28 March 2012

Development in the real world

The March/April edition of Foreign Policy is the "The War Issue" where most of the articles are on, erm, war.

What is striking is that there is no reference to international development in any of the pieces (note to Susan Glasser).

The most interesting article was about Patrick Ball "a statistician who has spent his life lifting the fog of war". Accurate data are one of the big casualties of war, we know. But this article is interesting because Ball argues that, yes, we need true data and accurate numbers, but we also need representative numbers--whether the data accurately reflect events--and we focus too much on the former and not the latter. We need to know more about what we don't know. We need to link more what happens in a database with what happens in the real world.

We got a glimpse last week of what happens in the real world of war and conflict through ICAI's report on DFID's work in Afghanistan (pdf). DFID overall gets an Amber/Red ("the programme meets some of the criteria for effectiveness and value for money but is not performing well. Significant improvements should be made"). Most of the report focuses on leakage (a fuzzy word which can cover inaccurate targeting of resources, inefficient distribution, diversion into other activities, legal or otherwise). It is very good that the report is hard hitting, but it would have been good to have the impact discussion go beyond leakage.

My colleagues Jeremy Allouche and Jeremy Lind are leading some work on how do and should development and security combine in contexts that are fragile, conflictual and violent. A couple of weeks ago they organised a workshop on this subject. I prepared the table here to help me situate my thinking in this area. I share it with you not because I think it is so wonderful, but because it struck me that most of us probably operate in-or think in--only one of the cells in the table--the very upper right cell--non fragile contexts and developmental states.

Of course much of the real world is in the other cells.
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24 March 2012

Things I liked this week

OK, I admit it, sometimes I just cannot find a thread to things I see which are interesting but probably do not deserve their own blog entry, so here are some items I was encouraged by this week.

1. World Bank President nominations. A more interesting set of candidates than usual. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister and current Managing Director of the Bank, Jose Antonio Ocampo, former Finance minister of Colombia and President Obama's nominee Jim Yong Kim (interestingly an anthropologist and a physician--see World Bank: economists need not apply). They all have their strengths and weaknesses (see here too).

The Bank members (US having the most votes) will make a decision in the week of April 20, which seems a ludicrously short time period over which to evaluate candidates for such an important job. I have my preferences at this stage, but what would really help me decide who I preferred would be to know what they wanted to achieve in that position.

Wouldn't it be "nice" to know what each candidate's vision for the World Bank is so we could all have an input into a decision that will affect us all?

2. DFID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell in an interview with the Guardian on 0.7% "You can be pretty sure that by the time of the next election it will be law". That is May 2015. SoS, we will be watching with interest.

3. The Secret Policeman's Ball, the Amnesty International Benefit in New York City, I saw Ramesh Singh (former CEO of ActioAid international) in the audience (I think it was his friend who was dragged onstage by Russell Brand, brave soul). For the most part the show was pretty funny and on message.

4. Finally, there was a Poster in ex-footballer Patrick Viera's office (this one is through gritted teeth because I am not a Manchester City fan) which said: "work hard and be nice to people". A good starting motto for the candidates for the next World Bank President, but we do need to hear a just a little bit more from them.

Don't hold your breath.

23 March 2012

Ben Bernanke and Elvis Costello

"The Villain: The left hates him. The right hates him even more. But Ben Bernanke saved the economy—and has navigated masterfully through the most trying of times."

So begins an excellent article in The Atlantic about the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke. The distrust of bankers and politicians in today's America has been a double whammy for a banker appointed by George W Bush in 2006. Despite keeping inflation low he worries those on the right because of his perceived overreach into the private sector. And the left does not like him because he is a Republican.

He worries many--left and right--because of the large amount of quantitative easing he has sanctioned. Getting more money to the banks to loan when demand for loans is weak, together with practically zero interest rates (the price of money) means that if loan demand picks up suddenly there will be more money chasing the same volume of products (assuming productivity lags demand for money) and this, as we all know, will spark inflation.

Interestingly the Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to keep prices stable and to promote full employment. This is unlike most other central banks which just focus on stability of prices and hence are much tougher on inflation and feel freer to raise interest rates to temper demand.

