31 December 2013

Predictions for 2014

With the usual disclaimer that I don't like making predictions, especially about the future, here they are:

1.  Poverty in Africa will continue to decline strongly

I have continued optimism about Africa. We know economic growth is strong in many African countries, but is this translating through into human wellbeing? A recent paper by Rati Ram traces the growth-poverty elasticity over time for sub-Saharan Africa and finds that it is stable for $1 a day and is increasing for $2 a day. In other words, growth is doing an increasingly good job of lifting people above the $2 a day poverty line. The data are only up to 2008, so some caution is warranted, but this paper suggests that the quality of growth in Africa is increasing (unlike China where it is high decreasing and India where it is low and stable).  Will Africa be the new China?

2. Get ready for more crap along the lines of "Cut the Green Crap"

Whether the UK PM David Cameron actually said this is in doubt, but the disagreements between him and his Chancellor on where to settle on the trade-offs between growth today and growth tomorrow are well documented (Cameron is more committed to the green agenda than Osborne). And these disagreements will intensify in the run up to the next UK election in May 2015. They will also play out all over Europe, North America and Australia as the centre right parties gear up to defend their election victories in the context of sluggish growth that is not doing much to raise living standards. Get ready for more crap about "green crap".

3.  Minilateralism is here to stay

When you look at it hard the recent trade deal was pretty feeble. Given the diminished concentration of geopolitical power with the rising powers, this, I think, is the shape of things to come. Moises Naim calls it "minilateralism" and others call it coalitions of the willing. The risks are that some bad things will get done (and recall where this coalition of the willing phrase was first coined) but, whisper it, some good things might get done too.

4.  Front line workers will increasingly be front and centre

Policy is what policy does, goes the saying, and policy only does if frontline workers can implement it and have an incentive to do so. The remarkable improvements in Maharashtra's nutrition status are being attributed by some to the relatively simple (and scalable) filling of front line worker vacancies. We are also seeing more studies focusing on the people who are present where the rubber hits the road. A new study by Oriana Bandeira and colleagues reported on in Foreign Policy concludes that community health workers in Zambia performed better when they were "ladder climbers" (motivated primarily by career ambition) rather than "do gooders" (motivated primarily by community spirit). Of course these do not have to be mutually exclusive, but the point is that there is very little research on front line worker motivation and capacity and the difference it makes. There needs to be more and I can see it emerging in 2014.

5.  The nutrition community will not squander the momentum it has built up in 2013

After a banner year in 2013 (Lancet, Nutrition for Growth, UNICEF report, new SUN networks, new members of SUN etc.) it would be easy to sit back and squander that energy. The nutrition community has not allowed itself to do that because it is setting up a Global Accountability process to monitor commitments, actions and outcomes. The big reckoning will come in Brazil at the 2016 Olympics, but I suspect there will not be any let up before then--the bit is truly between the teeth.

6.  IDS will continue to thrive

There will be no Alex Ferguson like blip at IDS, it is not a one person organisation and, let's face it, I'm no Fergie. One key reason that there will be no blip is that Melissa Leach will take over. She is an extremely able leader and will be a terrific Director. She will take IDS to the next level and make it ever more essential to critical thought and analysis on global development.

Here's to a great 2014 for all!

12 December 2013

The Update on DFID's Multilateral Aid Review: What is the Story?

Today a journalist emailed me to ask me about DFID's recently published Multilateral Aid Review Update (MAR-U). Their question: what is the story?

The MAR Update is less intuitive to read than the original MAR back in 2011 (see my review of that). The MAR was clearly framed around value for money and was the first such review in quite a while, so it had novelty value. And it had teeth. 

The MAR-U is an attempt to pick up on the dimensions of performance that DFID felt each multilateral needed to work on and assess their progress in improving that performance dimension. And a good attempt it is (see previous blog on the MAR-U process).

So what's the story?

1. Every multilateral made "some progress" in most areas. Some progress is not exactly a high bar ("reforms achieved to date weakly address reform priorities and do not fully meet expectations"), so an organisation would really have to be indifferent to the reputational risk of a low DFID MAR score to register a "little or no progress" update score.

2. I fear for the Commonwealth Secretariat. 4 of the 5 multilaterals rated as poor value for money in 2011 posted above average update scores. So those most at risk of losing funding and with the most room for improvement managed to step up to the challenge, with one exception--the Commonwealth Secretariat--a poor MAR score and one of the poorest Update scores.

3. Success seems to breed success. Of the 9 multilaterals rated as "very good value for money" in 2011, 7 of them had above average Update scores.

