29 April 2010

The 20th Century Has Left the Building: Time to Reimagine Global Development

This is a short piece I did recently for the New Voices conference at Dochas. Comments welcome.

The 21st century is truly here. Piled on top of the long-unfolding drama of climate change, the food, fuel and financial crises of the past 2 years have been a real wake up call for those of us who care about development beyond our own back yard. We have been awakened from our slumber about what global development is, who “we” are, how we go about pursuing global development and why we are even trying.

What we are trying to achieve? We know that the pursuit of GDP per capita as the prime measure of progress is an easy rather than accurate indicator of what we want. Witness the many instances of economic growth driving things that are not good for us or our planet such as obesity, environmental degradation, volatility and uncertainty in food and fuel prices, the fragility that comes with extreme inequality and, of course, a warming planet. Not all economic growth is bad, but not all is good. We need to measure things we care about. Some steps are being taken, for example, the Commission set up by President Sarkozy for measurement of social progress, but not enough is being done to redefine our measures of success.

But who are “we”? Certainly not just the OECD. New voices are emerging everywhere and are already having an impact--not much will get done on global development issues if China, India, and Brazil are not in agreement. And they can now afford to ignore the rich countries. The West needs to treat these countries as partners rather than subcontractors if agreements on trade, arms, drugs, climate and financial regulation are to be struck. The West also needs to learn from the social change successes in the developing world. The rich countries do not have a monopoly on solutions--many of the most exciting innovations such as cash transfers to help children stay in school, citizen involvement in budgeting, new forms of local government and social enterprise, are being developed in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

There are other voices that need to be heard but they are common to all countries. First, there is the private sector. Caricatures of businesses as “all evil” or “all good” need to be thrown out. We can ignore business as a driver of development, but that would be sticking our head in the sand. Much better to influence, incentivize and, where necessary, regulate the massive resource flows towards more sustainable and equitable development. This means actively working with businesses, to understand the possibilities and the risks. Second, there is the security community. Development, diplomacy and defence are already bracketed together in the fragile contexts within which one third of the world’s poor live. Working with the other two “D”’s to define more favourable space for development is a vital responsibility we have.

But the voices that are easiest to ignore are from those people we purport to help. Lots of development rhetoric is expended on the need to listen to ordinary people living in everyday deprivation. But, in reality, few development organizations have the incentives to really listen to and act on what these voices are saying. No-one will lose their jobs if they do not convene with farmers or brainstorm with health clinic users. Career advancement is simply not dependent on it. Fixing this “broken feedback loop” in development—from those development is supposed to help to those who hold the resources—is the key to improved aid and development policy and practice. Civil society must be supported to make development ineffectiveness inconvenient for the financiers and implementers, and to provide new solutions.

How will these new alliances for global development work? What will they do? At the national level, they will find their own pathways towards development. We now accept that there are no blueprints for development, but we also have a good idea about the ingredients necessary for success: stability, clear rules of the game between the state, entrepreneurs and civil society, and a strong domestic tax base to name a few. The challenge is to bring the innovators and the planners together to find the right recipe for a given place and time. This requires “development diagnostics” – ways of combining knowledge about politics, power and capacity with what is technically possible -- to hash out the priorities and sequencing of actions to make change happen.

At the global level, the alliances have to reimagine global governance. The G20 is a step in the right direction, but it is still ad-hoc and unrepresentative. The UN is too fragmented to wield itself into a more powerful and effective force. Fundamental change in the governance of the World Bank and the IMF still seems elusive. International efforts to combat climate change are at present, ungoverned. Global governance is broken. The costs of not fixing it are potentially catastrophic. If global action to address global problems is to be effective, it requires global governance based on globally constructed knowledge. Much of the knowledge in the world is produced by the rich countries. The production of that knowledge is often rigorous in the sense of being methodologically appropriate. But if you believe, as I do, that the way each of us we constructs knowledge is influenced in part by on our own experiences and values, then knowledge on development generated in one part of the world will always be partial. Like different protagonists in a movie, each of us tends to view the same set of events in different ways. We need to find ways to build knowledge across boundaries and across values.

Finally, what motivates these efforts for global development? The arguments usually fall into two camps—the moral (“we have so much we should spread it around”) and the self-interest (“keeping the bad stuff away from us”). But the biggest negatives for the developing world are now being generated by the rich world—climate uncertainty from greenhouse gases and financial volatility from weak regulation. We now have a responsibility to act, one that is beyond charity. The self-interest motive is also evolving into one of common interest. Common in the sense that many of the world’s problems require global collective action. But also common in the sense that many countries are increasingly experiencing similar challenges: greater urbanization, more chronic disease such as diabetes and hypertension, and how to provide social welfare regimes that spur rather than hinder development. The motivations for global development need to move from charity to responsibility and from self-interest to common interest.

