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!).

26 October 2010

Poverty and Disability

I have been a development researcher for the past 26 years. And yet not until I heard a lecture by Raymond Lang in 2009 did I think about disability and development all that much. I had not even thought about the definition of disability.

I was asked by Leonard Cheshire Disability to review their latest book: Poverty and Disability which is out now.

This book describes disability as a social construct--the result of society's reaction to a person with an impairment. In other words it is not the impairment that is disabling, it is the interaction with societal norms, culture and institutions.

In this sense there is much familiar about disability. We know that most of the poor are excluded, marginalised, disempowered. So we can guess that the disabled--defined in this way--are more likely to be poor--it is almost tautological. But I did not know that so many of the poor were disabled. The book quotes some statistics from the World Bank to suggest that one in 5 of the poor are affected by disability. That is staggering.

It is doubly staggering that the international development community has, for the most part, ignored this issue. I have done a lot of work with household surveys, but I can't recall any that have looked at disability. I have done a lot of work on impact evaluations of aid interventions, but I cannot recall any on disability. This is shocking because several of the papers in the volume note that when it is assessed, disability is a greater excluder of participation than gender and ethnicity. My guess is that this is not widely known or appreciated. I would also guess that for most aid donors disability is a very marginal issue in terms of spend. Certainly it does not account for 20% of ODA resources.

The book is very clearly written, with most chapters being about work, assets, livelihoods and social protection. This is important, as it would be easy for a non-specialist to see disability primarily as a social sector issue. The refusal to treat disability as a health issue is particularly admirable, but also slightly stubborn--surely health systems are the source of much of the exclusion and stigmatisation. I enjoyed the chapter on aid and disability by Roger Riddell, especially his no holds barred critique of the development agencies and their partners. The calls for inclusive development in the final chapter strike a chord with me and with IDS. Much of our work is about generating knowledge about the importance of and ways for building inclusive states and inclusive societies.

The crucial role of disabled people's organisations (DPO's) in claiming spaces to rebalance power for the causes they represent in the development discourse is vital and I would have liked to have seen a bit more on strategies and tactics for moving this issue up (and into) the development agenda. Mobilising disabled people ("never about us without us" is a key principle) is one strand to a strategy and mobilising resources is another. But towards what action? What is the balance between interventions that are specifically disability-deconstructing interventions and those that change to the rules of the game that prevent further construction? What is the balance between establishing new divisions within aid agencies to address the issues and the pursuit of greater embeddedness within existing divisions? Who are the key partners to form alliances with: social movements, private sector, research organisations or media?

It is clear that there is not much evidence to guide those who have to make these strategic and tactical choices. Despite being one of the more visible manifestations of exclusion, stigma and lack of power, disability is hidden from sight most of the time in development research discourses. And yet its study offers the potential of so much learning for everyone working in development. This book has raised the profile of this set of issues in a context that sadly is new to many development researchers. I hope IDS can work with others in the DPO and development fields, to form new alliances to co-construct new knowledge to deconstruct disability as we know it.

This book is well written, with excellent chapters from many different contexts providing a rounded set of perspectives. It is conceptual, analytical and thoughtful.

In short, this book deserves to be the benchmark by which all future books on disability and development are assessed.

20 October 2010

DFID and the Spending Review: The 11 Billion and the other two Billions

So, the comprehensive spending review has spoken. DFID's budget will go up by 35% by 2014-15 to 11.5 billion with all ODA at 12.6 billion thus meeting the 0.7% target of ODA to GNI as promised (although no news about legislation). That's good news.

Other headlines:
  • the increases will be a reverse-L shape, modest increases in the next 2 years (with ODA to GNI fixed at 0.56%) with the big increases to 0.7% in the 2013-2015 period
  • administration costs--real cuts by 33% in line with other departments
  • "an international development programme that contributes to national security goals" with spending to support fragile states and conflict affected states increasing from 22% to 30% of ODA by 2014/15
So, 35% more money, 33% less staff, working in more fragile contexts, with a greater need to demonstrate impact...that sounds tough.

