform USAID & double the Peace Corps
> Lead on post-Kyoto & make trade agreements work politically
> Double aid & make the MCA work better
> Reduce US farm subsidies & focus on African agriculture
> Improve accountability – “you are the change you have been waiting for”

The promise and the effort are there on some of these issues, but in terms of delivery and the outcomes it's too early to tell.

Strangely enough the election outcome may not be a bad thing for US efforts on global development.

As the President gets stymied more on domestic issues, he may turn his attention increasingly to international ones.

27 October 2010

Development: what have values, morality and ethics got to do with it?

In answer to the title of the blog: Obviously a lot, otherwise the Development Studies Association Conference, November 5 at Church House, Westminster, would be a very short meeting.

We hear a lot about the morality of giving aid, the ethics of businesses and the values of development organisations...all areas where these three concepts are regularly mentioned. Values (the basis for defining right and wrong), morals (the societally sanctioned motivations for acting in a certain way) and ethics (more formally codified morality, often in a professional setting) are obviously important (and please don't give me grief on the definitions). But what about the buried and implied uses of these terms? When can they help difficult choices be made? When can they block good change? Can policy do anything to shape them? Should it?

I am involved in 3 sessions at the Conference:

1. On Drivers of the views that the UK public have about Aid. An example of one very live issue here: what is the moral case for spending UK taxpayer money on an Indian baby instead of a English one? Spencer Henson from IDS will present on his work with the UK Public Opinion Monitor.

2. On Reimagining Development. I'm giving a paper on 5 assumptions which I argue need to come under closer scrutiny as a result of the crises of the past 2 years. One of them is the assumption that giving aid to the poorest countries as opposed to the poorest people is the "right" thing to do. IDS colleagues Naomi Hossain and Allister McGregor will also present.

3. On the Oxford Multiple Indicators of Poverty work: again, lots of choices here--how many dimensions of poverty are chosen? Which poverty threshold is chosen? What value do we place on the distance below that threshold? Sabina Alkire will lead this session.

There are dozens of other sessions, all discussing choices (life, practice, policy) that are driven implicitly or explicitly by values, morals and ethics.

Come and join us at Church House (an apt name!).