The organization I represent, the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton, is taking these challenges seriously. We are exploring these issues in our Reimagining Development initiative. In addition our new strategy will focus on new ways of measuring things that really mark a society’s progress, will help us form new alliances to invigorate development thinking and practice and will push us to look for ways to build knowledge across boundaries to legitimize the evidence needed to power global development. It’s not easy for us and it will not be easy for others. But if the resources put into global development by taxpayers and entrepreneurs the world over are to be effective in driving global development, then we must deal with the challenges of today, not those of yesterday.

Forget Google, India should be more like John Lewis

There is a provocative article in New Statesman by James Purnell, making the case that India should be more like Google. The key attritube of Google is that it benefits from a perception that it lives its values. India, he argues, is not perceived by many to do this, and it should. If it did, he argues it will begin to realise that when rapid economic growth coexists with widespread infant malnutrition then values and interests are very severely dislocated. While this is an interesting analogy, I think a better one is with John Lewis, a large company in the UK.

India should be more like John Lewis. Employees of John Lewis are partners. They share profits. John Lewis’ constitution emphasizes "the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business". Employees report that although they belong to the business, the business belongs to them too. There is nothing magical about a country where nearly half its infants suffer brain damage due to malnutrition. India should be focused on the happiness of all its citizens and it should make them feel that India belongs to them by empowering its civil society to hold the state to greater account via social audits, community scorecards and participatory accounting.

24 April 2010

Who are the New Voices in Development and Why Have we not been listening? The Dochas 2010 Conference

Dochas is the membership organization for Irish NGOs working on international development--the Irish equivalent of UK’s BOND.

They kindly invited me to give a keynote talk at their 2010 Annual Conference, chaired by Sarah Carey of the Irish Times. The theme was “New Voices”.

My presentation stressed the need to listen to the voices less heard in development: the G20, business, security forces, and most importantly, citizens in the developing world. I talked about the importance of forming new alliances with these players and generating knowledge together. In this way we can contextualize global knowledge for local use and diversify the global knowledge pool, making it more stable and useful and actionable.

Other voices were discussed: the boom in PDIs—private development initiatives (often MoNGOs—“my own NGO”) which are very small—about 20k-50k pounds. There are thousands in Ireland, mostly based in Ireland. Issues about regulation, sustainability, impact and motivations were raised and discussed. Definitely tapping into the citizen to citizen.

There were lots of interesting examples of how local businesses were thriving in east and west Africa (distribution of prescription drugs, microprocessor manufacturing) and a great deal of openness to this from the Dochas community (I wonder how this compares to BOND?).

The interesting issue is why are new voices emerging? My guess is (a) they were there all along, but we can no longer afford to ignore them (e.g. business, security services), (b) they have enhanced their capacity to articulate their views (e.g. organizations in Brazil, India, China, South Africa), and (c) technology (involving citizens in the aid donor and recipient countries in rating interventions and organizations.)

Keep your ears open for them…

22 April 2010

"International development not mentioned in second debate" shock

The second UK Leaders' debate just finished. This debate had been billed as being on international affairs. What did we learn about the leaders' views on international development and climate change?

1. There were no questions on international development. I did not think there would be--this is not a hot button topic with the UK electorate and there are bigger dividing lines on issues such as Europe and nuclear deterrents.

2. Opening statements reflected manifesto framings of Britain's role in the world: David Cameron talked about making defence strong, borders safe, country secure. Nick Clegg talked about Britain being a force for good in the world, standing up for human rights, seeing climate change as the biggest challenge of all. Gordon Brown talked about alliances against poverty and a greener economy.

3. Question on climate change: what have you done in your personal life to become greener? I thought all three had surprisingly little to say here (Brown: solar panel, trains; Clegg: trains, I could do more, and Cameron: home insulation). They all wanted to get onto the policy stuff. Brown and Cameron attacked Clegg for being against nuclear energy.

4. On aid: I think David Cameron was the only one to mention aid, and that was in the context of bringing the work of different UK ministries together when talking about what to do in Afghanistan.

And finally,

5. International affairs are not likely to be a big issue in this election. Only half of the debate was dedicated to it. That will be 45 minutes out of 270 over the 3 debates.

As far as this election goes so far its seems that "its the domestic issues, stupid".

Made to Stick

How sticky are your messages? Anyone who has ever tried to communicate a research-generated idea will know that it is not easy.

I'm trying not to take it personally, but a friend of mine gave me a book that can help. It's called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Heath and Heath. Despite being big in the US right now it manages to avoid too much management jargon, and get across its core ideas in simple language (it practices what it preaches).

The core idea is that those of us trying to communicate ideas are too often subject to the "curse of knowledge". This means that the knowledge that we need to generate the ideas can be roadblocks in communicating them. The book illustrates this by describing an experiment.