I admire what Bernanke is doing, he is trying many different things to get the economy moving when he could just sit back and take very few economic or political risks. But then I have a soft spot for the man. Not that I have ever met him, but I learned quantitative mathematics and econometrics from handouts he had made--these were used by my TA at Stanford (in the almost pre-desktop era).

These handouts were fabulously clear (I still have them), but what really endeared me to him was that he quoted lines from punk songs of the time (early 80s) in the top right hand corner.

His favourite was Elvis Costello who he often quoted. I'm sure there are still many Elvis songs that he thinks about from time to time: Brilliant Mistake (not mine, Greenspan's), Less than Zero (on interest rates, if I could I would), Pump It Up (liquidity, that is), Pay It Back (they have, and I get no credit for it), Miracle Man (who me? aww shucks) and Waiting for the End of the World (not on my watch, dude).

But, given that the latest World Economic Situation and Prospects 2012 from the UN begins with "The world economy is on the brink of another major downturn" I would urge the Fed Chairman to focus mostly on the song High Fidelity: stay faithful to your training and your instincts and don't let the politics get you down.

21 March 2012

Water & Sanitation: Glass Half Full and a Busted Flush

The latest edition of the IDS Bulletin is on Water and Sanitation and was edited by the leaders of the water team at IDS: Alan Nicol, Lyla Mehta and Jeremy Allouche.

The key arguments I picked up include:

(a) water and sanitation are political (much more than food, which is comfortable with being commodified) and the dominant politics has been at the global or “high” level, crowding out the more local or “low politics” where the tradeoffs between public and private, and quality, access, scarcity and use are played out and where simplistic notions of community prevail

(b) related to this, there has been a failure to blend expert and lay knowledge on water and sanitation

(c) the water and sanitation field has been fractured along various vested interests, but now greater coherence is being achieved, in part, through international meetings

(d) for water and sanitation, the MDGs have been helpful (raising the profile) and a hindrance (incentivising meeting the needs of those who are the easiest to reach but are not necessarily the neediest)

(e) sanitation remains somewhat of an “orphan sector”, lagging behind in the numbers.

There are many more messages, but these are the ones that resonated with me. Some reflections:
  • The progress on access to clean water, if the numbers are credible, is impressive (although one of the authors says the world is only “slightly better off”). It’s all relative I guess: the number of people who have access to improved water in 1990 was 4 billion and in 2008 it was 6 billion. Even when you look at deficits, the gap between population and access has dropped from 1.2 billion to 0.89 billion, a reduction of 25% in absolute numbers. All I can say is that reductions like this in hunger would be a major success. Definitely a glass half full.
  • The failure to blend expert and lay knowledge is a challenge for all sectors and is hardwired into the way experts are trained. I think this is the pressure point to change the way knowledge is constructed.
  • On thresholds and targets, I have just finished a draft paper with Tony Lake of UNICEF reviewing evidence that suggest focussing on the poorest and most excluded might be more expensive, but the impact of doing so more than justifies the costs. I will make that paper available once it is finalised.
  • On fractured water and sanitation communities, until very recently this was a good characterisation of the nutrition community—it took a food price crisis and the leadership of a handful of people to turn that around—I wonder what might be the trigger in the WASH community to fix this busted flush?
  • Sanitation as everyone’s business (pardon the pun) but nobody’s responsibility –this also sounds very familiar from the nutrition world and we are doing research trying to understand how incentives can be better aligned across ministries and vertically between national and local levels to generate a more collective sense of responsibility to the sector.
Congratulations to the editors—an interesting and timely report.

18 March 2012

Talkin' to the Next Generation

This week the Future Agricultures Consortium and the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), University of Ghana are convening an international conference in Accra on Young People, Farming & Food: the Future of the Agrifood Sector in Africa.

The idea is to look at future opportunities in the agriculture sector in Africa. Farming itself is not seen very favourably by young people (often viewed as backward and not modern), but what about agri-food businesses? This is after all where most of the value added will be and may be more attractive to the next generation.

