29 December 2011

10 Predictions for 2012

"Our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable" Hillary Clinton January 25, 2011.

Yep, it's that time of year, when the mind is free to wander, wishful thinking has its day, hostages to fortune are taken (see Sec. Clinton above), and some wild ideas are let loose.

As usual, I remain uncomfortable in predictions, especially about the future, nevertheless, here goes:

1. Development assistance will increasingly resemble an hourglass. For the rush of sand to the bottleneck of the hourglass read the run up to the MDGs and the dwindling club of ODA eligible countries. What kind of development world are we slipping into and what do we want that other half of the hourglass to look like? In the rush to 2015, we are not doing such a great job of thinking about the 2016+ world. We all need to do better at this future game.

2. The nutrition bubble will last for more than 1000 days. I have not witnessed anything like it--the interest in getting rid of undernutrition seems here to stay, for a while, at least. Many of the investments are 5-6 years and so this guarantees their longevity beyond 1000 days. The 1000 days is a brilliant marketing construct (the first 1000 days of life is a vital window of opportunity to intervene to address undernutrition--beyond this period Q2 1 nutrition violations are irreversible). Whether this transformation of nutrition within the development agenda can be locked in will depend on how we are able to transform thinking about nutrition, getting a better balance between health and development perspectives and making it as much a political issue as a technical one.

3. Hunger will not rise up the agenda unless there is another major food price spike. It used to be the nutrition stakeholders that looked like a rabble. Now the anti-hunger lobby looks disorganised and toothless. What will it take for hunger to move up the development agenda? Either a crisis (on top of the existing crisis of hunger) or the construction of a movement. Let's not wait for a new crisis.

4. Business accelerates its shaping of development, the development community continues to shrug. Walmart, the world's biggest corporation and China, the world's most populous country have been quietly building a partnership that is beginning to shape consumer behaviour towards green products and increasingly concentrate power in the global retail industry. Chinese consumers are worried about food safety, the Chinese government is worried about its reliance on fossil fuels, and Walmart wants to increase market share in China and become a world leader in green sourcing. It seems to be working, but we don't really know because the rest of us are not paying enough attention.

5. Say hello to SDGs, wave goodbye to MDGs? Rumours are that at the upcoming Rio+20 meetings a suite of Sustainable Development Goals will be unveiled. I can only hope that there will be some coherence with the thinking around the post-2015 goals. It is surprising when we look back at 1999 and realise how little environmental sustainability was folded into the MDGs. With all the political revolts of 2011 will we look back at 2012 from 2016 and wonder why there was so little discussion of political sustainability in any new set of Goals?

6. Politics will become more unruly. My colleagues in the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at IDS have been highlighting this trend for a while, but the Arab revolts and the Occupy movements (due to be focused on Washington DC in an election year) have brought protest to the fore. Even TIME magazine made "The Protester" its Person of the Year (back in 2006 it was "You" as in You Tube). It remains to be seen how much of this is enabled by Facebook (800 million users and counting) and other social media platforms, but we will see more of it in 2012.

7. Central Asia will rise on the development agenda. Long forgotten, despite being on Europe's doorstep, many of the Central Asian countries have poverty rates stubbornly set at 30%. They have booming GDP due to natural resource price rises, weak institutions, growing inequality, frozen conflicts and bad environmental records. With the West's declining commitment to Afghanistan, elections coming up in Russia and other countries in the region and will we see protest and unrest in the Caucases?

8. Don't expect much leadership from the US on international development in 2012. On to a different kinds of caucases, the Iowa ones. At least it does not look as if Ron Paul (let's get rid of foreign aid) will get enough traction in the Iowa Republican nominations to survive beyond the Hawkeye State, but 2012 will be about the election and about dealing with the fallout from the Supreme Court's decision on the challenge by 26 States to national healthcare. The FY 2012 budget saw about a 15% cut in the non war related development assistance, which while not great is much better than was feared in the summer. But the wild card might be if Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places (as Robert Reich predicts). On an Obama-Clinton ticket things will get interesting for foreign assistance. Obama will probably be re-elected and he definitely will with Hillary on the ticket (her predictive ability not withstanding) to energise "the base".

9. We will finally get more balance in the impact debate. We will find the right mix of concern with internal and external validity and the right mixes of quantitative and qualitative methods. DFID will publish a review by Elliot Stern and coauthors that I believe will be a helpful contribution to the debate, a debate in which the pendulum is swinging back to a different (i.e. increased rigor is here to stay), but more balanced place. What we really need are blends of these methods driven by the issues, rather than method driven dogma.

10. The world will not end on December 21, 2012. This is the date at the end of the Mayan Long Calender. I did not know about this until someone mentioned it to me in a comment on this blog. But the world cannot end on December 21, 2012 because the UK's Research Excellence Framework deadline is October 2013. I just can't see the UK's higher education funding council, HEFCE, allowing it.

19 December 2011

Interesting stuff on my desk at the end of the year

I couldn't find a thread for these interesting pieces on my desk at the end of the year, so here goes:

1. "Living With the Gates Foundation" -- it ain't easy speaking truth to power

Living with the Gates Foundation is an article in Alliance magazine by Timothy Ogden (one in a series of articles) that notes the usual "lack of accountability" vulnerability of foundations, but also notes the particular difficulty of speaking truth to power at the Gates Foundation. This is generated by the size of the foundation (about 15 Rockefeller Foundations and bigger than Italy's aid programme) but also by its ability to focus (for example it packs a very heavy punch in the global health community). Ogden notes that very few people he contacted for his article were willing to have quotes assigned to them. Would that be the same for other donors?

2. Publish What You Fund's Pilot Aid Transparency Index: x ray vision + x-tabs

In an index-laden world, this is an essential measure. The World Bank's IDA arm is the most transparent of 58 entities ranked, with China the 4th worst. UK DFID is 5th from the top while USAID is in the bottom half. The African Development Bank came in 4th and UK's CDC in the bottom quarter. I would have liked to have seen more cross-tab analyses such as: transparency x funds delivery, transparency x aid quality, and transparency x administrative spend. But this is a solid first outing for an indicator which I hope becomes a staple guideline for those working in development.

3."Scholars who became practitioners"-necessary, sufficient & (sometimes) helpful?

This is a CGD paper by Nora Lustig. Nora is an IDS Board member and was on the IFPRI Board when I was on the staff. The paper is about how research took centre stage at the birth of Progresa/Opportunidades, the Mexican conditional cash transfer programme. The conclusion is that the 2 main architects of Progresa, Santiago Levy and Pepe Gomez de Leon, were scholars turned practitioners and this had much to do with the detachment of being able to see beyond the political status quo, being able to marshal evidence on design and on their insistence on having a rigorous impact evaluation (which has proven so important in the programme's political sustainability and its replication elsewhere). Lustig is careful to say that it is not clear when or whether scholars turned practitioners are necessary or sufficient for successful policymaking (I can think of plenty of instances when scholars would be pretty unhelpful). I suspect that Levy and Gomez de Leon were pretty shrewd political operators too.

4. Poverty in Middle Income countries: 72% whichever way you look at it

A new study from OPHI. the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative which comes up (remarkably) with the same middle-income country poverty percentage (72% of the world's poor) as Andy Sumner's New Bottom Billion study of last year. And the intensity of poverty in low and middle income countries appears similar. The question is, what to do about it, and even more difficultly, what is the role for international development agencies? While Lustig's paper above highlights the home grown nature of Progresa, IFPRI as an international organisation was clearly key in playing a validating role.

