29 December 2011
19 December 2011
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
"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."