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 RĂ´mulo 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.