16 December 2011

Why do people still deny climate change?

Dear readers, apologies for the silence. I have to spend too much time writing proposals and don't have enough enough time to write papers and blogs.

In any case, in a post-Durban-Climate-Change-what-does-it-all-mean mode (and see my IDS colleague Matthew Lockwood's insightful analysis here) I was browsing salon.com and came across this post by Gene Lyons which led me to this fascinating paper by Clive Hamilton (actually a year old) entitled "Why we resist the truth about climate change".

It's a question I often ask myself, wondering what it will take to change people's minds.

Hamilton's paper argues that climate deniers are those whose cultural identity is most threatened by the implications of climate change (in the US this means white, male and conservative).

He states:

"Those on the left are as predisposed to sift evidence through ideological filters; but in the case of global warming it happens that the evidence overwhelmingly endorses the liberal beliefs that unrestrained capitalism is jeopardising future well-being, that comprehensive government intervention is needed, and that the environment movement was right all along. For neo-conservatives accepting these is intolerable, and it is easier emotionally and more convenient politically to reject climate science."

It is a paper full of troubling (but gorgeous) quotes:

"In these circumstances, facts quail before beliefs, and there is something poignant about scientists who continue to adhere to the idea that people repudiate climate science because they suffer from inadequacy of information. In fact, denial is due to a surplus of culture rather than a deficit of information."


"Deniers have adroitly used the instruments of democratic practice to erode the authority of professional expertise, including skilful exploitation of a free media, appeal to freedom of information laws, the mobilisation of a group of vociferous citizens, and the promotion of their own to public office. At least in the United States and Australia, democracy has defeated science."

and more

"Innocently pursuing their research, climate scientists were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order. They could not know that the new facts they were uncovering would threaten the existence of powerful industrialists, compel governments to choose between adhering to science and remaining in power, corrode comfortable expectations about the future, expose hidden resentment of technical and cultural elites and, internationally, shatter the post-colonial growth consensus between North and South. Their research has brought us to one of those rare historical fracture points when knowledge diverges from power, portending a long period of struggle before the two are once more aligned."

Hamilton then draws parallels with Einstein's publications on the General Theory of Relativity pointing out how his scientific views were conflated with his political views (internationalist and pacifist) and how strong forces were quickly lined up against his ideas (the One Hundred Authors Against Einstein has eerie parallels to today's petitions from climate "skeptics").

Final quote

"The success of climate denialism in its various guises reveals how shallow the roots of the Enlightenment sink. When superstition was swept away by science and reason, our penchant for self-deception merely lost its cover. In the most vital test of our capacity to protect the future through the deployment of rationality and well-informed foresight the “rational animal” is manifestly failing."

And if you doubt the success of climate denialism, check out the race for the Republican Presidential nomination where candidates are taking pot shots at frontrunner Newt Gingrich for having once spoken in favour of Cap and Trade.

Hamilton reminds us that it is not the fanaticism of the active deniers that is the real worry, but the susceptibility of the rest of us to wishful thinking. It something is uncomfortable or threatens the current order, best to think it will not happen or if it does it won't affect me much. It is the "desire to disbelieve" that is the threat and this "deepens as the scale of the threat grows, until a point is reached when the facts can be resisted no longer."

So when can the facts no longer be resisted? The paper is silent on this.

For me the paper reaffirms the reality that knowledge is inevitably wrapped up in power and politics--how it is constructed, when it is used, how it is used--and that behaviour is guided by identity. And incidentally it is not behaviour that researchers are immune to (not enough researchers actually change their mind about something on the basis of new evidence).

For those of us invested in knowledge driven change, it is a sobering reminder of the need to influence politically on the basis of research that is done as apolitically as humanly possible.

28 November 2011

MVP again

You would have thought I'd have had enough by now.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition-- a big deal journal in the human nutrition world--has just published a paper by the MVP team on "Multisectoral intervention to accelerate reductions in childstunting: an observational study from 9 sub-Saharan African countries". The Conclusion in the Abstract "These findings provide encouraging evidence that a package of multisector interventions has the potential to produce reductions in childhood stunting".

It is such a shame that the impact evaluation design does not allow us to say anything more than that. After all one would be surprised if a multisector package did not have the potential to reduce childhood stunting.

The need to word things so carefully originates from the lack of comparator stunting data from similar communities over the same time period. If we had this we could compare the stunting reductions to see if they are faster in the MVP villages.

The comparison the authors make is:

MVP village declines in stunting over the 2005-6 to 2008-9 period vs stunting declines in those same 9 countries, but at (a) a national level and (b) over the period 1988-2008.

If the authors had data from the same time period and from similar (even better, matched) areas then we could plausibly attribute a certain percent of the declines to the MVP.

So, the paper is not able to say too much.

The data are encouraging in that there is a significant downward trend in stunting in 6 of the 9 sites, but we would expect such a big intervention to have an effect on stunting rates in any case.

The real questions remain: (a) how much of the effect is due to the MVP? and, more fundamentally, (b) what happens after the MVP finishes?

22 November 2011

DFID x 0.02 = ?

Just what can a foundation achieve with a budget between 1-2% of DFID's? Well, this is the spend size of relatively large foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation.

As one of the participants of the Bellagio Initiative Summit on Wellbeing, Philanthropy and Development pointed out, television programmes like the UK’s “The Secret Millionaire” remind us, small amounts of money can transform lives so annual giving of $100m-$200m can have substantial transformative power. The question is how to maximise that power.

The obvious thing for Foundations to do is to work with those with deep knowledge of the context in question to unearth, develop and test innovations (technological, organisational, social), and to link up early in the process with those who might scale the innovations (e.g. National Governments and development agencies).

It is clear from the 2 days I have been at this summit that these kinds of partnerships are the exception rather than the norm. Listening to voices and constituencies on the ground and linking up with partners who have the capacity to scale does not happen nearly often enough. Why? My hunches:

(a) there are few incentives for foundations to do this. It is much easier to develop a pilot that shows a temporary positive effect but has weak origins in the context and little legacy in terms of what it leaves behind, and

(b) power gets in the way. Public development agencies (at least the bilateral ones) are directly accountable to taxpayers in ways that Foundations are not. The former are custodians of everyone’s money, the latter are custodians of one family’s money.

Without the right checks and balances Foundations can get carried away with their own sense of power and this can make linking with communities and development agencies seem like unnecessary exertions.

But my sense is that the appetite for change is growing, perhaps pushed by the transparency and accountability agenda.

One response to accountability and transparency is “just make sure we do good things” by, say, improving standard M&E. Another response is “make sure we do the best we can”. While the first response is a minimum, the second surely has to be the goal of visionary philanthropists.

If done right, this way of working promises more sustainable and transformative action.

But it will require a greater acceptance of the need to invest more in relationship building, a greater willingness to work with others’ agendas, a greater preparedness to be seemingly sidetracked and a willingness to develop and use the tools to redefine and assess impact in these new contexts.

Working with others from different cultures is hard and risky. But the potential benefits are enormous—much greater than 1-2% of what DFID can achieve.

Foundations are well placed to calculate those risks--and then to bear them.

