22 December 2010

Top Reads in 2010 from IDS Staff

For all of the readers of this blog, here is a modest gift from all your friends and colleagues at IDS: -- some of our top reads in 2010. Enjoy.

John Thompson (Knowledge, Technology and Society team)

Critical Transitions in Nature and Society by Marten Scheffer. 2009. Princeton University Press.

In recent years, there has much talk about how complex dynamic systems, ranging from climate systems to financial markets, can have ‘thresholds’ or ‘tipping points’ at which a sudden shift to an alternative regime may occur. Although predicting such critical points before they are reached is extremely difficult, work in different scientific fields is now suggesting the existence of generic ‘early-warning signals’ that may indicate for a wide class of systems if a critical threshold is approaching. Findings reported in a recent book by Marten Scheffer and colleagues suggest that ‘flickering’ – i.e. those tell-tale signals – may occur before epileptic seizures, the end of a glacial period and in lakes before they shift to a turbid state; self-organised patterns can signal an imminent transition in desert vegetation and in asthma; increased autocorrelation may indicate critical slowing down before all kinds of climatic transitions and in ecosystems; and increased variance of fluctuation may be a leading indicator of an epileptic seizure or instability in an exploited fish stock. Some of these complex systems are better understood than others. However, turning the reasoning around, it could be argued that the generic character of some early-warning signals suggests that these transitions may be somehow related to bifurcations, where universal laws of dynamic systems govern the pattern (though this may be stretching the cross-system comparisons a bit).

Despite the complex nature of the topic, Scheffer’s book provides an accessible introduction to ‘dynamical systems theory’, covers critical transitions in lakes, oceans, terrestrial ecosystems, the climate, evolution and human societies, explains how to predict tipping points and offers strategies for preventing ‘bad’ transitions and triggering ‘good’ ones. Worth a read.

Tom Tanner (Climate Change and Development cluster)

Barnett, J. and O’Neill, S. 2010. 'Maladaptation' Global Environmental Change 20: p211–213

This is my stand-out, although not development directed. It is one of the most practical papers of the year, looking at the (often misused) concept of maladaptation (broadly speaking climate adaptation that inadvertently increases vulnerability). This is a great example of academics providing conceptual clarity and a proposed operational framework for a concept that practitioners and policy makers were struggling with. Oh and its nice and short!

Keetie Roelen (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

One of the most notable papers of 2010 for me would be the OPHI working paper by Sabina Alkire and Emma Maria Santos “Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries.”

The mere data work underlying the poverty comparisons across 104 countries is mind-boggling but beyond its empirical results, I think it provides a new and timely impetus into the debate on multidimensional poverty measurement in terms of methodology and use of such measures.

Andrew Newsham (Climate Change and Development cluster)

Li, Tania (2009) ‘To Make Live or Let Die? Rural Dispossession and the Protection of Surplus Populations.’ Antipode Vol. 41 No. S1 2009 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 66–93 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2009.00717.x

I only got round to reading this in 2010, even though it was out the previous year. But it is remarkable in a number of ways. Its use of the stats on people living with less than a dollar a day as an indicator of the lack of incentive in a market system for full employment is quite sobering. Its coverage of right-to-food initiatives in Kerala offers powerful arguments for the transformative potential of social protection and wellbeing perspectives. And it has something important to say about how “social forces [can] mobilize in a wholly make live direction”. To be sure, the paper is not beyond critique; not least because its author spent much time in previous work deconstructing the relationship between policy and practice to the point of suggesting the impossibility of policy ever governing practice.

The implications of this argument for building coalitions for making (people) live are not, as far as I can tell, really dealt with in the paper. And it is not clear at the end of the paper whether we should abandon an economic system still based on the accumulation of capital or reform it. But I found it such an intensely thought-provoking work, and could not think of another to which my thoughts had returned so often when working on a range of different issues.

Allister McGregor (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

In the wake of ‘the crisis’ and prompted by Reimagining Development , I have been reading ‘The Great Transformation’ by Karl Polanyi – thanks John Spall for the loan. It is subtitled ‘The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time’ and it is refreshing (or alarming) to see how many passages could simply be taken from this book and be thought of as speaking of our time. Charles Gore has written a nice piece in The Journal of International Development this year using Polanyi to reflect on our crisis.

Richard Longhurst (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

I have been reading and enjoying: George A Akerlof and Robert J Shiller, 'Animal Spirits - How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and why it matters for Global Capitalism', Princeton University Press, 2009.