Other quick observations:

  • the percent of ODA controlled by DFID will remain roughly constant
  • the climate settlement is multi-department and will take some time to unpack
  • there is a statement in the DFID settlement that "80% of poverty reduction is accounted for by long term growth in average incomes". I don't recognise this number--interesting to know where it came from and which study it is based on.
  • there's nothing about about empowering women in the DFID settlement
  • BBC's Newsnight TV programme has just finished and did not mention any international development backlash
On the increase of the share of ODA to conflict prevention, the Guardian reports an interesting exchange between Joan Ruddock MP and PM David Cameron. In response to a statement of concern about this increasing share to conflict prevention, the Prime Minister quoted Paul Collier's Bottom Billion as justification for this emphasis. The fact is that DFID still talks about "helping the billion people in the world who live in poverty", not Collier's Bottom Billion. They are not one and the same. In fact my colleague Andy Sumner reckons the Collier Billion represent only 27% of the poverty billion.

Collier's counter argument to Sumner is that (a) his billion are trapped and (b) development cooperation is needed to unlock the traps. The fact is we don't have evidence to show that the poor trapped in the Collier countries are any more trapped than the poor trapped in other countries such as India. We also don't know if development cooperation is any better at springing traps in the former versus the latter countries. More evidence is needed on these questions.

From One extreme to another?

The One Show is a popular daily news programme from BBC. Last night they had a segment on the need to "take a long hard look at how this £7 billion pot of cash (i.e. DFID) is being spent" in the context of the UK spending cuts that are planned to be announced today. The author, Julia Hartley-Brewer, was right to say we need to take a long hard look.

Unfortunately this report was not it. Admittedly it is a challenge to have a long hard look at anything in a 4 minute segment. However, there were some shortcuts available. The people who have taken a long hard look at aid could have been interviewed: people like Roger Riddell, Esther Duflo, John Gaventa, and Michael Edwards. These are the people who are generating and analysing the evidence on aid from a critical perspective. Instead we had 52 seconds of talk from the International Policy Network who are aid skeptics and only 15 seconds from Justin Forsyth Head of Save the Children UK and 24 seconds from Duncan Bannatyne, entrepreneur and UNICEF ambassador. Note the imbalance in time given to skeptics and the rest.

One of the stats highlighted by Ms. Hartley-Brewer is the 25% of DFID projects "not expected to achieve or even largely achieve their objectives". I think this refers to the March 2010 study by Conlin and Beaujean which found that "in 2008, 75% of projects were expected to achieve or largely achieve their objectives (scored 1 or 2 on a 5 point scale) scored 1 or 2 rising from 71% in 2004/2005 and 65% in 2000/01" and "improvement has been sustained while DFID has taken on riskier projects. In 2005-8, 18% of projects were considered high risk compared with 12% in the previous period, with most projects (75%) rated as medium risk."

I don't know about you, but 75% of projects that achieve or largely achieve their objectives against a backdrop of taking on increasingly risky activities looks pretty good when you consider the difficult circumstances most aid work takes place in. For some context, we know that the 3 year survival rate of new business start ups in Europe hovers below 70%, that 70% of UK government IT projects fail and that DFID along with the Department of Health are two of the best performers in Government when it comes to the quality of their data systems to track performance--a sure sign of a Department that is striving for efficiency and effectiveness.

The report also cites an IDS IDS study assessing and analysing the attitudes of the UK public to aid. The One show quotes the study by noting that “less than 50% of British people want foreign aid ring-fenced” and “more than 60% of British people want it to be cut”. For balance you should know that the study also reported that more than 6 out of 10 respondents felt that "it is our obligations as human beings to help the poor in the world" and just over half had the view that "the UK should be prepared to share at least some of its wealth with the poor in developing countries".

It was clear that this was an opinion piece from a journalist, presumably commissioned by the BBC, and in such cases the evidence is usually fitted to the position and not the other way round as is the case in good research and policymaking.

All of us in the development community need to strive be as balanced as possible about the successes and the failures of aid as the cuts land outside of the ring fence.

19 October 2010

The Impatient Optimists

It was a bit like being at a rock concert, except that the one bona fide rocker, Bono, was in the audience. The occasion was Bill and Melinda Gates speaking at the Science Museum in London about their collaboration with ONE.org, called Living Proof.