21 November 2011

Philanthropists: Dare to be Different

I’m currently in Bellagio for the Bellagio Initiative on the Future of Philanthropy and Development in the Pursuit of Human Wellbeing, organised by IDS, the Resource Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Foundations spend private money. They don’t have to chase money like us mere mortals. As such they can dare to be different from public sector funders of development. They can afford to spurn fads and be fashionably unfashionable.

They should, for example,

• Help redefine the objectives of development

Public development agencies are more focused on the tangible development outcomes—these are straightforward to explain to taxpayers. Philanthropists can focus on other dimensions of wellbeing: trust, solidarity, self confidence, and freedoms. Wellbeing is important because it a truer way of assessing what it is to live well, but also because the nonmaterial dimensions force us to be more grounded, because to affect the nonmaterial dimensions of living well requires a greater understanding of context.

• Do things that others cannot

What is it that philanthropists have a comparative advantage in?
o Work on unfashionable issues
o Take risks and accept failure as a part of the innovation process—redefine success, don’t get trapped in electoral cycles.
o Reproduce—support the creation of other foundations

• Organise for the long view

Many philanthropists take a lifetime to build up their success and money—why do they expect to be able to effect change in 3 years?

o Get a better balance between delivering services for people in urgent need and building resilient societies, societies with strong organisations and institutions that can deal with unanticipated shocks.
o Build leaders and leadership. We know how important leadership is at all levels—household, community, district, national—in all sectors.

And yet, there seems to be convergence between the taxpayer driven results for development and the philanthropies’ impact innovations work. What is driving this? The private sector backgrounds of the new philanthropists? The need to work with public sector development agencies? The human desire to look good?

I don’t know, but we need philanthropy to dare to be different. The last thing we need is a McDevelopment monoculture of goals, ideas, innovations and actions.

More tomorrow as I try to absorb the exciting ideas swirling around the hilltops.

18 November 2011

Richard Jolly: From Structural Adjustment to Human Development

Yesterday we kicked off a two day workshop "From Structural Adjustment to Human Development" in honour of Professor Sir Richard Jolly, an IDS Associate and former IDS Director.

I first met Richard in the mid 1990s when he was the Chair of the rather obscure UN/ACC-SCN, the UN's standing committee on nutrition. The SCN's aim is to bring together different parts of the UN working on nutrition to help the whole be greater than the sum of the parts.

Watching Richard chair this 2 day meeting, I learned 5 things about him: (1) his deep commitment to the UN (why else would he have put up with those squabbling UN agencies?), (2) the breadth of his intellect (he can talk agriculture, sanitation and infant feeding with the best of them), (3) the respect in which he was held (he had recently worked with Frances Stewart and Andrea Cornia on the ground-breaking Adjustment with a Human Face), (4) his relentless focus on putting people at the heart of development and (5) his optimism and total lack of cynicism (essential to get those sometimes warring factions to agree).

His contributions to development and to development research (for he is a man of action as well as of intellect)

* "Redistribution with Growth (which rejected the early 70s separation of optimal growth and redistribution) -- the Occupy movement would be inspired by this
* Adjustment with a Human face (which argued, amongst other things, that the poorest should be protected from austerity measures) -a guideline to any policymaker grappling with the global recession
* the regional Human Development Reports (Richard was instrumental in getting the HDRs going) and their ability to create a space to speak truth to power and cut through GDP/capita-only narratives--important in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings, I am told.

On a day to day level Richard is a delight to have at IDS--always generous with this time and never pulling the "when I was Director" routine (at least to my face!).

Richard remains active, working to spearhead a new coalition to get inequality issues higher up the development agenda. His energy and optimism are quite timeless.

13 November 2011

Why India Needs a National Nutrition Strategy

This article was just published in the British Medical Journal.

Over the past 15 years India’s economic growth rate has been unprecedented. The International Monetary Fund reports an average growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) of nearly 6% in the 1990s and of 8% in 2000-10. The economic growth has not, however, been associated with corresponding reductions in the rates of childhood undernutrition. The National Family Health Survey, which provides India’s most authoritative statistics on nutrition status, showed that 43% of children under 5 years old were underweight for age in 1998-9; by 2005-6 the percentage had only dropped to 40%. At that rate of progress India will not reach its millennium development goal target (to halve the proportion of underweight children by 2015) until 2043. By contrast, China has already met its goal and Brazil is expected to do so by 2015.

Undernutrition is responsible for 35% of deaths among children under 5 and 11% of the total global disease burden. It also reduces schooling attainment: an improvement in height for age z scores of 1 is a predictor of an extra half a year of schooling and substantially increases the likelihood of being poorer later in life since less schooling is a predictor of lower wages (46% in a longitudinal study from Guatemala) and lower lifetime incomes.

During 1981-2005 India’s poverty rate fell from 60% to 42%. This decline is similar to China’s more lauded poverty reduction (a fall from 40% to 29%) over the same period. Yet unlike China, India is not reducing undernutrition. Given the importance of childhood nutrition it is important to ask why high levels of undernutrition are so persistent in India.

(For more see the above link).

07 November 2011

How much money is invested in nutrition?

It is usually easier to find out how much money is being spent on something than how much money should be spent on it. Not so, nutrition.

Thanks to many cost-effectiveness studies we can isolate the 13 essential nutrition interventions and we know roughly how much it costs to make a big dent in undernutrition rates. For example, the Scaling Up Nutrition movement (SUN) estimates the annual amount to be $10 billion.

But how much is actually spent by donors and by multilateral agencies? It turns out this is a really difficult question to answer, at least for nutrition.

Last week my IDS colleague Stephen Spratt and I were at Action Against Hunger at their London offices. We are working with them on a project on innovative financing for nutrition.

Stephen is an expert in development finance and has ideas about how to finance nutrition scale ups, drawing on ideas from climate financing and a range of transactions taxes.

But to do this modelling of financing and taxes, we need to have accurate and specific nutrition resoruce data.

There are two types of intervention to assess current investment flows for: direct and indirect.

The direct interventions are things like breastfeeding promotion, complementary feeding promotion (for infants post weaning) and micronutrient supplementation. It should be easy to get resource flow data for this tangible category, right? Wrong. It turns out that the CRS data held at OECD DAC for donor countries has a category "basic nutrition programme", but when you trawl it project by project, only about a third of that spend is actually on one of the 13 essential nutrition interventions. Interestingly other CRS line items, not labelled with nutrition but with obvious connections to nutrition, contain more spending on the essential nutrition interventions than the "basic nutrition programme" line item.

For the indirect interventions such as agriculture, social protection, health, water, sanitation, women's empowerment it gets even more complicated. Do we use indirect intervention spending (a) only from CRS categories that have something to do with nutrition, (b) from all CRS categories, but only for indirect projects that have nutrition outcome aspirations or (c) from all CRS categories for all indirect projects, whether or not they have nutrition outcome aspirations? I favour the second and the third, because the second gives us the full amount that is being spent on nutrition-focused indirect interventions and the third gives us the potential resource flows that could be supercharged for nutrition.

On top of all this, the range of helpfulness from the 6 bilaterals and the 5 multilaterals approached by Action Against Hunger for clarifications was very wide, with some being right on top of resource flows, some not knowing, and some unhelpful.

The bigger point to be made here is how on earth are we going to be able to track SUN's progress if we cannot even get a fix on resources flows to nutrition? Moreover what are the obligations on agencies to share their resource flow information by issue? There is a clear job for Publish What You Fund and International Aid Transparency Initiative here.