4. Changing attitudes, policies, systems and norms around gender are difficult in development, but also in development organisations. Progress on gender was one of the weakest areas of improvement. Of the 13 multilaterals picked up on this in the 2011 MAR, only 6 made reasonable progress, none made significant progress and 7 made only some progress.

5. Does the Update have teeth? Funding for the worst performing group--those with adequate or poor MAR scores in 2011 AND a those with a low bar "some progress" rating in 2013--will remain at or below 2010 levels, so that the real value of the UK contribution will continue to fall (CDB, OHCHR, IADB, UNFPA and Comm Sec). This is not terrible punishment (although the reputational risk is huge), but it will mean ever closer scrutiny and much more of the budget being tied to future performance on reform priorities. (The EC budget is also included in this group but its budget is determined through a separate process.)

6. Finally, well done FAO! Out of 37 organisations, FAO posted the 5th best progress score and was the star of the infamous "special measures" group of 5. This is testimony to the new leadership at FAO and I congratulate them.

So not as big a story as the 2011 MAR, but some compelling subplots.

11 December 2013

Process commentary from Lawrence Haddad and Alison Evans, the external reviewers to the MAR and MAR Update

The Multilateral Aid Review Update is now out.  I will do a blog on the content in the next few  days, but I thought I would share with you the process comment from Alison and me (on p 183! of the report).  Here it is:

"As with the original MAR, as external reviewers we were involved in commenting
on all phases of the Update: (a) the Update methodology; (b) moderation of scores and (c) the interim and final Update reports. Here we provide some reflections on the process:

Update methodology

We noted that the purpose of the Update methodology was to assess progress against reform objectives identified in the original MAR assessments. The purpose was not to re-assess original MAR scores. As such we considered the methodology fit for purpose. We did note, however, some challenges in implementing the methodology, particularly in being crystal clear about the thresholds between progress ratings (i.e. between some and reasonable progress and between reasonable and significant progress) and the importance of establishing a consistent rule for both aggregating ratings and for justifying any component score changes that resulted.

All these issues were discussed extensively with DFID and we were satisfied with their response and their willingness to take appropriate action as they refined the methodology.

Moderation of scores and follow-up

Moderation was undertaken in three separate tranches. Each tranche considered a cluster of multilateral organisations (MOs). Extensive internal moderation and consistency checking took place in advance of all three meetings. Both reviewers read all the assessments in full. We also read all the moderation notes. There were no conflicts of interest declared by the reviewers.
The quality of the Update assessments was high overall with considerable efforts made to gather a range of data and to triangulate data wherever possible. We did note, however, the lack of independent evidence (evaluations, independent reviews) for quite a few MOs and the unevenness with which some of the data from country partners was sought and presented. We appreciated the DFID assessments of strength of evidence presented for each MO in each reform component. We discussed the need to distinguish data on country-level impacts from more general data gathered from country partners, something which was followed up on by the MAR Update team.

We were able to ask for clarification on how certain pieces of evidence were used to justify progress ratings, and noted where we felt there were inconsistencies. In some instances the lack of sufficient evidence was itself an important factor in the assessment. In all cases our challenge and our input were taken seriously. In several cases there was so much evidence presented it was difficult to get a sense of its relative importance in driving the progress rating. Our comment here was taken on board and clarifications promised in the final assessments.

After each tranche discussion, checks were carried out to ensure that any ratings changes arising from the external moderation process were done fairly and consistently. Of the 146 component progress ratings moderated, 27 were changed at the final stage of moderation, which we were part of. Seven score changes were made.

While the Update was not as ambitious in scope as the original MAR, it was still a major undertaking. We note once again the high degree of transparency, accountability and sound judgement with which DFID staff approached the whole process. All the documentation was received in good time. Our views as external reviewers were taken seriously and the responses were generally adequate. Where we felt strongly that additional material needed to be provided to justify a rating, more work was done.