Living Proof is about documenting and celebrating the successes of international aid. The Gates' certainly have convening power. There were about 400 people from the UK development community in attendance plus a sprinkling of altogether more glamorous folks lending their support.

Bill and Melinda, self declared impatient optimists about the role of aid, talked for over an hour. Their presentations were interspersed with short films about childbirth, farming and vaccines. The presentations were not quite at the right level for the knowledgeable audience, nevertheless they were very well done. These are people who can make a pitch.

What about the content? Melinda started off by acknowledging how complicated development is. This was followed, somewhat incongruously, by a long section on vaccines. This is where a foundation like theirs really hits what Americans like to call "the sweet spot" - something that really plays to their comparative advantage and which is important. We then moved to agriculture, which is a lot more complicated than vaccines, and then to maternal care - pre, during and post pregnancy - which is perhaps the most complicated challenge of all in terms of behaviour change, systems change and power balances. There was not the barrage of interesting new numbers and findings about aid effectiveness that I was expecting, but that will probably come later with the launch of the full Living Proof report. Unfortunately there was no Q and A although the Gates' did spend time during the reception talking to the audience.

Living Proof is about unearthing, highlighting and communicating the good things that aid can do. I was left wondering if Living Proof would help to communicate on aid. I really hope it does. But as Melinda herself said, it's only through visiting, listening and talking with people living in tough conditions do you connect with their reality and do you see the possibilities for supporting and working with them as well as the complexity of doing so. Helping citizens of rich countries understand the situations of those living in deprivation without depriving either of their dignity remains a difficult challenge.

17 October 2010

Tracking the Impacts of the GFC in Real Time: How Accurate Are Qualitative Methods?

One of the fragilities laid bare by the global financial crisis was our slowness in actually tracking the impacts of crises on households. In February 2009 IDS undertook case studies across 5 countries to get a rapid take on who was being affected by the crisis, how badly, and how well households and governments were responding.

Now Neil McCulloch, a Fellow at IDS, and Amit Grover have published a paper that compares the qualitative results from Indonesia with 3 waves of a national labour force survey, the crisis hitting late 2008 between waves 2 and 3.

How well do the qualitative and quantitative results match up? Pretty well actually. First, some caveats. As McCulloch and Grover note, the rapid qualitative survey was only undertaken in a few villages which are likely to be affected negatively by the shock and is by no means representative. And the quantitative survey is not large enough to give meaningful results at the village level. Nevertheless, where did the methods converge and where not?

Very similar conclusions:
  • school enrollment and attendance (no change in enrollment or continued improvements for 13/14 year olds)
  • female labour force participation (no change)
  • informality of employment (some suggestions of increases)
  • unemployment rising for young workers

  • qualitative survey did not show any income gainers during the crisis, but the labour force survey showed large increases in wages for employees involved in industries that were supplying the large domestic market in the wake of the large drop in exports and imports. The survey did conclude that workers in the informal sector did not benefit.
  • the qualitative work also showed the weaknesses in the way the formal survey treated migrant workers
The differences are important: the qualitative surveys, selected to find for negative impacts if they existed, found negative impacts. But the similarities are striking. As the authors say, the methods are complementary.

This adds more grist to the mill about how we need to devise better methods for tracking the impacts of crises. We need to strengthen methods, and this study gives us some hope.

06 October 2010

Whose Child Benefits? The Conservative Party Conference

This week it was Birmingham and the Conservative Party Conference. The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, was on the IDS panel along with Judith Randal from Development Initiatives and Oliver Buston from One.

I kicked off with 7 points to make aid more effective in leveraging “development in a cold climate” (quote from Andrew Mitchell).

