30 November 2010
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.
"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
24 November 2010
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
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
- 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
- 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
22 November 2010
18 November 2010
But little attention is given to the portability (or external validity) of schemes, nor to the people excluded from such schemes and the drivers of that exclusion.
A new report out called Social Protection in Asia, a project coordinated at IDS out of our Centre for Social Protection, partnering with 11 Asian organisations, highlights the value added of focusing on these issues.
The report highlights how portability depends on many issues including the lifecourse of an intervention (how it is conceptualised, how it views vulnerability, who is mobilised behind it) and the capacity to adapt the intervention (itself a function of the adequacy of real time monitoring).
Exclusion from schemes happens because many schemes are politically driven in terms of who is included, are motivated by a mix of electoral politics, are intended to quell social unrest, and seek to build political legitimacy. And so community based organisations and NGOs that can legitimately claim to represent more marginalised groups can play an important role in extending the programmes into neglected realms.
The importance of the portability and politics of social protection was brought home by an interesting seminar given at IDS earlier this week by Rômulo Paes de Sousa, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry for Social Development and the Fight against Hunger of the Government of Brazil. Dr. de Sousa was presenting on the value and challenge of South-South collaboration between Brazil and African countries on the design of social protection programmes.
Much of the anticipated success of transfer and adaptation of this Brazilian "social technology" depends (as with any technology adoption) on ex-ante analysis of whether the conditions are favourable for successful uptake. And much of this ex-ante analysis will be political, sociological and anthropological. We need to see more of this kind of analysis taking place before plans for the ex-post big evaluations are drawn up.
16 November 2010
14 November 2010
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:
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
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:
- 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?
- Can these varieties be crossed with high yielding varieties so that they are equally profitable for farmers to adopt?
- Will they be acceptable to consumers?
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.
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
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
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.
04 November 2010
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.