The authors take as a starting point the 'animal spirits' as defined by Keynes and show how psychological forces drive financial events worldwide, both boom and bust. Where else will you find an economics Nobel Prize Winner (Akerlof, 2001) and his equally distinguished co-author admit that economic theory alone is nowhere near enough to help us understand economic events.

Gabrielle Kohler (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

Can the MDGs provide a pathway to social justice? The challenges of intersecting inequalities” by Naila Kabeer

It is such a useful compendium of evidence on social exclusion impact and it provides a comprehensive set of policies to respond.

Also noteworthy is the manifest produced by French economists, making a clear and well argued and passionate case for heterodox economics for Europe - showing how there are alternatives for Europe to austerity and neoliberalism. See http://atterres.org/ manifeste des économistes attérés.

Patricia Justino (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

My all time choices are Jose Saramago’s ‘Blindness’ and ‘Seeing’. These two books are masterpieces. They show so well what is wrong with the world we live in, and what we can hope for. They are beautiful accounts about what is bad and good in humans. The books should be read together and in the order above.

For more academic material (and published in 2010), I am reading ‘Natural Experiments of History’ by Jared Diamond and James Robinson. This is an interesting collection of methodological papers using natural experiments to derive causality across a series of subjects and disciplines.

Richard Jolly (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism would be high on my list for a serious but highly readable critique of neo-liberalism, more serious and analytical than its title might suggest.

Lawrence Haddad

Prosperity Without Growth? by Tim Jackson is top of my list. Published in 2009, I only got around to reading it in 2010. Unlike most books on the financial and climate crises, it is strong on diagnosis and on how to do things differently (at least for the rich countries). One gets to glimpse a picture of what an alternative future might look like, and that is rare, especially in such a well written book.

My second, is a short article called “Shining for the Poor Too?” by Gaurav Datt and Martin Ravallion, in the Indian newspaper Economic and Political Weekly (February 13, 2010 vol xlv no 7). It is great to see two highly technical economists come to grips with the economic and the political consequences of their findings (that pre 1991, rural growth was more poverty reducing than urban growth, but for the post 1991 period the reverse held true).

Martin Greeley (Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team)

Human Development Research Paper 2010/01. Human Development: Definitions, Critiques,
and Related Concepts. Sabina Alkire.

The piece from Sabina Alkire is an important contribution to the Human Development debate. Just on Friday, Martin Ravallion wrote “The HDR has never made clear how exactly one goes from the theoretical idea of capabilities to the specific form taken by the HDI. It is not an “index of capabilities” in any sense that is obvious to me, so I am inclined to think that this is little more than theoretical hand waving.”

The MPI paper is very good (see Keetie Roelen’s selection). However, this paper may be a better one to encourage others to read. It makes a serious attempt to address the underlying Ravallion concern so far as is practicable without specific focus on any of the HD indicators, except a long section on the MDGs. The review of key messages in each of the HDRs since 1990 is not a good start, at least stylistically, but the paper warms up and I think it helps our understanding of how different welfare indicators mesh with its sections on human security and on happiness.

Carlos Fortin (Globalisation team)

Although published in late 2009, Paul Blustein’s Misadventures of the Most Favoured Nations came to prominence among WTO watchers in 2010. Blustein, an economic journalist, provides both a history of the World Trade Organisation and a sophisticated analysis of the main issues in its negotiating agenda, which in effect leads to central questions about the role of trade in the contemporary globalised world economy and in development. In so doing he deftly brings into play structural elements, political economy and the more mundane but no less important factors of –to paraphrase his subtitle- clashing egos and inflated ambitions, leading to what he terms the Great Shambles of the World Trade System. The result was aptly summarized by a reviewer in the Washington Post as: “the transmutation of the leaden history of the WTO into a shimmering, essential read for those seeking a deeper and more nuanced perspective on the modern commerce of nations.”

Jerker Edstrom (Knowledge, Technology and Society team)

A top read on gender and economics – although published in 2009, which I read in 2010 – is Nancy Fraser’s ‘Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History, which was suggested by my colleague Alan Greig. Fraser charts second-wave feminism’s critique of state capitalism (in particular its ‘economism’, andro-centrism and Westphalianism), its subsequent ‘collusion’ with neoliberalism and some current post-neoliberal possibilities. She concludes that “this is a moment in which feminists should think big. Having watched the neoliberal onslaught instrumentalize our best ideas, we have an opening now in which to reclaim them. In seizing this moment, we might just bend the arc of the impending transformation in the direction of justice—and not only with respect to gender”.