1. To accelerate development, go beyond development. Many of the most powerful movements and ideas in development have come from outside of it (e..g the green movement, the women’s movement) and we need to keep looking outside the development bubble for ideas and for leverage.
2. Hold a competition for ideas to better engage the public on development. Whether or not MyAid is a good idea, it is trying to fill an engagement gap. Rather than pick a winner, have a competition to find the best way to fill the gap.
3. Establish an impacts innovation laboratory. I’m worried that we will measure what is amenable rather than what is meaningful. Issues need to drive methods. But methods tend to drive what is measured. We need new hybrid blends of methods to evaluate new policies and practices.
4. Make sure the aid watchdog can wag its tail. ODA ending up outside DFID is a small amount right now. That promises to get bigger. The aid watchdog must be for all of ODA, not just for DFID.
5. Put accountability to the citizens of aid recipient countries at the heart of what the Big Society means for international development. There are many social accountability mechanisms to choose from, and they work. DFID could make the use of these a requirement of all its monitoring and evaluation work.
6. Use the allocation of ODA to other government departments as an opportunity to realize a “One HMG” (i.e. Her Majesty’s Government) approach to development. Many of us go on about development being about much more than aid, well now we have a chance to engage with other Departments about how they should use aid.
7. Make sure value for money (VfM) scrutinizes strategy, but does not drive it. In particular, don’t equate VfM with low cost. Many different strategies can give similar VfM results.

Ollie made some interesting points about the challenge of communicating good news about aid—about the need to occupy the ground between individual stories and big numbers (there was a fascinating Ben Goldacre report on this in the Guardian last week on research indicating that criminals whose deeds affect a small number of people get less severe sentences than those who commit similar crimes but affect more people. For the smaller number, empathy kicks in big time). He cited Dambisa Moyo’s book as an effective (if inaccurate) way of constructing a narrative about aid (see my review here). He talked about Paul Collier’s work on the governance of natural resources (see my review here).

Judith highlighted the power of information (e.g. Right to Information in India) and money (pensions in South Africa) for development, and in response to a question from the floor (the room was hot and packed) said that it was difficult to evaluate the relative effectiveness of aid to governments and aid directly to households, in part, because of a lack of info on aid flows, something that Andrew Mitchell said would change soon.

Andrew Mitchell noted the extraordinary consensus that existed in the UK on international development (“the enemies of international development are not to be found within the UK political parties”). On aid skepticism he gave the example of two hypothetical announcements on television: one announcing DFID have helped 20,000 children get into and graduate from school and one announcing DFID had spent so many millions on schooling in the same country. Which would elicit the boot through the TV screen? He said that the former announcement would reassure the skeptics. He cited the importance of the new aid watchdog’s independence and assured us that it would also look at non-DFID ODA. He talked about the importance of transparency and accountability and about the potential for the right governance to make natural resources a blessing, not a curse. It was encouraging to hear of his ambition to tackle the neglected crisis of undernutrition.

Questions from the floor focused on the worries about measuring the amenable, not the meaningful (especially around the role of women), on transparency outside of aid (and specifically on when will the UK government will pass legislation similar to that in the US on transparency in extractive industries, the Cardin-Lugar bill) and why exactly did one of the panelists described Moyo’s book as disingenuous?

These questions prompted a lively debate, but perhaps the best question of the evening was on the fairness of the just-announced cuts in child benefit for UK kids set against an increasing overseas aid spend. No-one really fancied tackling that one, and I doubt that a focus on development outcomes, while helpful, will provide satisfactory responses to the posers of these types of questions.

We are going to see more and more of these kinds of ethical dilemmas arise in development and to get a handle on some of the issues, I can recommend the Development Studies Association Conference on November 5 at Church House in London, which wil be on "Values, Ethics and Morality".

05 October 2010

How World Bank Research Really Needs to Change

It would be churlish not to welcome the World Bank President Bob Zoellick's latest speech on Democratizing Development Economics. But I wonder whether anything significant will change in terms of how World Bank research is done.

His key points:
  • a multipolar global economy requires multipolar knowledge: the flow of knowledge is no longer North to South, West to East, rich to poor
  • development economics is too methods driven, not sufficiently issue driven
  • issues are complex, but current research is too narrowly focused and weak on external validity (does it have meaning and scalability outside of its context?)
  • research needs to open its doors to those with hands on experience
  • we may learn more from economic history than we do from economic models
  • political economy must come back into the analytical frame
He outlines 3 main implications for the development research agenda:
  1. the role of business: there have been few serious evaluations on what works to promote industry and why--they are needed
  2. how can the results agenda build in local ownership and participation?
  3. we need to understand human risks better with more research at the intersection of security, governance and development
I agree with much of this.