The conference organisers have framed the meeting by stating that:

  • The challenges facing African smallholder agriculture cannot be laid at the feet of young people; nor should ‘keeping the youth on the land’ be a major objective of agricultural policy.
  • When thinking about young people and agrifood, young people’s interests, goals and aspirations need to be taken into account.
  • ‘Youth’ should not be used as a homogeneous category – research and policy must take full account of social differences among young people, including gender.
  • With technology, urbanisation, economic growth, changes in workforce participation etc, there will be increasing opportunities for young people through the agrifood sector in not only primary production but in all stages between farm and fork, including processing, marketing, transportation retail, input supply, and research.
  • Many of the above jobs will require different training and skills than those required for smallholder farming, and educational establishments at all levels will need to work closely with the agrifood industry to make sure that teaching and learning are available and relevant.
  • For research to be relevant and for policy and programmes to be effective, the future of agrifood and young people’s involvement in it needs to be openly debated at all levels in society.

Clearly the organisers aim for youth and children to participate in the development of this policy agenda.

They are right to do so. Humanity is becoming more aware of the long wave cycles we are caught up in: climate change, natural resource limits, and the peaking of the population in the middle of the 21st century have contributed to this longer view. This means we have an even stronger ethical duty to engage with the next generation in a meaningful way.

But how easy is it to include children and youth in the policy process? And what are the benefits of doing it? Surprisingly, there has been little research on whether it is feasible and what it generates. Much of the evidence is from the UK and the US.

A systematic review by Cavet and Sloper in 2004 concluded "There is only limited evidence that children and young people's involvement in public decision-making leads to more appropriate services, although there is evidence that participating children and young people benefit in terms of personal development and that staff and organizations learn more about their views."

A more recent summary of the state of the art (pdf) by Children in Scotland listed some of the challenges of including children: tokenism, lack of feedback to children, which children are included, poor sustainability of funding to support such consultation, and too much consultation and not enough dialogue.

Some work by Plan UK, Save the Children UK, Unicef, World Vision and IDS on an initiative called Children in a Changing Climate clearly showed how adults and children think differently about the impacts of climate on children. The adults persistently focused on the health impacts of a changing climate on children. The children themselves focused on a much wider range of issues and saw themselves much more as agents of change.

We adults might even get some ideas that we had not considered--a book that will released this week "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer is summarised in this WSJ article. One of the 10 things Lehrer suggests to get more creative is to "think like a child".

Much better to actually talk to them.

16 March 2012

The Next Development Goals: Never About Us Without Us

Together with the excellent Hege Hertzberg from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Norway, I kicked off the OECD DAC’s new Development Debates series, chaired by Jon Lomoy, Director of the Development Cooperation Directorate.

My presentation (with the standard over the top title) can be found here. I argued that while the 2015 expiration date of the MDGs was stimulating a lot of new thinking about what next, new donor action was harder to find.

I went through some of the new thinking needed: being more discerning about growth (not any old kind, thank you); focusing on poor people rather than poor countries (a la Sumner); some of the thinking behind new metrics of human development (the Multidimensional Poverty Index, can wellbeing really be quantified?); rethinking the location of problems and solutions (the poor countries do not have a monopoly on problems, the rich have no monopoly on solutions); framing development cooperation as solidarity as opposed to charity (see my Japan blog last week); and how the next generation of MDGs need to be people-powered, not bureaucrat-built.

My sense is that the relative lack of action is partly because the donors don’t want to be distracted from existing commitments (there is a lot of MDG related work remaining to do) and also because they don’t want to be seen to be distracted from existing commitments (politicians need all the trust they can get). (There is another alternative—that I am just out of touch.)

But is there another driver of donor hesitancy? Perhaps the donors feel that, unlike last time, they should stand back so the G77 and others can lead.

One good step in this direction is UNDP’s initiative to conduct a series of 50 consultations in dozens of countries to try to give the next set of goals a more rounded and grounded feel. But how in touch with grass roots reality can this consultation process be? Will it be held in capitals? And while a broad cross section of people will no doubt be invited, it will be difficult to get beyond the usual suspects (and beyond city limits).