Another good and well written piece is Alex De Waal’s “Dollarised” in the London Review of Books. He looks at the marketplace for loyalty and order in “fragile states” and how that intersects – or not – with “the international community’s” notions and practices of nation building. Quite topical , if unconventional, in today’s development discourse.

Richard Crook (Governance team)

Not my favourite paper of the year, but the favourite one I was involved in is from the 'Local Justice in Ghana' research for our DFID-funded Africa Power and Politics RPC. (A shorter version is to be published in the next issue of IDS Bulletin). I am proud of it because: 1. It is based on original, in-depth fieldwork in Ghana so that it shows how state-run or state-supported justice institutions in Ghana really work in practice, and what local people believe about justice and fairness. 2. It challenges a number of common stereotypes about justice in Africa, both from the point of view of what ordinary people think and how the state works and 3. It shows how basic original research can lead to useful and relevant policy lessons.

Robert Chambers (Participation, Power and Social Change team)

Among short pieces, Andy Sumner’s The New Bottom Billion (IDS Draft). Both visually and verbally this challenges the conventional wisdom about the location of poverty, and forces us to rebalance priorities.

Among books, David Lawson, David Hulme, Imran Matin and Karen Moore eds What Works for the Poorest? Poverty reduction programmes for the world's extreme poor, Practical Action Publishing. For too long development practice has focused on the moderate poor and left out those who suffer from extreme or chronic deprivation. Now at last, by gathering and presenting current ideas and experience on assisting the poorest and helping them to help themselves, this book does an outstanding service....this is one of the most important development books of the decade - a treasury of ideas and experience.

18 December 2010

Winding Down

Now that the dust (and snow) has settled on an intense past week at work, a few reflections on some of the meetings and events that got in between the deadlines.

1. A fascinating meeting with some folks on opinion polls and aid. Key questions raised in meeting (a) what is the minimum percent of UK public support for aid that is needed to keep driving us towards 0.7%? (b) should we expect the percent "supporting increases in aid" to decline as we get closer to 0.7%? and (c) how sensitive is the behaviour of the UK Government and the UK NGOs to changes in these numbers? These are important questions that I hope IDS and others will help answer in 2011.

2. A stimulating meeting with colleagues from a relatively new hedge fund-originated philanthropic organisation with a mission to transform children's lives. We had a very enlightening (for me at least) discussion about strategies and tactics to blend the best urges of social movements and those of the private sector. Mike Edwards' book Small Change had a lot to say on these general issues and I look forward to reading other perspectives on this topic in 2011.

3. Last week we had a reception for Hilary Standing, one of the senior Fellows at IDS, who is retiring at the end of this year. Hilary is incredibly well known in the field of women's health and reproductive and sexual rights. She is the Director of the now winding down Realising Rights Research Programme Consortium supported by DFID. Hilary has been a major source of wise counsel for me over the past 6 years at IDS and fortunately for us will continue to work with IDS in various ways in 2011. If you have never read her stuff, I highly recommend it.

14 December 2010

Breaking cycles of violence and poverty

Guest blog by Patricia Justino, Research Fellow, IDS

The World Bank presented some preliminary messages of the World Development Report 2011 on Conflict, Security and Development at the European Development Day last week. I was invited as a discussant.

The report will be launched in the Spring of 2011 (and we have been promised that the title will improve!). Despite the snow, the Madrid strikes and general mayhem across Europe, we had a good meeting in Brussels.

The WDR 2011 has been long awaited. For a long time now, development policy has been planned without much recognition of the constraints caused by violence and conflict. Until that is it became obvious that no conflict affected country will achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015! This has resulted in a recent explosion of reports by international organisations and donors on conflict and development.

IDS has a longstanding tradition of research on the links between conflict, violence and development. Recent major work at IDS has been done on the links between citizenship and violence and the social and political implications of everyday insecurity in the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. The Governance Team manages significant projects on state failure, security sector reform and multi-level governance. The Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team has been working on the micro-level analysis of conflict processes, and has recently formed the Conflict, Violence and Development Cluster.

Some important findings of this IDS research are reflected in the WDR 2011, some are not. I want to discuss here three areas that have been emphasised in two ongoing research programmes at IDS which I direct and co-direct, respectively: MICROCON – a large Integrated Project funded by the EU – and the Households in Conflict Network.