For nutrition, the CRS clearly needs a revamp and on transparency part of the SUN initiative should be to get some sunlight onto nutrition resources flows. Otherwise the SUN will be operating in the dark.

29 October 2011

Do blogs change anything?

I was a blogger before the Internet. In 1990 while at IFPRI I set up and edited the IFPRI Research Bulletin as an internal summary of the research my colleagues were doing. The goal was to help us all find out about each other's work in an easy and quick way and to stimulate debate.

This is one of the key motivators for me to blog: when I see something interesting I want to reflect on it, share it and listen to what others think about it.

But are blogs anything more than mere vanity projects?

Back in August, David McKenzie and Berk Ozler released a paper "The Impact of Economics Blogs". They pose 4 questions of economics blogs:

1. Do they affect the dissemination of economics research? (Yes.)

They note that RePEc (Research Papers in Economics--a collaborative effort of hundreds of volunteers in 75 countries to enhance the dissemination of research in economics) working paper downloads increase by 20-30 fold after a paper has been mentioned on a popular blog. More formally they regress abstract views on papers mentioned in the top 50 blogs and allow for lags and reverse causality and find big impacts of blog mentions on views.

2. Do they affect the reputation of their creators? (Yes.)

Here they use a list of most admired economists (derived from a poll of US academics) and combine that with the top 500 economists in terms of RePEc downloads. The run a probit regression (1=on admired list, 0 not) and try to explain that with variables such as whether the economists regularly blog and where they rank in the RePEc download ratings. It turns out that those who blog regularly are more admired than their RePEc ratings would suggest (although people are surely admired for more than their writing--whether articles or blogs!).

3. Do they change attitudes of readers or lead to their increased knowledge? (Yes.)

Here the authors used the launch of their own blog (Development Impact) on April 2011 to randomise encouragement to read the blog among other researchers. They did a baseline and follow up. As they note their study design has good internal validity (i.e. it is good at assessing whether their blog has an impact) but that they can say less about other blogs (less strong external validity) although they argue that their blog is not atypical of other blogs (although it is a World Bank blog).

They find that those encouraged to read the blog (the treatment group) were more likely to be interested in working as a researcher at the World Bank, had a more positive perception of the World Bank's research quality, were more aware of the authors of the blog, relaxed their perceptions that World Bank staff face censorship over blogs and changed their opinions on the effectiveness of different interventions.

4. Do they influence policy? (Don't know, probably yes)

This is the part of the paper that has the weakest evidence base and is essentially a search for stories which cannot be verified. The bloggers interviewed cannot put their finger on specific policies changed as a result of their blogs, but then again that is not how policy works. A better strategy would be to see how widely policymakers read blogs. But the strong suspicion has to be if policymakers are influenced by research, and if the blogs are any good, the blogs should enhance the likelihood of research being influential).

So, blogging seems to matter. I liked this paper because:

* of the creative use of mixed methods

* it is careful and well done

* it shows that randomised experiments don't have to be intrusive or expensive

* asks an important question in this blogoshere world and shows us that we can actually do experimental research on how policy processes use information and evidence

* it generates research questions for others to pursue

I would have liked to have seen more on whether blogs lead to less diversity in who is talking to who (I suspect the bonding impact amongst the like minded is quite high and the bridging factor across silos less strong), who has the luxury of being able to blog (e.g. institutional support) and how blogs change power dynamics in terms of whose voice is amplified?

The authors end up by asking, if there are all these benefits, why aren't there more bloggers? They suggest that the supply is lower than it should be because the barriers to doing it are large (emotional, time, writing skill etc.).

Now for the paper on Tweets.....

27 October 2011

ABC, Easy as 123?

Yesterday Brazilian Minister Marco Farani, visited IDS, met with some of our staff and gave a seminar on Brazil's approach to development and its emerging approach to development cooperation. Minister Farani is the Director of the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC).

The talk, together with the Q and A, was very interesting. Mr Farani made several key points

* the terms "North" and "South" will soon become as anachronistic as the terms "East" and "West" became after the end of the Cold War

* Brazil's approach to development cooperation is, at the moment, project based, pragmatic and underpinned by solidarity, not ideology or commerce

* Brazil's lack of a "past" (e.g. colonial) means it comes to Africa with less baggage than most existing donors. It has opened up 17 new embassies in Africa under President Lula Da Silva and trade with Africa has quadrupled in the past 10 years. Moreover at least 50% of the population has an African heritage.

* Already Brazil is being asked to give advice about its tropical agriculture (its agricultural research system EMBRAPA is widely respected throughout the world) and on its approaches to social protection (ditto).

* The Minister thought Brazil's development cooperation programme would specialise in environment, agriculture and social protection, but not necessarily worrying about becoming a world leader in these areas--Mr Farani reminded us, after all, that Brazil is still a recipient of ODA from Germany and Japan.

* The need to manage expectations--Brazil's domestic success in development will not necessarily mean it has the answers for other countries

* Brazil will probably retain a slightly heterodox development cooperation path, going its own way, with no plans, at least in the short term, a DAC member.

The Minister was admirably positive and optimistic about the path ahead making it sound, if not exactly easy, then not very bumpy either.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out. What are the next steps beyond cooperation projects? How will leadership on environment manifest itself? How will popular opinion within Brazil constrain any potential new ODA programme? When will commercial pressures begin to crowd in on the development cooperation programme? In which areas will the approach be heterodox and in which way? Will there be new ways of approaching certain development issues that have not been tried elsewhere but nevertheless have strong potential?

There are many important questions and Minister Farani made it very clear that research and knowledge would be at the heart of any new development cooperation programme.

The IDS BRICS initiative will be working with the Government of Brazil and our research, NGO and business partners in Brazil as well as DFID on these and other questions, comparing perspectives, approaches and issues across the other BRICS countries, looking for commonalities and contrasts.

IDS Fellows Alex Shankland and Lizbeth Navas Aleman are the leads at IDS in case any of you are interested in finding out more.

25 October 2011

Disaster Diplomacy

I was in Oslo yesterday, presenting some of the findings from the Reimagining Development work we have been doing at IDS to the Norwegian Research Council/NORAD Annual NORGLOBAL meetings.

I met some very interesting researchers doing great things at the interface of development and environment. One of them, Ilan Kelman, gave me a copy of his forthcoming book, Disaster Diplomacy. I began flipping through it on the flight back and found myself getting engrossed.

The basic question the book seeks to answer is: do disaster-related activities support or inhibit diplomacy processes?

Do disasters that affect all adversaries alike provide a space where differences can be put aside temporarily in the name of saving lives? And will this "time out", and the trust building that joint disaster-related action might foster, serve as a spur to the future construction of diplomacy?

More specifically, (1) do disaster-related activities influence diplomatic activities? (2) are the influenced diplomatic activities ongoing or new? (3) are the parties trying to make the diplomacy fail or succeed? (4) how long does the connection between the disaster and diplomacy activities last and what determines their longevity? and (5) do the disaster diplomacy activities address long standing livelihood vulnerabilities?

Kelman poses these questions of 18 case studies, ranging from food crisis (e.g. Ethiopia-Eritrea 2000-2002), tsunamis (e.g. Aceh, Sri Lanka), hurricanes (e.g. Katrina), and earthquakes (e.g. 2001 and India-Pakistan).