How important is it to engage with people who are fighting for their survival on a daily basis about the commitment they are looking for from others and the commitment they can make to others? It is absolutely vital. If it is not done the next set of goals will lack a certain legitimacy.

What is gained from asking people who are clinging on to life and fragile livelihoods about their poverty? Don’t we know what they will say? Well, for legitimacy it is important to be able to say it was done and done genuinely (never about us without us).

But there is another reason--our knowledge and assumptions might well be challenged. One of the audience at the DAC Development Debate mentioned a study that went back to a project intervention site 35 years later to look for evidence of the project’s effect. They found a few physical remains of the project, but most importantly they heard first-hand about the transformative effect the project had on the village population and how that played out in a whole range of other dimensions.

The meaning of change is often difficult to see from the outside. That’s why there needs to be a series of grassroots consultations on what development goals should aspire to.

11 March 2012

The World Bank: Economists Need Not Apply

As the backroom deals are no doubt coming to a conclusion as to who will be the new World Bank president, is it too much to ask for a transparent search and selection process? If FAO can develop a shortlist of DG candidates who state what they would do if elected then so can the World Bank.

Interestingly this laughable state of affairs--the champion of good governance not having an open and transparent contest to find the best person--does not make it onto the World Bank President website (not a World Bank web site by the way) which asks readers to vote for Bank reform priorities (10 options are given with an 11th "other" category: climate finance, extractive industries, improved democracy and accountability at the Bank--but not leadership appointment processes--human rights, gender, land grabs, Doing Business indicators, IFC investment through tax havens and IFC investment in hedge funds).

Writing in the Financial Times, Ian Goldin (a former VP at the Bank and Director of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University) has a go at the Bank on the appointment process for the next President, but also for its increasing "irrelevance".
Says he, it is failing to (1) focus on the medium and long term future (what about a World Development Report on "The Future of Development"?), (2) reform itself to meet global public goods challenges, (3) give advice and guidance on how to shock proof the world economy, (4) grapple with how to help so-called medium income countries deal with mass poverty, and (5) to take more risks, admit failures and be more humble about success (although this seems to me to be a tendency in all organisations.

Danny Leipziger, another former World Bank VP (what is it with these guys?) and Chair of the Growth Commission, also writing in the FT, agrees with Goldin, but says that much of this failure to keep up is due to its abolition of the staff tenure system and an over-reliance on outside consultants for intellectual leadership.I'm most sympathetic to Goldin's point about the Bank failing to do more to systematically understand different development futures (although we should note that this is precisely what Goldin's institute is set up to do). Despite what Leipziger says, the Bank has the intellectual heft to do this.

The Bank, given its ambition to remain at the cutting edge of thinking, should probably have an incubator/innovation/hothouse unit. Some might argue that the WDRs serve this purpose, but WDRs are a crystallisation of existing knowledge, framed in a particular way. It is not the place for speculation, risk taking or flights of (even educated) fancy.

But for me the most transformative thing the Bank could do is to reduce its reliance on economists.

Don't get me wrong, economists are wonderful (I am one, hence the bias), but so too are political scientists, sociologists and anthropologists. Economics was severely damaged by the global financial crisis ("truth versus beauty" and all that). It is good that Justin Lin, the Bank’s chief economist, is reflecting so actively on economic assumptions and the role of the state, but other disciplines also have a lot to offer to better ground economics in reality and to offer new realities.

There needs to be a better disciplinary balance throughout the Bank—in research and operations. The policy environment needed to incentivise "growth that we want rather than the growth we get", for example, is not going to be achieved by an exclusive reliance on economists. We need to understand how the rules of the growth game are set and modified if we want growth that better reduces poverty, growth that includes those on the margins of society, growth that better avoids environmental externalities and growth that disincentivises corruption. These rules of the game are rooted in norms, culture, history and many “noneconomic” (i.e. human) behaviours and are best understood and evolved by coalitions of disciplines working together.

Just think how high the marginal returns to hiring more non-economists would be.

You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, etc.