It is not yet fully clear on whether an Update similar to this will be undertaken in the future, but if it were, we felt that the following would need to be addressed:
  1. Have the MAR and the Update exercises provided good value for money? We feel this is probably the case, but we are close to the process and our views are not based on a systematic review process. We feel the commissioning of a light touch independent review might promote learning for the next MAR and might give some guidance as to the level of effort allocated to it.
  2. The input of country offices was, we felt, unnecessarily tentative. We understand the need for anonymity, but we felt that allowing country offices to volunteer information on whichever MO they felt like commenting on (if our understanding is correct) is insufficiently rigorous.
  3. While we were impressed by the thoroughness of the assessments the sheer volume of evidence was sometimes overwhelming and made it difficult to trace the mapping onto the progress rating. We felt that less might be more here and that a focus on the evidence that really counted would have helped the read across to ratings.
  4. The original MAR clustered MOs around functional type. This was essential because of the need to establish a set of baselines at roughly the same point in time. For various reasons the three tranches of MOs in the progress rating sessions mixed up MO functionality and we feel that this made it harder to ensure fairness and equal treatment (which we feel was, nevertheless, achieved).
We appreciate the opportunity to provide some public reflections on the process and we commend DFID for the professionalism with which they have undertaken a complex and difficult task. We were glad to have played a small part in the process.

Dr Alison Evans and Prof Lawrence Haddad"

06 December 2013

IDS and the future: Thanks and thoughts from an incoming Director

Guest blog by Melissa Leach

This is the first of many blogs that I’m sure I’ll be writing over the next five years as the Institute’s new Director. Lawrence has set a really high bar here with ‘Development Horizons’ – always insightful and reflective. Mine won’t start properly until I take over leadership in the late Spring. But it does seem the moment now for a few remarks.

The first is a very big and heartfelt thank you – to the many colleagues and others who encouraged and supported me in the appointment process, and to all those who have sent such warm messages of congratulations since yesterday’s announcement. The many messages pouring in from around the world express real excitement at the opportunities ahead for IDS. They also warn of the challenges of managing and positioning a complex Institute in a rapidly changing world; challenges that Lawrence has been managing so effectively in so many ways over the last decade. I'm not naive about these – indeed am absolutely up for embracing them. But it is great to be reassured that so much of the Institute’s fantastic network of partners and friends, as well as those I've built personally over the years and through my roles in the ESRC STEPS Centre and Future Earth, are with me in spirit. As one well-wisher put it, ‘so much to do together’. Indeed.

In my pitch to the appointing panel, I talked about four windows through which we might seek to re-vision the Institute’s agenda and positioning in internationally turbulent times. These don’t swing the view radically away from IDS’s core values; vision of a future world with no poverty, widespread social justice and economic growth focused on improving human wellbeing; or many of the important strategic directions and achievements under Lawrence’s leadership. But they do, I think, open up some ways to create a step-change in the Institute’s relevance and impact in a more global world. Each has implications for what we work on, and how we work; cutting across research, teaching and learning, knowledge services, and partnerships.

I call the first ‘engaged excellence’. If development means change towards a less poor, more just and – I would add – sustainable world, while accounting for people’s diverse aspirations and settings, development studies involves understanding and challenging the processes and pathways - political, economic, social, technical - that move us away from this kind of a world, and seeking and supporting those that move us towards it. Ideas in this ‘window’ include ways to ensure that the research-based knowledge we offer is always rigorous, methodologically sound, robust, reliable, while re-focusing such ‘excellence’ on solutions-oriented knowledge engaged with those change agents positioned to act. This will involve
combining academic credibility with impact-orientation; instrumental contributions with engaged critique of goals, values, power; independence with co-design and co-production; challenging orthodoxies with identifying alternatives. These are hard things to do, but IDS at its best already does them well. I’d like to work with colleagues and partners, from those close to home in the University of Sussex to those across the world, to build and take forward a vision of ‘engaged excellence’ as the fertile future of development studies.

The second window is ‘global justice’. This recognises the huge shifts that have made an ‘old style’ development, focused just on aid agendas to address poverty in the ‘global south’, so outdated. We’re now in an emerging global landscape of new geopolitics associated with the rise of the BRICS and trans-national movements; shifting patterns of globalised movement of resources, ideas, technologies and people; changing patterns and geographies of poverty and inequality; threats to our planetary life support systems; interconnected stresses and shocks involving finance, climate, food and energy; changing patterns of commodification and ‘grab’, and new textures to issues of conflict, identity and rights.

Such processes, connecting global, national and local in new ways, will profoundly affect what future food, future cities, future governance, future citizenship, future health, future energy and more will look like. Winners and losers won’t follow familiar north-south or class-based patterns, and as people, technologies and nature respond, many uncertainties and surprises are in store. In turn, I think our development studies must more fully embrace the global: addressing big-picture patterns as well as grounded realities; richer countries and powerful players as well as poorer, and tracking flows and feedbacks of power, money, people, resources, ideas in multiple directions. And we must address justice more centrally: not just absolute poverty, but the changing dynamics of inequality, and processes working for and against justice, both in the distribution of resources, rights and capabilities, and in voice and power to affect decisions in a complex and dynamic world.