His conclusions are bleak. Disaster Diplomacy—at least based on these case studies and with the focus on the level of the State level--tends to fail. He concludes by saying that disaster diplomacy at the level of individuals may be happening and this may pave the way for states to practice it effectively. This is just one of the spin offs that he and others will pursue further in their work.

I was interested in this work because it displays the hallmarks of good research:

* A bridging of different worlds (disaster and diplomacy)
* Being careful about having a general framework that is flexible enough to be applied credibly to highly varied case studies, but in a way that allows those case studies to be aggregated in a convincing narrative
* Being brave enough to report a negative result (disaster diplomacy does not happen—imagine how personally advantaged the author would have been had the other result occurred)
* Being a general enough idea to have application elsewhere. I am thinking about Disaster Development—do disasters provide an opportunity to influence subsequent development in ways that are enduring and support the livelihoods of the most vulnerable?

Disasters are likely to become more frequent as population increases, current resource use patterns are maintained and climate change generates increased unpredictability. So we need to know more about how to create silver linings out of disasters—whether those linings are diplomatic or development orientated. This book is a useful way of thinking about the challenges to doing that.

22 October 2011

Five things I learned from commenting on the MVP

Well, that was interesting.

After my rather mild comments about the MVP last week we had the reply from Jeff Sachs and Prabhjot Singh.

Then we had some other blogs too.

David McKenzie provided a rebuttal of the response from the Millennium Promise team to me (many thanks David, even though we do not know each other).

Berk Ozler notes the role that the UN and the funders have played in the MVP. Michael Clemens from CGD weighs in too.

So after all the hoo-hah (a brilliant English term for fuss), here are 5 things I learned in the course of the last week.

1. If you offer a critique of the MVP, get ready for a full-on "stern" response. There seems to be an "if you are not with us then you are against us" narrative at work.

2. Get ready for any content in your critique to be drowned out by the impact issue. My blog was primarily about how to use the upcoming impact assessment to get a fix on how sustainable the MVP experiment would be once the donor money had gone. None of the above blogs mentioned this point.

3. The powerful can also be seduced by the "I've seen it work" argument. No need for boring old impact assessments, it seems.

4. One could make a career (of sorts) out of debating the MVP. There is a micro-industry of MVP debate out there. Lots of good stuff, but it must get a bit all-consuming.

5. The DFID funded evaluation of the MVP is more needed than I had realised. Well done DFID. And I will be the first to congratulate the MVP team if rigorous impact assessments show a positive impact attributable to the MVP.

Signing off on this topic for a while...

16 October 2011

On World Food Day who is most committed to reducing hunger?

Today is World Food Day.

It is usually a time when lots of measures of hunger are updated and released. All of these measures use an out of date methodology for assessing hunger (based on food balance sheets which are estimates of food availability, not access or utilisation) but that is another story.

More importantly World Food Day is a time to reflect on--and redouble--efforts to reduce hunger around the world.

But how do we know who is taking hunger reduction seriously?

It is vital to separate hunger outcomes from hunger reduction efforts and effort has to be contextualised by the resources and capacity available to a country.

IDS, together with NGO partners, with support from Irish Aid, has developed a Hunger Reduction Commitment Index (HRCI) to try to measure who is making the biggest effort to reduce hunger. Using secondary data (9 variables covering anti hunger spending, policies and legislation) we ranked 22 developing countries and 21 donor countries.

This is the kind of thing the FAO should be doing, and I hope they eventually take it over, but for now we are committed to developing it further.

The index ranking is still a draft (it is being peer reviewed) but the initial results are striking:

1. The top countries are Malawi (best), Guatemala, Brazil, Senegal with Ghana and Ethiopia tied at 5th. The bottom are Guinea Bissau (worst) Zambia, China, Nepal, with Lesotho and Bangladesh tied at 16th. China is the big surprise, coming in at 19th. It is a surprise because it usually ranks at the top of indices about who is doing well on hunger, but once we take out its hunger reduction numbers, the explicit commitment to hunger reduction does not show up in policies, spending or legislation. Of course if you have that level of hunger reduction (fuelled by economic growth), explicit commitment probably does not matter so much. That is why it is important to cross-reference commitment with hunger levels and resources available.

2. Once you cross-reference the commitment levels with hunger, wealth, administrative capacity and voice and accountability scores, several off- diagonal situations are highlighted:high hunger and low commitment (notably Guinea Bissau, Zambia, Bangladesh, but also Nepal and Lesotho), low wealth and high commitment (e.g. Malawi, Ethiopia, and Tanzania), high administrative capacity and low commitment (e.g. Lesotho and China) and low public accountability and voice but high commitment (Ethiopia). This contextualisation makes the HRCI more than an index, but helps it play a diagnostic role, guiding action from different stakeholders (governments, civil society, donors) to where their efforts can make the biggest difference.

3. On the donor countries, Denmark does best (with Finland second, and Ireland and Belgium joint third) with Switzerland worst. The UK comes in at joint 5th with France and Norway. South Korea, the new kid on the donor block, comes in at 12th--higher than Japan (13) Canada (14), the US (18).

We also collected primary data on 10 indicators in 3 countries (Zambia, Bangladesh and the UK) from in country "expert" panels (of around 30 people in each location, selected for as wide a range and balance of perspectives as possible) to give those governments a steer as to where these expert groups think they are relatively strong and relatively weak. For example in the UK the panel felt the UK government was strong on using evidence to inform policy but weak on working in a whole of government way.

I am a fan of relative rankings. I believe they provide positive motivation for action. Our hope is that civil society will find this index to be a useful addition to their toolkit in terms of putting pressure on governments to do something about hunger rather than simply talk about it.

We are developing the next phase of this work and will continue refining the index, updating the secondary data scores, updating the primary data collection while expanding the number of countries, working with civil society partners in country to help them use the index to support mobilisation against hunger and to set up a baseline for evaluation of the index.

The full draft report can be found here.

14 October 2011

Jeff Sachs: LVP of the MVP?

I have a lot of time for Jeff Sachs: sharp intellect, unflagging energy, extraordinary communication ability and gallons of boldness.

But when it comes to things like the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), in many ways, he seems to be his team's Least Valuable Player (LVP). He is, in short, a lightning rod. I think Madeleine Bunting called him a marmite person--you love him or hate him (although I am nowhere near these extremes).

The 2 main critiques of the MVP seem to be (a) of course if you spend $60 per head per person for 5 years you will see dramatic development improvements--but what happens when the donor money runs out? and (b) actually we don't know if the impacts are there because the MVP has no baseline comparison group of villages (and there is absolutely no technical reason the MVP experiment could not have been randomised at the village level a la Progresa).

The second critique seems sound to me. It is hard to understand why baselines of case control villages were not undertaken. The second critique gets us impact folk excited, but I suspect it is the first critique that is more widely supported--who on earth will pay for this once the donors leave?

But it seems to me that this ownership and sustainability issue can be evaluated in the impact analysis, at least in a plausibility kind of way (i.e. we won't really know if it sustainable until the external money is taken away).

For example, one could measure whether the MPV funds:

(a) crowd in or crowd out private or state contributions to infrastructure development

(b) lead to more business activity

(c) create a more diversified tax base

(d) lead to more domestically financed NGOs

(e) helps secure rights (property, user of civil), and

(f) build a stronger capacity to fight for state resources.