Several people were asked to think of a tune, and tap it out to someone else who is then asked to guess the tune. Before the game, the tappers are asked to guess what % of the time the listeners will identify the tune. They typically say 50%. In reality the listeners guessed the tune correctly less than 5% of the time.

This demonstrates the "curse of knowledge": as they tapped the tappers had the tune playing in their heads, while the listeners were not privy to that information.

The authors make it clear that they do not advocate dumbing down of messages, just the need to identify the core message.

When I look back at some of my own attempts to communicate ideas (verified by feedback from my Comms team) this rings true.

Watch this space...

21 April 2010

The Development Manifesto Watch

The three major political parties in the UK released their public declarations of strategic direction and intent, also known as their manifestos.

On the day of the climate spokesperson debate and on the eve of the next Leaders debate, what can we divine from these documents about the parties approach to global development? (Find a summary table comparing the 3 manifestos here.)

1. 2005 vs 2010: All three 2010 manifestos devote roughly the same amount of space to the combined issues of international development and climate change. But compared to 2005 the Conservatives have dramatically increased their coverage of both issues and the Lib Dems have increased their coverage of the former. The Labour manifesto was by far the strongest in 2005. In 2010 the differences between the parties on these issues, at least in terms of print space, are much smaller.

2. Emphasis on climate change: all the parties give significant emphasis to green and climate issues. The Conservatives have made up the most ground. In 2005 they mentioned climate change only once. And even in their 2009 Development Green Paper, climate change was given too little prominence. This has changed.

3. Framing climate and development: While all three parties may talk about climate change, the ways in which they frame it are different. The Labour manifesto mainstreams climate change throughout the document. The Lib Dem manifesto blends climate change with global affairs. The Conservative manifesto headlines the issue more, but it is a little more isolated from other issues.

4. Low carbon: Again, the framing differences are interesting. Labour links low carbon efforts to economic recovery and emphasises fairness. The Conservatives stress energy security and incentives to change behaviour. The Liberal Democrats stress the need for Britain to be a world leader on the issue.

5. Framing International Development: Labour stresses Britain’s world role in a global era, the Conservatives frame development around promoting national interest, and the Liberal Democrats frame development around working together with partners to meet challenges the world faces

6. Differing language on Development: Britain’s obligations to the developing world (Lib Dems); moral duty, common interest and poverty emergency (Lab); and enlightened self interest and commitment (Cons)

7. Surprises? No really big surprises, but some interesting emphases:
a. Conservatives: The commitment to legislating the 0.7 goal in the first Parliament (as Labour); an apparent commitment to the 10:10 carbon emission reductions and an interesting aspiration to form a new special relationship with India

b. Liberal Democrats: Similar commitment to enshrining the 0.7 goal into law and a Global Fund on Social Protection

c. Labour: A “radical” focus on reforming international institutions, a new (?) focus on the Commonwealth, and at least 5% of transfers to developing country budgets for strengthening parliaments and civil society

So what can we divine?

• The differences between the parties on global development and climate change, at least on paper, have narrowed substantially from 2005
• The three parties have framed the global issues in ways that seem true to their core values and constituencies
• There are no big surprises in the manifestos but a few interesting things that were not in earlier policy papers

Perhaps the Leaders debate tonight will give us a better sense of how similar these platforms really are.

What have I missed? What have I got wrong? Let me know.

13 April 2010

Putting 0.7 into law

Yesterday the UK's Labour Party released its election manifesto, and today the Conservative Party did the same. These manifestos represent commitments about what each party will do, if elected, in the next parliament.

I will do an international development comparison of the 3 manifestos after the Liberal Democrat one comes out tomorrow, but I was interested to see a commitment by the Conservatives to embed the 0.7% aid-to-gross national income target in law. The Government has already committed to this. For the major Opposition party to also make this pledge--this is new.

As I said in a February blog, a 0.7% commitment in law is neither sufficient or necessary for development to occur, but it is helpful. It is helpful because (a) aid has supported development and can be even more effective in doing so (see my article in the Atlantic Community website) and (b) because legislation for 0.7% can help everyone hold the government to this aid commitment.

But, caution is in order. Manifesto pledges are not always met. The bill may not happen. And if it does happen, the draft version of the bill gives the Secretary of State some rather easy outs if progress to the target is not being met. And with a bill in place to incentivise the ramp up of spending there needs to be a stronger set of safeguards as to what kind of overseas development assistance the 0.7% bucket can be filled up with.

The Conservative manifesto pledge will make the 0.7% less of wedge issue between the two main parties. It also probably increases the likelihood of 0.7% being written into law in the next parliament--whoever wins--and that is a good thing.