What are the implications for the World Bank's research? This is where is gets disappointing: a series of rather modest initiatives to share data, make research user friendly, get outputs wholesaled and networked and opening up to non-elite, practitioner knowledge.

We have been doing this for years at IDS as have many outside of the Bank.

My unsolicited recommendations to Mr. Zoellick to meet his worthy goals?
  1. decentralise more of your research staff so they can fully understand the politics and complexity that they operate in
  2. recruit more non-economists - you talk about needing to reinvent development economics, but you need to reinvent research at the Bank
  3. recruit your research staff, whatever their disciplinary perspective, from a wider range of higher education institutions (they are dominated by US universities)
  4. proactively seek to understand and learn from the impact your research has or has not had on poverty and inequality

03 October 2010

Where are the Global Poor?

I just read Andy Sumner's latest IDS working paper "Global poverty and the new bottom billion: Three-quarters of the World’s poor live in middle-income countries". It is quite a straightforward but carefully done mapping of global poverty.

What I find most interesting is not that 3/4 of the world's poor live in middle income countries (mainly due to India and China crossing middle income threshold, currently set at $995) but the results that are net of China and India. (Note that the data exclude the 105 million people who live in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan as these countries have no poverty data).

Once you take India and China out, we can see that low income fragile countries share of global poverty falls from 13 to 12%; low income non fragile rises from 12 to 16%, middle income fragile increases from 1 to 11% and middle income non fragile increases from 6 to 11%. Overall low income increases from 25 to 28%, middle income from 7 to 22%, fragile from 14 to 23% and non fragile from 18 to 27%. The slide here makes it clearer.

So the imperative to target aid to the lowest income countries is in tension with the desire to use aid to address fragility. It is the "middle income fragile" category for which the share of global poverty is growing the fastest (countries have the means but not the ability to combat poverty) and this is where new innovations for using aid to leverage development will be found to make aid more effective.

01 October 2010

Quotas: Add Women and Stir?

The votes are now being counted in the Labour Party elections for the Shadow Cabinet. Six of the 19 positions are reserved for women. One of the papers in a new IDS Bulletin argues that the May 2010 UK General Election was a missed opportunity to enhance women’s representation in parliament—the percentage stayed at around 22. This puts the UK 52nd in the global league table.

But does this league position matter? Do quotas such as these make a difference?

Quotas for women in decision making bodies have become a prominent mechanism for attempting to advance women’s agency. Have they “worked”? For whom? What does “work” mean? And are there stronger alternative pathways?

The new IDS Bulletin, picking up on the famous quote of the feminist Charlotte Bunch, is edited by Mariz Tadros and explores some of these issues.

My own work has drawn me into some of the women quota research in economics. The research examining the consequences of the Indian village council quotas on the kinds of public services they prioritise and on the prejudice women leaders face has been influential in economics.

These kinds of studies are powerful, but they focus on average results, do not differentiate between types of quotas, tend to miss unintended consequences, and are not strong on articulating theories of change behind quotas. That is why the studies in the IDS Bulletin are so important. Among other things, the collection of papers notes that:

1. Quotas are introduced for a wide range of reasons, the empowerment of women being only one of them, and sometimes not the most prominent one
2. The terms of quotas are negotiated and these terms matter for gender equality and justice
3. Quotas can affect—positively and negatively--other pathways to power for women
4. There are risks that gender quotas can reinforce elite agendas

The report warns that an obsession with getting the numbers right may end up “inadvertently legitimizing, in some cases, agendas that are antithetical to gender justice”. There surely are these serious risks, and they need to set aside the positives that have been found.

The main thrust of the report is spot on—quotas may increase descriptive representation but this is no guarantee of effective representation. Quotas are not a technical fix, they are a highly political undertaking, and the conditions under which they will achieve gender justice are not always present and not always predictable. Quotas may have positive average effects on women’s agency but the effects will be highly dependent on the political process that generated the quotas in the first place.