One could also do some knowledge, attitude and perceptions work with policymakers, community leaders and NGOs that is clever enough to get around self-interest and get answers to questions about about sustainability and ownership.

These kinds of questions are vital, it seems to me, for the next phase of the MVP evaluation equation--an equation that Jeff Sachs would do well to take himself out of for a while...

09 October 2011

When Worlds Collide

For the past year or so I have been working with folks who regularly publish in the leading health journals and with the editors of those journals. It has been an eye-opening experience.

Now I am used to working with those from a public health background--I have an undergrad degree with joint honours in Food Science and Food Economics--and one of my PhD supervisors, Prof. Reynaldo Martorell is a leading light in Public Health Nutrition. But nothing could prepare me for this parallel universe.

Some examples:

* having my writing described as "so ugly" by a health reviewer -- OK it's more prose than poetry, but come on..
* being a part of a systematic review that surveyed 14000 papers and came up with 3 that met the inclusion criteria--and that, apparently, is OK!
* having to define "development" as an "intervention"
* trying to write a very wide ranging paper in 3000-4000 words because readers of these journals will not tolerate more (why not?)
* having been told my paper is going before a "hanging panel" (gulp)
* being surprised to be on a list of authors for a paper just because I contributed a few ideas
* being listed at the end of the long list of authors on a paper because this is what the grand old men and women are put

I have to say I have learned an enormous amount too:

* about the strengths and weaknesses of systematic reviews and meta analyses
* about malaria (why don't more social scientists work on it?)
* that re-reviews of systematic review papers are rarely done (why not?)
* about how complex our development language is to those outside development (complexity fundamentalism versus the epidemiological fundamentalism of the health research community)

And, most importantly, about how health can add value to understanding development and vice versa. In fact this is the theme of the special series of papers we are hoping to publish simultaneously in a leading health journal and in a leading development journal (and the working title of the series is the title of this blog).

I will keep you updated on this interplanetary journey.

06 October 2011

UK Attitudes to Aid: Minding the Gap Between Political Leaders and the Public

This morning I was interviewed by a TV reporter on the results from the UK Public Opinion Monitor on public attitudes to aid. It will be interesting to see how they present my evidence. I have a sinking feeling I will be presented as an aid-sceptic. I hope my instincts are wrong on this occasion.

Quite unrelatedly (I think) Andrew Mitchell, the UK's Secretary of State for International Development, was interviewed by the Independent newspaper in Saturday’s edition. He cited some encouraging private polling which found that the number of people who agree that “even as we deal with our deficit, we should be proud of our aid commitments” has risen from 48 per cent three months ago to 51 per cent at present, while 38 per cent disagree.

It is good news that this most recent polling shows support is holding firm and perhaps it signals a positive response to DFID's efforts in 2011 to demonstrate the positive force that aid can be.

Results from the UK Public Opinion Monitor (UK POM), run by IDS, had shown a deterioration in public support for aid in 2010.

In June 2010, 63% of people in the panel thought aid should be cut in context of addressing deficit. By November 2010, this figure had risen to 71%.

When we investigated the longer term views, the results were more positive. In March 2011 we asked UK POM participants what they thought about aid spending in 5 –10 years time. The negative response fell significantly: 51% thought aid should be cut in the longer term.

And in June of 2011 when we asked UK POM participants whether they agreed with the statement that their lives would become "much more dependent on events elsewhere" in 5 years time and again in 50 years time, the 50 year agreement numbers increased dramatically.

So some of the perceptions about aid are clearly linked to the current economic conditions in the UK and in the longer term people feel more supportive of aid and understand we will be living in a more interdependent world (where aid will be important in building political and economic relationships).

But the news from the Governor of the Bank of England today "the most serious financial crisis at least since the 1930s if not ever" makes the longer term feel even further away.

So what will build support for aid now?

• first, recognise the strong base we already have--the UK public feels the need to help--UK POM results from early 2010 show that 6 out of 10 of the UK public feel we have a “moral obligation” to help poor people wherever they live

• second, more evidence about when aid works is also important--systematic reviews are beginning to marshal an important type of evidence, and the ones I have read show that there are plenty of interventions--many supported by aid--that are having a real positive impact on people's lives

• third, the UK Aid Watchdog (ICAI) is becoming more important as another avenue for citizens to ask questions about aid effectiveness and for aid's effectiveness to emerge

• fourth, contextualising helps -- when we asked UK POM participants whether they agreed that aid to India should be at £280 million per year, 66% disagreed, but when we pointed out that India contained more people living in poverty than sub Saharan Africa, the percent who disagreed dropped to 50.

• fifth, those of us who have seen the sustainable support that aid can give to those living in the most desperate conditions must tell those stories to their friends, families, neighbours, communities and MPs

• finally, and I think most important, we need to be more prepared to support those directly affected by aid in sharing their experiences of aid--these are the most authentic voices and testimonies to the strengths and weaknesses of aid

Leadership is about doing the right thing, not necessarily the popular thing. But when will the gap between the leadership of the main political parties and the public on the commitment to aid become unsustainable? Those who believe that aid can do great things must support the leaders of the 3 main parties as long as the evidence supports us. For now, it does.

04 October 2011

Is Business the New development?

IDS organised a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference called “Is business the new aid?” The title was deliberately focused on getting a sharp response from the panel members (chaired by Lanre Akinola, Editor of This is Africa, Financial Times with Barbara Stocking, CEO of Oxfam, Sue Clark, Director of Corporate Affairs, SAB Miller, Stephen O’Brien, the DFID Minister, and me).

Everyone on the panel agreed that the answer to the question was “no”. For me the answer was “no” and “no”. No because businesses creating jobs and tax revenues are much more powerful than aid in reducing poverty and no because unlike businesses, aid has a responsibility to work for the most vulnerable.

We want aid to create the conditions where progressive growth can flourish—helping with governance (legitimate political stability, inclusive property and user rights, transparent recourse and justice mechanisms), with infrastructure (to reduce transactions costs for everyone), and with pro-poor institutional innovations (e.g. supporting smallholder farmers to work together to enter and influence value chain rules). The business schools call this reducing “beta risk” to allow (small and medium) enterprises to continue taking their own “alpha” risks. By progressive growth I mean growth that generates decent jobs (Stephen O’Brien called this “jobful” growth), that reduces poverty and is environmentally responsible.

I was struck by how relaxed the audience at the fringe event was about the role of business in development (I was also reminded that all 3 DFID Ministers have substantial business experience). The experiences of the BRICS countries seem to have changed the development community’s attitudes to business.

But the problem remains: how to tell whether the "business and development" success stories on display at panels such as these are: (a) genuine successes (have they been as independently and rigorously assessed as aid interventions are?) and (b) not just window dressing?

There is no way of knowing this at the moment. We need much more independent research on this issue. Collectively DFID, 3ie and Aus Aid have recently funded about 200 systematic reviews on development interventions—each of these will focus on 20 or so studies, making for at least 4000 high quality studies of development interventions. My guess is that there are less than 40 such rigorous studies of the impacts on business on poverty. That is why IDS will focus on building up the evidence base in this area over the next 5 years.