09 March 2012

New Ways of Seeing Japanese Aid

I’m sitting in Narita airport in Tokyo, reading an article in the Herald Tribune entitled “Role reversal for a Japan struggling to rebuild”. It quotes a mayor of an industrial city near the Fukushima nuclear plant who, unsuccessful in getting Japanese companies to invest in his city, is courting Chinese business to set up factories in his precinct to help it grow: “we’ve come the point in Japan where we can no longer grow without outside help” he says.

The one year anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear drama in Fukushima is on March 11 (or “311” as some Japanese people call it). Surprisingly perhaps, the domestic tragedy has also had consequences for the way Japan sees international development and overseas aid.

In the wake of the disasters, Japan was helped by countries that it had been helping through its international development programmes such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam. As a result of 311, all of a sudden Japan knew what it was like to receive assistance from overseas in times of distress. Views on official development assistance (ODA) as charity were newly seen as reciprocity and then turned into a kind of solidarity.

Has the need to rebuild domestically mean fewer resources for overseas aid? Yes and no are the answers I heard from the people I met this past week—obviously there are more calls on the budget for national projects, but there is also a realisation of how important aid can be to other countries, and how important it is for building up goodwill towards Japan in the region and beyond.

I had been in Tokyo for 5 days, giving 5 presentations on 4 different topics to staff and students at the Institute of Developing Economies (one of Japan’s oldest, largest and best development research institutions and who graciously hosted and took care of me), at the JICA Research Institute (a small but influential new institute within the Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA, to help bridge the worlds of policy, practice and research) and at JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organisation. I also met some of the staff at GRIPS, a new graduate university for public policy. And to finish the trip we had a reception with all the Tokyo based IDS alumni which was excellent. I was very impressed with the level of policy knowledge and technical skill of the different policymakers, research staff and students that I met.

I suppose I was surprised because I don’t come into contact with many Japanese researchers or policymakers. Partly this is me needing to broaden my horizons, but partly it is a kind of invisibility borne of the modesty of the Japanese development community. In one of my seminars, someone asked me how Japanese ODA appeared outside of Japan. I answered that from my perspective Japanese aid was certainly low key, and that it was difficult to get a grip on what its comparative advantage is, outside of the traditional emphasis on infrastructure (incidentally another good article by Charles Kenny on concrete and development in Foreign Policy. Yes, concrete.)

But there are signs that Japan is quietly raising its visibility and influence. The establishment of the JICA Research Institute is one example, and there are others such as the increased funding and influence over World Bank Development Reports, plans to engage more closely with UNDP on the Human Development report and--as one of the recent IDS Alumni who works in JICA told me--JICA’s recent first time engagement with development activity in Somalia.

This rising profile of JICA is welcome as it can be more of a resource for new donors in the region—China, Korea, Indonesia—to help them become familiar with how traditional donors behave. JICA can also help the formation of South East Asian donor alliances to challenge Western thinking and ideas on aid.

It is good that Japan is seeing its aid programme in a new light and that the rest of us are seeing Japanese ODA emerge in new arenas. It is also very positive that the ambition of Japanese aid is rising, but at 0.2% of GNI (about the same as the USA) it would be even better if the level of ODA funding was also on the rise.

02 March 2012

IDS Summer School July 23-27: Transforming Nutrition

Sorry for the plug for this Transforming Nutrition Ideas, Policies and Outcomes), with good colleagues Stuart Gillespie and Purnima Menon (IFPRI), Shams Arifeen (ICDDRB) and Romulo Paes de Sousa (departing Vice Minister, Ministry for Social Development and the Fight Against Hunger, Government of Brazil) plus 3-4 special guest speakers.
It's not cheap at £2500 for the 5 days, but it will be great value for money. Please tell your friends and colleagues. We are expecting between 25-40 participants.

