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.


hubert schmitz said...

The issue of classifying countries and developing a better language is indeed important. It keeps coming up in so many fora.

Mick Moore and I grappled with this question in our 2009 Working Paper ‘Country Classifications in a Changing World’. At the time we did not have the energy and resources to push this debate further.


In my view, the key problem for the survival and continuing dominance of the old categories does not lie on the supply side (specialisation of researchers and research centres) but on the demand side. Our main funders are aid agencies which have particular needs and interests which translate into demand of a particularly kind of research and advisory activity. As long as the debate remains aid-centric, substantial progress is unlikely.

In our paper, Mick and I indicated two axes along which future classification work could be usefully developed. But we provided only starting points and the real work has yet to be done.

There is a big opportunity to influence the international discourse with better language and categories (which can be operationalised).

Dan McQuillan said...

I wholly agree with the sentiment that boundaries are blurring and that peer-to-peer learning is a healthier response to global crisis. It's great to see a high-level overview that also has some action points attached.

I have seen concrete examples of this process start to happen from the point of view of grassroots digital innovation, which I have written more about as Digital Reverse Development.