After our event, there was a reception hosted by the Conservative Friends of International Development. It was packed. Andrew Mitchell has clearly been very effective in building support for development within his party—certainly with the elder statesmen and stateswomen and the younger members of the party who have experienced the Umubano work in Rwanda. The strong support from David Cameron is important too. But what about those in the middle? Their resolve will surely be tested in the next 2 years as it dawns on the UK public that the aid budget will increase by 40% by 2014-15. George Osborne’s speech to Conference yesterday “we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business” is a sign that the UK is reining in its green leadership ambitions and provides a contrast to Andrew Mitchell’s frequently repeated phrase “we’re not going to balance the books on the backs of the poorest”.

Encouragingly, there are no signals that the government’s stance is softening on the importance of DFID’s efforts to support international development. (Indeed the close out of the Conference by David Cameron will be dedicated to mobilising support from the membership for famine relief for the most vulnerable in Somalia.) But perhaps an even more important test of the Government’s resolve on development will materialise if it emerges that its development efforts are holding back UK businesses. That is why it is so important for DFID to work across government to head off these potential tradeoffs and identify the things that BIS, DECC, DEFRA and the rest can do to support development without damaging UK business interests.

When does business have the biggest positive impact on development? That is the research question. Is development bad for UK businesses? That is the political one.

28 September 2011

Forget the Tobin Tax, What About a Panic Tax?

So the President Barroso of the EC has proposed a Financial Transactions (or Tobin) Tax. Bill Gates is leaning that way too.

If the arguments for and against such a tax are well known, the evidence is not.

Cue the IDS systematic review from McCulloch and Pallacio. This is the first serious review of the research literature on a Tobin Tax and tries to debunk some myths:

* Will a Tobin Tax Reduce Volatility? This was the original motive behind Tobin's proposal. But 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 but the authors think a Tobin Tax would be more progressive than other forms of taxation.

The main reasons given for the UK being against the Tax are political (the French and the Germans are behind it!), economic (it will lead to the decimation of the UK financial sector because bankers will up sticks) and budgetary (what is the case for a ring-fenced tax -- although it is interesting that Barroso is not linking the Tax revenues to climate finance).

So the Tobin Tax might be a useful tool to bolster public finances, but it might not deliver much for climate or do much for price volatility.

The former is a massive challenge--how to raise funds for something that rates far down the public policy list in public opinion polls?

The latter--volatility--might be dampened by a Panic Tax, the Tobin Tax's first cousin.

The Panic Tax--also a Neil McCulloch idea although he calls it an Inductance tax--does not tax the level of financial transactions, but the speed at which they occur.

This gets at Tobin's original concern directly and deals with the dangers introduced by High Frequency Traders.

See here for the Panic tax paper.

How “home grown” are Home Grown School Feeding Programmes?

I attended a small part of a 3 day conference on a Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme being led by the Partnership for Child Development (PCD) at Imperial College—IDS is one of the partners on the evaluation programme involving Rachel Sabates Wheeler, Edoardo Masset and Richard Longhurst amongst others.

HGSF tries to set up school procurement of food for school meals in such a way that it stimulates the local food economy while improving school enrolment, attendance and achievement as well as food and nutrition security. Achieving just one of these outcomes (educational, nutritional, local economy) is a challenge. Nevertheless we do know that there are certain conditions under which all 3 objectives can be realised (see Adelman et. al. 2006 for a nice review).

The HGSF programme is working with governments and other national partners to build on regular school feeding programmes (where food is sourced nationally but not locally) to implement and test various HGSF approaches. From the 3 presentations I was able to catch, a few reflections:

• HGSF is such a neat idea, there is a danger that we can get a bit evangelical about it—we need to give the evidence every chance to speak
• Assessing impact is difficult, because there is no real way of aggregating across multiple outcomes–the PCD team is working on this
• The systematic reviews of School feeding Programmes (not the programmes that rely on locally sourced food) show how sensitive impact is to key design features such as calling the food a snack versus a meal (this has a big impact on food substitution away from the child in the home—families being more likely to treat something framed as a snack in an additive way). This means that there is a need to build in these variants into impact evaluations, which is expensive if done using surveys (as it increases sample sizes dramatically)
• This design sensitivity has implications for capacity development and for sustainability. Innovation and adaptation require capacities at the institutional, organisational and individual levels, so capacity development efforts are intrinsic to the scaling of HGSF
• The design sensitivity also implies that unless the HGSF programmes are “doubly” home grown (i.e. developed locally as well as using local food) they may well fall apart when the outsiders leave
• Ultimately this potential for scaling and sustainability via established institutions (i.e. schools) might be the trump cards that HGSF has when we benchmark its impacts against interventions like public works and cash transfers.

This PCD programme is led by Lesley Drake and Aulo Geli – website is here—I look forward to seeing how the programme overcomes some of these tough challenges.

27 September 2011

Labour's Leadership on International Development--Is It Slipping?

In the UK the Labour Party is the Opposition to the Coalition Government. Being in Opposition is difficult, but it does give political parties the opportunity (and responsibility) to rethink their approach to a whole range of issues. Is the Labour Party of Ed Miliband delivering on this responsibility in the area of international development?

From talking to many of the new MPs and some of the very experienced members of the House of Lords at the Party Conference in Liverpool this week, it is clear that the Labour Party still cares deeply about international development.

There is a lot of energy being dedicated to searching for new ideas and and a new narrative on international development--one that matches the realities of the 21st century (going beyond 2005 And All That) with the core values the Party holds dear.

What might such a narrative look like?

• Dissolve the “us and them” in development--share ideas on solutions to common national problems (e.g. how to reduce inequality, how to provide and effective and affordable social welfare system, how to empower citizens) and devise solutions together on global problems that are common to all (e.g. climate change, infectious disease, security).
• Focus on progressive growth—not growth for growth’s sake, but growth that creates opportunities and jobs for those at the bottom of the pyramid, reduces poverty and inequality and is resource sustainable. Find ways of supporting new blends of private and public sector action to support this.
• Focus on progressive climate financing—financing that asks the most from those who have benefitted the most over the decades from the untaxed emissions of carbon dioxide. The Financial Transactions Tax (are we at a tipping point on this?) will be one step in this direction, although most of its cost will likely be transferred to bank customers (not progressive, but at least proportionate). Keep the pledge to use no more than 10% of ODA for climate financing.
• Work better across government departments—as more countries graduate from LIC to MIC status, the call on ODA as we know it will decline, and because donor countries will be under pressure to reduce ODA, agencies like DFID will need to rely increasingly on the quality of their arguments, not their budgets, to steer other departments towards development outcomes
• Keep the promise on 0.7% of GNI to ODA--but revisit the issue of whether ODA should be more targeted to poor countries or to poor people

Some elements along these lines are emerging. But whatever the specifics are, two things seem really important:
(a) make sure core values (community, opportunity, solidarity, fairness) flow through the entire approach. Authenticity counts for a lot in shoring up public support for international development and for driving party members and
(b) fire up the Leadership about the agenda.

Harriet Harman is said to be allocating considerable energy to the development brief, and that is important, but it was the Blair-Brown energy that has made the UK a leader in development in the last decade. Ed Miliband has been party Leader for a year only and domestic issues have dominated his agenda, but if he is not seen to be more committed to international development by the time of the International Development Policy Review launch in Sept 2012, a big opportunity to shift the debate—and to reposition Labour-- will have been missed.

22 September 2011

Time to Reimagine Development?

In case you did not see this in The Guardian newspaper yesterday.