* The first is the association between different types and levels of conflict. The WDR 2011 rightly emphasises the correlation between organised criminal violence and civil conflict. Violent conflicts cross over a range of intensities of violence from violent protests and rioting to wars and genocide, involve a broad spectrum of actors, and are closely related to other forms of violence and insecurity such as crime, illegality and terrorism. The Universidad de los Andes hosted the annual meeting of the Households in Conflict Network on 2-3 December in Bogotá on precisely these issues (call for papers here and programme here). It is clear that the complex links between these different forms of violence are central to breaking persistent cycles of conflict and misery. It is therefore a welcome step to see the World Bank calling for development planning to adapt accordingly.

* The second is the need to get institutions right. The WDR 2011 has a strong focus on the complex long-term challenges faced by conflict-affected countries in building democratic institutions, the rule of law and sustainable security. The Bank takes a refreshing approach, highlighting the perils of short-term interventions that have characterised development interventions in conflict-affected countries.

But I would like to see more attention paid to the other side of the story – what do we do about the institutions that emerge from conflict? Violence has an instrumental role beyond destruction. It is used strategically by political actors to transform the state institutions that determine the current and future allocation of power. Conflict-affected countries are not ‘blank states’, especially once wars have ended. Rather, they are the sites of intense institutional change, as different actors gain the monopoly over the use of violence in contested areas. The actions of these actors have profound impacts on the survival and security of ordinary people, and the emergence of social, economic and political organisation in the areas they control. Largely ignored in post-conflict policy interventions, such forms of institutional transformation are central to explaining why violent conflicts persist, or mutate into different forms of violence and criminality. A new IDS/Yale research project addresses these issues, and we hope to see more of this reflected in future policy planning.

* The third point is agency. Very little was said at the WDR meeting about the people that live in areas of conflict and violence (although more may feature in the final report). Programmes of conflict prevention, mediation and resolution are typically driven by concerns with state security and state capacity.

A key message in the MICROCON programme is that, at a fundamental level, the outbreak and viability of violent conflicts are closely linked to the conduct and motivations, not only of elites and states, but also of ordinary members of society living in (potential) conflict areas. We have focused on the victimisation aspect of violence, but have forgotten those that just get on with their lives, even under the threat of violence. People adapt to strenuous circumstances to survive, either within or outside the margin of the rule of law. These forms of adaptation change the face of local and regional institutions in ways that profoundly affect the likely success of peace- and state-building interventions.

Yet we know very little of how people live in conflict situations, what options they have and what choices they make, and how institutional arrangements affect and are affected by these decisions. This is not to say that national and international policy processes do not matter. The outbreak of violence, the emergence of new actors, and the (eventual) establishment of democracy are not purely driven by local factors. But neither are these processes entirely dependent on the broader political strategies of state and non-state factions that fight for sovereignty and legitimate authority at the macro level. This is an issue where research and policy still need to make significant progress in order to enable the design of development policies that will break the long-term negative legacies of violent conflict, and bring about positive structural transformations.


13 December 2010

Communicating Research: 'Tis the Season

In the Anglo world, this is the time of the year for end of term rituals at school. My daughter's school were studying India this term and they invited me along to talk about my work on India and undernutrition for their end of term India Day on December 10.

I was quite anxious about trying to explain my work to forty 9 and 10 year olds. But I prepared for it and it went well. I contrasted the India I first visited in 1991 with the India I visited this year. I showed them some short video clips I had taken in September. The questions were good: why did the preschools mix up 2, 3 and 4 year olds? how did the teachers get 50 kids in each preschool to listen? what were the parents doing while the kids were in preschool? why were the kids eating with their hands? what did the kids do when the ground got really hot and they had no sandals? I thoroughly enjoyed it (and I didn't embarrass my daughter.)

On a lighter note, another feature of the Anglo world at this time of year is the pantomime (a non-serious play with singing and general silliness). Putting together two incongruous themes from the current zeitgeist, vampires and research impact, the annual IDS panto came up with "Bloody Impact" featuring songs from "Thriller". Our staff and students put on the show with tickets sold for charity and good fun was had by all. I got to sing Michael Jackson's "Beat It" to the lyrics of (of course) "Blog It".

11 December 2010

Measure for Measure

"Measure for Measure" was the title given to the European Development Research Network to their annual conference in Paris last week on assessing impact.

It is interesting that the conference was named after one of Shakespeare's problem plays--one that raised more questions than it answered and one that "leaves us with moral issues which remain ambiguous to the end and because it refuses to be neatly classified."