To apply contact us at: nutrition2012@ids.ac.uk
Globally, 180 million infants and young children bear the scars of undernutrition. The visible manifestations are profound: ranging from a failure to grow, to frequent illness, to death. The invisible effects of undernutrition are also devastating and are irreversible if not addressed before the age of 2: brain damage, cognitive impairment, lower productivity in later life and a greater likelihood of succumbing to diet related chronic disease in middle age.
Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course participants will be better able to contribute to accelerating undernutrition reduction in their sphere of influence by a greater appreciation of:
  • The differences between undernutrition, malnutrition, food insecurity, hunger and hidden hunger
  • The distribution of undernutrition
  • The causes of undernutrition
  • The consequences of undernutrition
  • What works in addressing undernutrition at the immediate, underlying and basic levels and why
  • How to assess what works and why
  • How to contribute to creating an enabling environment for undernutrition reduction
Module 1: The nature of the problem (Day 1 and 2)
  • The differences between undernutrition, malnutrition, food insecurity, hunger and hidden hunger and how they are measured
  • The distribution of undernutrition: geographically, by age and gender, income group and ethnicity
  • The causes of undernutrition: immediate, underlying and fundamental
  • The consequences of undernutrition: on mortality, morbidity, productivity and poverty
Module 2: Knowing what to do about undernutrition and getting it done (Days 3 and 4)
What works in addressing undernutrition at the following levels:
  • immediate: direct interventions aimed at improving the quality of diet and reducing infections
  • underlying: indirect interventions aimed at making agriculture, social protection, women's status, sanitation and health systems more pro-nutrition
  • basic: making economic growth, poverty reduction and the policy process more nutrition sensitive
How to assess what works and why
  • review of experimental and non experimental techniques used in evaluating nutrition relevant interventions
  • theories of change and indicators
Module 3: Knowing how to move nutrition up the development agenda (Days 4 and 5)
  • The politics of undernutrition reduction and how to politicise undernutrition
  • How to increase accountability for undernutrition reduction
  • How to build financial and human resources for undernutrition reduction
  • How to get knowledge about what works to be used and applied
Who is the course relevant for?
The course is relevant for policy shapers, policymakers and practitioners who want to accelerate and intensify their own efforts to reduce undernutrition and to recruit others to do so.

Participants will come from governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, national and international NGOs, national and international media organisations and national and international think tanks.

Food or Cash?

Is it better to give food or cash in anti-poverty programmes?

It is a very old question with no simple answer. The context is everything. Is the food appropriate to cultural and nutritional needs? Is the food delivered efficiently? Will the food undermine the local economy? If cash (or vouchers for a cash-based alternative), is there anything in the markets to buy and if there is will the injection of demand simply raise prices leading to the traders being the major beneficiaries? Will cash empower men and disempower women? Will cash lead to more conflict? Which is the more politically palatable from the donor perspective?

This issue most recently came up in an interesting exchange between Charles Kenny of CGD and Bill O'Keefe of Catholic Relief Services in Foreign Policy. O'Keefe responded to an article by Kenny entitled "Haiti Doesn't Need Your Old T Shirt" which makes the argument that cash is what is needed in many of humanitarian contexts. O'Keefe provided a defence of the US Food Aid system, saying that it has fed millions of people and that cash is not always better, especially when markets are not functioning, to which Kenny replied, yes it does good work, but it is expensive and inefficient, being tied to US agricultural and shipping suppliers.

A lot has been written about this cash vs food issue, but rarely comparing cash and food within the same programme.

Most recently from IFPRI we have a 2009 report by Akhter Ahmed (pdf) and others on Bangladesh in the context of a number of transfer programmes in Bangladesh. They explored four transfer programmes in Bangladesh, two of which provide participants with mixes of cash and food. For these two programmes they don't attempt to isolate the relative impacts of food and cash on outcomes, perhaps because it is too difficult to get a clean "identification" of the "treatment" (what is driving the receipt of cash vs food) or perhaps because it is too difficult to match time periods with receipt of each type of transfer. (Interestingly they asked participants what they would prefer and the poorer households preferred food.)

IFPRI is currently engaged with WFP in a 5 country study where cash vs food (and various combinations) will be randomly allocated to communities with a range of impacts being assessed.

It will be interesting to finally get a clean assessment of what cash and food are best for, at least in those contexts. The real issue will be how relevant are these internally valid impacts for other contexts--in other words, how strong is the external validity? For this they will need to conduct more qualitative studies to unlock the black box.