If the global crises of the past four years (food, fuel, financial) and the slow burn of climate change have called into question the way we live, then it's likely the impact of these crises on the field of international development will be fundamental. This assumption kick-started an initiative at the Institute of Development Studies in 2009 called Re-imagining Development (ReDev). The idea was not only to look at the impacts of the crises on the ground but also to assess how they affect the way we think about development.

Drawing on 20 case studies, we identified a number of assumptions about how development works that were challenged by the crises.

Economic growth can be a force for good, but it does not have to be

When many of us were taught economics, growth was sometimes seen as sufficient for development and always necessary. ReDev concluded that some kinds of growth are necessary, others irrelevant, and some harmful. Growth should be treated like technology: with the right governance, it can advance human wellbeing. The growth we want is economic development that is potent in reducing poverty, uses natural resources sustainably and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases. Too much research on growth is focused on how we get it, rather than how we get the type we need. We get the growth we want by focusing on: creating the right initial conditions (such as low inequality); reducing entry barriers for new, small businesses; setting key prices at appropriate levels (as with carbon production); and adopting stronger transparency mechanisms to allow society to pressurise corporations.

Views on growth are surprisingly homogenous. This is probably because only one type of economics (neoclassical) is taught the world over. But monocultures, nature has taught us, are particularly vulnerable to events.

In an interconnected world, the nation state is increasingly relevant

Do global agreements on climate, trade and drugs drive national behaviour, or do national alliances supply oxygen and credibility to global agreements? Several case studies showed how national self interest will continue to undermine collective action that is in the long-term interest of all. From the G8 to the G20 to the G193, issue-specific coalitions of countries (there are 193 states recognised by the UN), and the membership of those coalitions, is probably best explained by national politics. We need to understand these national coalitions more than ever.

The complexity of reality cannot safely be ignored

Complexity is the policymaker's kryptonite. But it is increasingly difficult to simplify complexity in ways that do not do violence to reality. For example, complexity surfaced quickly for organisations tasked with monitoring the crises. They had to get speedy and meaningful data on a wide range of interlinked outcomes to track the impacts of the crises and to get quick ideas about how policy could mitigate them. They were caught between getting data out quickly and getting the data to be statistically representative. They found the complexity of doing both to be overwhelming. We have to get better at measuring the real-time consequences of complex crises.

Wellbeing and resilience are not panaceas, but neither are they fads

The crisis impact work indicated that while material goods were very important to the human condition, so too were the relationships and the psychological dimensions of human existence. Wellbeing brings these dimensions together in an explicit way. The emerging concern with resilience of systems is perhaps a good thing to come out of the bad news of the crises. Given the new global uncertainties (climate, the emerging powers, and resource scarcities deriving from current lifestyles) we think these concepts of wellbeing and resilience are here to stay. But if used lazily to provide politically correct gloss to issues of measurement of progress and interdependence, they will become devalued.

Civil society did not deal well enough with these mega-shocks

The ReDev report concludes that civil society did not sufficiently rise to the challenge or opportunity afforded by the crises. This was partly due to NGOs and civil society working in silos and partly due to the drop in income many of these organisations experienced. We felt civil society could have done a better job of enforcing the various accountabilities of governments and business. The Arab Spring may well temper this argument, but we were struck by the inability of civil society groups to mobilise collectively to push governments to act more quickly and protect the most vulnerable.

Though derived from different specialisations and institions, our observations are partial, driven by fragments of evidence from purposively selected sites and interpreted by people with particular values and perspectives, so we cannot overstate the representativeness of these conclusions. But clearly it was difficult for many of the thousands of people with whom we engaged to reimagine development.

New ideas often emerged in the personal realm, but struggled to find fertile ground professionally. Established concepts are hard to dislodge, having built up strong constituencies and vested interests within or across organisations. And the new interests - the emerging powers, the new donors, and the new philanthropists - are not necessarily going to plough different paths.

21 September 2011

EADI-DSA Day 3: New (Old) Voices and Open Ears

The plenary this morning consisted of two presentations, one from Eun Mee Kim Dean of the Graduate School of International Studies, Ewha Womans University in Seoul and Peter Knorringa from ISS in The Hague.

Professor Kim talked about South Korea as a bridge between developed and developing countries by way of its rapid development (it had a GDP/capita of $81 in 1961) and also as a bridge between DAC and non DAC ODA donors, especially those from Asia.

She argued that the Korean experience brought three things to the development table:

1. Country ownership was vital—the ability to negotiate strongly with donors about what aid should be used for and domestic policies to promote development (e.g. the government argued against donor advice on exchange rate policies)

2. The Korean example of development should not be a poster child for authoritarian regimes all over the world

3. Investment in human capital was key (although it had very low GDP/capita rates in 1961, it had a literacy rate of around 70%) to Korea’s development under authoritarianism and later under democracy

She closed by saying that South Korea is playing a key role on the G20 (it is now the 13th largest economy) in arguing that the focus of the G20 should not be solely on economic development but also on social development.

Professor Knorringa’s talk was about a different type of “new voice”, the private sector. He pointed to three trends in private sector governance that are likely having major implications for development:

1. The rush from companies to sign up to international standards on labour, environment, and safety. He pointed out that there are not necessarily good or bad for development. For example, they could lead to exclusion of the smallest producers and the poorest consumers but they could also facilitate medium size firms in the emerging countries to get into global markets.

2. The consolidation in the retail sector, with European and North American retailers partnering (and buying up) retailers in the BRICS and elsewhere. This is leading to the % of goods purchased from the organised retail sector increasing dramatically. This might lead standards to go out of the window or it might lead to a social global compliance platform where all retailers work towards convergence or, most likely he thought, it would lead to layers of standards, where the new middle classes might be willing to pay small premia for modest levels of environmental protection or labour standard improvements.

3. Companies getting more involved in the development process in order to secure a supply platform (e.g. working with smallholder cocoa producers in West Africa). Companies are increasingly behaving like NGOs, but not with the primary goal of enhancing development.

He argued that we in the development research community have a lot to offer these companies in creating bigger overlaps between commercial and developmental objectives, and that we have a lot to learn from them given that many have been working for longer than we have in the developing world and from a very different perspective.

Both presentations were clear and interesting. I agreed with Prof. Kim’s arguments about the essentialism of the state to want to promote development for its people, but I was less convinced with her argument that the only way to go in the 21st century is via democracy. That is almost like kicking away the ladder (as Ha Joon Chang, a Korean, would say of the rich countries). She was criticised from the floor for sounding too much like the World Bank, but I felt her response (she gave us an insight into the huge fights with the Bank over their narratives around the East Asian miracle and the role of the state) was very strong.

On Prof Knorringa’s talk, he did a good job of communicating why it is important for development researchers to engage with the private sector, but less on the when and how. Despite his arguments, some of the questions from the floor amounted to “we have nothing to teach the private sector about development and they never ask us anyway”. I find this sentiment depressing. Of course there are things each group can learn from each other—we both know the contexts, but from very different angles and this should make for the potential for some productive collaborations. And more and more companies are reaching out to our community. Of course we have to be very careful about greenwash and whitewash and all that, but we cannot just stick our heads in the sand and say it is too difficult. If we really believe commercial interests are to the detriment of development, we have an obligation to engage.

In both cases, I got a sense that the new voices sounded a lot like old voices, albeit with some new things to say. I also was reminded that new voices need open ears if they are to be heard.