Neil McCulloch, who heads up the Globalisation Team at IDS attended the Conference. Based on this report perhaps the organisers got the naming just right.

08 December 2010

UK public: use aid to promote human rights

Today is the 60th anniversary of the UN-sponsored Human Rights Day.

So its fitting that the UK Public Opinion Monitor (which IDS co-manages and analyses data from) asks, in its latest report, what the UK public thinks about aid and human rights.

The Monitor assesses and analyses what the UK public think of a range of international issues, including international development. It is a panel of UK residents, and the repeat interactions with the respondents allow us to do more serious causal analysis that opinion polls.

The panel were asked "how important should each of the following factors be in deciding how and where the aid budget is spent?"

The options were (and multiple factors could be selected)
  • Benefits to the UK economy
  • Reducing Poverty in poor countries
  • Offsetting the impact of climate change on poor countries
  • Promoting better government in poor countries
  • Historical links with other countries
  • Promoting the UK's influence in the world
  • Promoting economic growth in poor countries
  • Promoting human rights in poor countries
  • Promoting UK security
Each factor could be ranked from very unimportant to very important (including a don't know response)

Promoting human rights came top, with over 84% of the 2700 respondents saying this was important or very important. Reducing poverty in poor countries, promoting better government and promoting economic growth were at almost the same level as this.

With this high level of support for human rights, there was not much difference by age, gender or political affiliation.

What to make of this result? On the one hand, should we be surprised? Who can argue against human rights as a motherhood and apple pie issue, especially when choosing human rights does not crowd out choices about the other factors? Or perhaps the other factors split the non-human rights responses? Also, the previous round of the survey did find that despite severe austerity measures and cuts to public services, more than 6 out of 10 people still thought it morally right for the UK to help developing countries.

Nevertheless, I find 84% a surprisingly proportion (although I don't know why it surprises me--perhaps I am completely out of touch).

But let's say it is real. Beyond rhetoric and box ticking, what might an aid agency do to incorporate human rights more strongly into its core business? Some examples might be:
  • incorporate human rights performance into aid allocation formulas
  • lobby to include performance on human rights as one of the post-2015 MDGs
  • incorporate human rights performance of aid into definitions of aid quality
  • withdraw aid more quickly in the face of widespread rights abuses
More analysis of these tantalising data need to be done to establish causal drivers, but while DFID is thinking hard about how to allocate our aid, this is a timely reminder to not forget about a potential aid recipient's performance on human rights.

Action or Protraction? The Nutrition Council of India meets!

Nearly 1000 days after it was established the Nutrition Council in India finally met. The conclusion was that Indian nutrition efforts should be much more focused on the nutrition of mother and baby for the 1000 days after conception.

There were plenty of positive statements of intent coming out of the meeting:

1. The Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) will be restructured in a way that allows for flexibility, with a special focus on pregnant and lactating mothers and children under three (although under 2 would be better).

2. There will be a a multi-sectoral programme to address undernutrition in 200 high-burden districts. This programme will bring together various national programmes through strong institutional and programmatic convergence at the State, District, Block and Village levels (how?).

3. A nationwide information, education and communication campaign would be launched to address issues of status of women, the care of pregnant mothers and children under two, breastfeeding, and the importance of balanced nutrition, health, hygiene and sanitation. The campaign would involve people’s representatives, civil society activists, the media and leaders of the entertainment industry (what would be different about this campaign?)

4. The Ministries that deal with Health, Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation, School Education, Agriculture and Food & Public Distribution will bring strong nutrition focus to their programmes (and what will incentivise them to do this?)

The Prime Minister, who chaired the meeting, requested the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Planning Commission to review the progress in implementation of the decisions of the Council after three months.

These action points are very good, but I have real worries about delivery, enforcement and accountability (as you can see from my comments in parentheses).

Several of the participants in the meeting called for things that would help: a National Nutrition Mission Authority, the assignment of the ICDS to a mission mode programme, the creation of new institutional arrangements with executive authority under the Nutrition Council, the establishment of a Policy Coordination Unit and new nutrition surveillance systems.

These would all have helped convince us that delivery, enforcement and accountability were not being left to chance and yet they were not mentioned in the action points.

So does this meeting set in train action or protraction on tackling undernutrition in India? I very much hope it is the former.

In 3 months time the picture should become clearer.

05 December 2010

What should the next FAO Director General have?

The UN is in the middle of a nominations process for the next Director General (DG) of it's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The FAO is a potentially vital organisation in the fight against hunger, and the DG position is critical to its effectiveness.

