01 January 2011

Predictions for 2011

My favourite prediction is from the ex footballer Paul Gascoigne "I never make predictions and I never will".

I suffer no such inhibitions, and here are my 10 for 2011. I'd like to hear from you about your own.

1. Governance will be back. Governance has had a tough time of things lately. Its critics either claim it is an unthreatening term for politics or is too fuzzy to be of any analytical use. I suspect there is some merit to both these critiques, but that they can be addressed for without governance we are in a purely technocratic world and we know that is not how human nature works. Why will it be back? Three reasons at least. First there is an increasing recognition that we need to be discerning about growth. Some types will be more poverty reducing than others, and they can be designed to do so. What is the major shaper of designer growth? Governance--namely the rules shaping market function and performance. There is also an increasing recognition that natural resource scarcity and climate change are about national political processes and choices. Governance writ large, again.

2. The BRICs will continue to stack up. These large, rapidly growing and influential countries are becoming more and more important in global development. The Wikileaks showed how much diplomatic effort is already concentrated in these countries and this will only continue. With 193-country deals looking more elusive than ever we will see more subset deals on trade, climate, narcotics, arms and finance. FAO will probably be headed by a Brazilian. Russia is ramping up its aid programme, China is showing no slowdown in growth and will overtake the US economy in 2019, India has 400m people living in poverty, but it also has 700m who are not—a massive market with newly emergent demand. South Africa is playing a more effective part in African politics. But this is not the only way the BRICS are stacking up.The club is growing. Indonesia, Nigeria and Vietnam are knocking on the door. And if the fragile growth in many African countries continues, they will be applying in 5-10 years time.

3. Afghanistan will rise up the development agenda. 2011 is the year when the US and the UK will begin drawdowns of troops. US and European defense funds are also being scaled back.The pressure on DFID to increase their growing allocations to the country will be immense. For a UK government that has so firmly nailed its colours to the impact mast, the evidence will have to support any newly increased allocations. Much of the evidence is inconvenient. The Economist recently highlighted two careful studies which concluded that poverty does not drive terrorism, so if these are robust, that rationale is diminished. Another rationale is that aid is best used in contexts where poverty is perpetuated by conflict. But after a decade of the Chronic Poverty Centre at Manchester, we still do not know the answer to this two-part question: is poverty more chronic in conflict affected areas and, if it is, does aid have any comparative advantage in springing the trap? We need more research in these areas to inform policy in the next 2-3 years.

4. If Obama is going to do anything on aid, it will be in 2011. The jury is still out on Obama’s impact on international development (see earlier blog). Any legislative accomplishments will have to take place pre-summer 2011 because after labor day 2011 it will be all 2012 presidential elections, all the time. Given this small window, I’m not optimistic.

5. DFID’s mission will be enhanced by the transparency agenda, but there will be bumps. In the short term DFID will be bracing itself for the government-wide release of expenses, receipts, purchases etc. It may miss the worst given that it is one of the smallest ministries. On the other hand it is the only one with an increasing budget. But in the medium term I believe the boost that transparency gives to the accountability agenda outweighs worries about the burying of bad news and honest critique.

6. “Garbage Out” will increasingly be too high a price to pay for “Garbage In”. We cannot measure global hunger accurately. We cannot agree on the poverty rate in India. We use 118 real data points to generate over a 1000 poverty data points in African countries. We have surprisingly few measures of national inequality. The existence of chronic poverty data is the exception rather than the rule. Our 21st century efforts to accelerate progress towards the MDGs rests on an information infrastructure that is vintage 1970s. As our world speeds up, we increasingly need rapid and accurate data upon which to formulate responses. Fortunately in this case, our new information and communication technologies have made us less prepared to wait for this data. This may be the greatest leapfrogging feat of the new IT—to bypass old data systems and vested interests and start from scratch.

7. Just nudge it—thinking behind the design of prompts, cues, frames, and defaults will be increasingly influential in development. In 2011 UK cash machines will prompt us to give to charity and pornography on the Internet will switch from opt out to opt in. These are classic Sunstein and Thaler strategies, and it will be interesting to see how these new approaches play out in the development world. One change that is already taking place is the measurement of commitment to avoid catastrophe (e.g. commitment indices) rather than just the measurement of commitment to respond to it (e.g. tallies of relief resources).

8. Just blog it—blogs will become less (and more) important in development. Blogs such as this one (from the UK, from a professional “expert”) will become less important (if important at all!). Their growth is exponential and they are all drawing on similar sets of information and experiences. Blogs from around the world, which are more grounded in development realities will become more important, and even more so if we can find ways to link up the older and newer blogs to create fuller pictures of the global zeitgeist on development.

9. New ways of doing social science will begin to emerge. The global spread of computing power and internet access has transformed some types of hard science. Will we see the same thing in the social sciences? Probably not in the same "brute force" way as hard science, but I think we will see new ways of co-constructing knowledge that is both grounded and rounded begin to pop up.

10. Evidence driven policymaking: drivers will not automatically emerge. Many have concerns about how the impact agenda will be implemented, but most people agree that if done in a issue-driven pluralistic way, it will, on balance, be a good thing. But evidence of impact is one thing. It is quite another thing for the incentives to use that evidence to be working within development organizations. This is the missing part of the evidence based policymaking agenda, and I hope (rather than expect) organizations to take a long hard look at how they measure and reward the performance of their existing staff and how they recruit new staff. As we all know, the organizational change that follows the policy change is the hardest part.


David Rieff said...

Dear Lawrence,
Fascinating predictions! I do think there is a deep contradiction between prediction 1 and prediction 3, as in Afghanistan official development aid has largely been subsumed into the war effort (the PRT's, budgeting, etc.). Governance has reliably taken a back seat to the need to buy off leaders with aid, Cold War-style, and there is really no basis for thinking this will change. I also, given your justified skepticism about technocratic solutions that you state in prediction 1, surprised at your faith in computing power and internet access leading to doing new ways of thinking about and doing social science. The internet is morally and intellectually neutral --- as its use for repression in China, or as a weapon of war in the (presumably US or Israeli) attacks on Iranian systems last year should have demonstrated. There is no empirical basis for thinking that, outside the technocratic sphere, that it will be emancipatory. And while it is gracious of you to say in your prediction 8 that blogs like yours will be of lessening is more information from the field, why will this be an improvement of the 'drowning in information' problem you seem to allude to in your 'garbage in, garbage out' prediction (#6)? Lastly, and perhaps most seriously, you concede in prediction 1 that the critiques of governance "can be addressed," but you don't say how. Perhaps you're right and governance will indeed be back. But without addressing the critiques --- and I see no evidence that they are being addressed with anything but bromides (look at the recent US State Dept. QDDR) --- the return of governance will create more problems than it alleviates.

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