10 April 2010

Putting Aid Fraud into Context

In the midst of UK election frenzy, public spending has become ever more central to the political debate. The major political parties are fighting over who can credibly cut waste and inefficiency. Reports of corruption are also more frequent. One that I found annoying was in the Independent newspaper on April 7.

The story reports that "the Department for International Development has lost nearly £720,000 over the past five years as a result of "fraud, corruption and abuse" by governments in the developing world or NGOs using British funds." The paper also faulted DfID for not revealing who the NGOs and Governments were.

Now the UK taxpayer should not tolerate any fraud in the spending of public money, but this story needs some perspective.

While the amount lost is £720,000 too much (and is probably an underestimate), it amounts to only 0.0045 % of the DfID budget over the past 5 years, or £1 in £22,000. How does this compare to other UK government departments? According to the 2010 inaugural National Fraud Authority report, £260 million of Housing Benefit was lost to fraud in 2008-09 alone. That is 1.5% of the housing benefit budget to fraud or £1 in £65. For Income Support, the corresponding figures are 2.9% and £1 in £34.

In the current politicized debate over government spending, the media needs to give its readers some perspective--without it they will be no better informed, whether or not DfID disclose the details of the £720,000.

09 April 2010

The Spirit of Montpellier

The first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development in Montpellier, France, completed last week provided a special opportunity to engage with partners and stakeholders of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). An estimated 1,000 participants gathered in Montpellier, including researchers, policymakers, farmers, donors, and members of civil society from every region of the world.

The CGIAR has now issued a "Spirit of Montpellier" afternote.

I was especially pleased to read the following "We heard the call for strengthened
capacity for national agricultural research systems, for bottom up research agenda setting, and for putting poor farmers and food providers at the center of agricultural research at the international, regional and national levels."

There are many initiatives that are working to support farmer feedback on the performance of agricultural funders and implementers. I am involved in one of them, ALINe.

I hope the CGIAR does more than simply hear this call. I hope they act on it. One way to do this would be for CGIAR donors to insist on some farmer feedback components within all new monitoring and evaluation investments.

What do the history books tell us about the "spirit" of Montpellier? That it is a place that welcomes diversity and is traditionally respectful of and welcoming to a wide variety of perspectives and voices. Let us hope that this is indeed embraced by the new CGIAR.

06 April 2010

Never mind the politeness, just give me the data

I have been keeping track of the University of East Anglia's "emailgate" story, not so much for the specifics of what the members of the University's Climate Research Unit did or did not say or do, but for the broader debates around scientific processes, including peer review and data release.

I have been spurred to write this blog entry by an article on emailgate by George Monbiot in the Guardian and an article written by the computer scientist Steve Easterbrook.

Monbiot has been appalled by the responses of scientists to freedom of information requests. Now after reading Easterbrook's description of scientists' behaviour he says he is beginning to understand. The picture Easterbrook paints is not one I fully recognise or accept. Easterbrook says that most academics have big egos and thick skins, This, he argues is the way that we get things published in the face of critical peer review. This makes sense--these things are helpful--but it does not mean that academics have license to "always be rude to ignorant and lazy people".

Academics have the responsibility to test their ideas dispassionately and when they are convinced about their robustness, to argue and communicate the ideas with passion -- until someone comes along and does serious damage to the plausibility of said ideas. I'm reading Manjit Kumar's "Quantum" and I like Max Planck's quote on this "consider every step carefully in advance, but then, if you believe you can take responsibility for it, let nothing stop you". But by Kumar's accounts, Planck was courteous, in public AND in private.

The bit of Easterbrook's piece that disturbs me the most is the derision he heaps upon those who attempt to get datasets via freedom of information requests. He says that the way others get data is to stroke the holder's ego, or propose joint work, or reconstruct the data yourself.

It's true that most data sets contain a huge amount of value added from the researchers who have "cleaned" the data (removing obviously incorrect values, filling in gaps, smoothing implausible discontinuities etc.) and have constructed new variables. But the source data are taxpayer supported. And most of the value added is taxpayer supported. And on the topic of climate change, the consequences of making a mistake with the data are huge.

So it's not good enough to have to rely on stroking, cajoling and duplicating from scratch in order to try to reproduce someone's work. Scientists are weakening the peer review process they think is such a "crap shoot" by denying others' access to data sets they have constructed.

Clearly we need to find ways of balancing the protection of datasets as intellectual property and as the creation of global public goods. More journals should insist on making the datasets available upon publication of the papers that rely on them. All research funders should insist on data sets being made publicly available in a readily usable form, with an appropriate negotiated delay.

My previous organisation, IFPRI has a data release policy (which I helped author) and a good implementation record on making data available. My current organisation, IDS, does not have the same core resources to do this. Most UK research funders are lax about making data they fund publicly available in a usable form and so the entire UK sector is, I suspect, underproviding these public goods.

Politeness from researchers is probably too much to ask for, but the data they work with should not be.