So, what kind of FAO DG do we want?

Nearly twenty or so years on from the start of Jacques Diouf's tenure in the early 1990s, the world has changed. The good news is that there is much more interest in hunger reduction now. The bad news is that hunger seems to be stuck at around 900 million; and the world food system seems more fragile and complex than ever before.

The following attributes would be on my person specification for the position:

1. A track record of leadership in hunger reduction. By leadership I mean dedicating themselves to the issue, not the organisation. By a track record I mean credible evidence that progress on hunger would have been delayed without this person's relentless and energy applied in strategic and tactical ways to reduce hunger in a given context.

2. An understanding that hunger cannot be tackled by agriculture and food alone, but that agriculture's prime focus should be hunger reduction. What is agriculture for? It is not to produce more food. It is to reduce hunger. There are two different tribes out there and the new DG has to be rooted in the latter, but able to form coalitions with the former.

3. A willingness and ability to form alliances and coalitions with familiar and unfamiliar partners. The Rome based UN agencies need to add up better on hunger, so this will be one challenge for the new DG. More importantly perhaps will be new strategic alliances with the citizen movements and the private sector--to harness the energy of the interaction of the two.

4. The boldness to set up systems to hold her/himself --and FAO--to account. We don't have good numbers on hunger. We don't have good ways of assessing commitments to hunger reduction and the fulfilment of those commitments. The new DG should make it a priority to lead the development of new measures of hunger that are accurate and responsive to rapid change and also new accountability measures and then support efforts to measure FAO's performance against them.

5. A willingness to speak out on hunger. The commitment to eradicate hunger has to be built. The world has become comfortable with 900 million people going hungry every day. The DG must speak out on hunger, make us uncomfortable, guide us on what to do, and do all of this from a strong evidence base.

May the best person win the FAO DG position. But given the political nature of the UN selection system, I'm not holding my breath.

01 December 2010

The Sorry State of M&E in Agriculture: Can People Centred Approaches Help?

The context for Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is rapidly changing. Two overlapping drivers are challenging M&E: impact and value for money on the one hand, learning and adapting on the other. My sense is that M&E as we currently know it is threadbare. It does not attract enough investment. It is viewed as an enabler of compliance rather than of competence. When it is done well, it is done to satisfy donors, not intended beneficiaries.

A recent IDS Bulletin that I co-edited with Yvonne Pinto, David Bonbright and Johanna Lindstrom has a paper in it that concludes that agriculture is no different and may even be one of the worst offenders. M&E in agriculture is woeful. Why is M&E so weak? The paper provides some evidence to back up the assertions and argues that investment and interest is low because the multiple benefits of good M&E are not identified and when they are, they cannot be captured. The fact that so much M&E goes on undercover allows this situation to persist.

What can be done? In a paper available here, we suggest a new type of M&E is needed, one that is people centred. People centred in the sense that it focuses on wellbeing outcomes, and in the sense that it asks people about what they need and what they think is working. What are some of the components of this approach? It has three.

First, it balances multiple accountabilities through greater participation in programme design and in programme evaluation. The literature on the impacts of these approaches has grown in the past 10 years and shows more successes than failures.

Second, it focuses on enhancing organisational incentives for learning. What needs to change for organisations to engage in single and double loop learning? Beneficiary feedback systems represent one such incentive change, and new donor requirements would provide another.

The third feature of this people-centred M&E is that it seeks to build wider learning about M&E, its users and its providers. The semi-closed nature of M&E is killing learning about what works. We need to find ways to let more light into the system.

ALINe, a collaboration between IDS, Keystone Accountability and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one new contribution to the construction of this different view of M&E. It builds on other initiatives such as ILAC and Farmer First Revisited. It is helping farmers get engaged in theory of change discussions, it is evaluating farmer feedback mechanisms in terms of process outcomes and development and wellbeing outcomes, it is analysing organisational incentives for M&E use and it is seeking to open up the M&E sector by promoting the open access of data and new research. We would welcome additional partners.

I believe that M&E in agriculture has to be improved -- this paper has some ideas about how to do it. There are lots of other very good papers in the Bulletin on this and similar issues.

If M&E in agriculture is not improved then we will have wasted the political opportunity represented by the current high interest in food and agriculture. We will have no excuses when the budget axe is eventually aimed at food and agriculture and we will have failed to meet our obligations to the current and future generations of hungry and malnourished people.