To deliver effectively on this global agenda, I think we will need a more globally-defined and positioned IDS: for reach, credibility, and critical mass and voice. I’d like to work with colleagues and partners to develop this, in a collaborative and co-equal way that builds global consortia and alliances around key themes and ideas, taking forward many possible opportunities for joint research, fundraising, fellowships, convening, teaching and learning, and more.

Transformational Alliances
This would all complement a third window that I've called transformational alliances. Transformational, because it is clear that business-as-usual won’t be enough to deliver the needed step-change towards wellbeing and justice on a constrained planet. There’ll be a need to destabilise some dominant pathways and support imaginative alternatives. Alliances, because building these offers vital opportunities to bring about transformative change. The current IDS strategy already emphasises new alliances outside the ‘development industry’; co constructing knowledge, and innovative influencing. But with an ever- greater array of new actors becoming relevant to development, novel partnerships and hybrids emerging that challenge boundaries between public and private, state and NGO, and more than ever, resource flows conventionally associated with ‘aid’ being dwarfed by others, it may be time to become more ambitious and coherent: in theorising transformation and change – and the roles of different kinds of alliance in it, and seeking more strategically to identify and multiply, scale up and out alliances for the kinds of transformation we would like to see. Again, there are implications for our research, teaching and knowledge services work, as we seek variously to identify, join, inform or otherwise engage with alliances for real change.

Digital development studies
All this can be facilitated by a revolution afoot in what I've called digital development studies - a third crucial window of opportunity for IDS. Going far beyond current ‘ICT4D’ agendas, we are seeing just the beginning of the digital revolution that has already produced huge innovations in poverty-reducing service delivery and access; channels for voice and demands for justice; ‘real time’ networked research and learning, research opportunities using ‘big data’, and of course in research communications, as digital and social media multiply and amplify channels and voice. IDS and its partners are well positioned to advance this curve and its relevance to development, building on much existing innovation across the Institute and its networks. But perhaps we should seek to ramp-up the ambition, taking advantage of the numerous opportunities to enhance the ways we work, but also contributing to emerging research agendas.

Tracking the processes in emerging digital economies and societies, exploring who is gaining and losing, being included and excluded, and shaping critical debate around the dangers and limits, as well as opportunities, of big and open data would seem to me to offer some really important future directions for our work. Yet there’s obviously a vital balance to be struck. Face-to-face, human-to-human contact is irreplaceable for generating shared understanding, motivation and passion – which development and development studies need in spades. Places – with their smells, sites and feelings – can’t be substituted by computer screens. Above all, we mustn't let a sanitised, virtual world distract our attention from the grit, blood, sweat and tears that are so often the reality of grinding, grounded poverty for so many.

At this point, these are no more than windows. But I hope they will serve to open up the inclusive, collaborative debate that I’ll be working with others to lead once I actually become Director, towards building IDS’s new strategy post-2015 and as our 50th birthday approaches. For now, I’ll be working with Lawrence to make sure that the transition process is as smooth and productive as possible, leaving everyone confident and excited as we move together into a new era. So please keep that support and spirit flowing – we’ll be needing it to build on the Institute’s great past and build together a future development studies fit for current internationally turbulent times.

What Nelson Mandela Means to Me

It's hard to know what to say about Nelson Mandela without sounding trite or without repeating what thousands of others are saying.

I was born in South Africa of Lebanese descent.  My parents, also born in South Africa, moved to London in 1961 to escape persecution for their darker skin.

I can't imagine what it must be like to have to leave everything behind because of fear for your freedom and your life.  My mother has had difficulty talking about it all her life, but every now and then I get glimpses of the sheer terror that the Apartheid regime inflicted on millions of people like her.

Nelson Mandela changed all that.  He is a hero to my family just as he is to billions who have not lived in South Africa.

I did a lot of work on  poverty dynamics in South Africa in the 1992-2000 period and I still remember first hand the hope unleashed by his new-found freedom.

But perhaps most important was the hope he gave people when he was not free.  He reminded us that fighting for fundamental rights frequently means being prepared to sacrifice your own.

RIP Mandiba and thank you.

05 December 2013

Melissa Leach--The Next IDS Director

I am delighted to be able to announce that the IDS Board has appointed Prof. Melissa Leach, a current IDS Fellow, as IDS Director after I leave at the end of March next year.

Melissa is a highly accomplished research leader and manager and is the Director of the ESRC STEPS Centre at Sussex.  It was a very strong field and the appointment recognises her skilled leadership over the past 10 years in building and managing a coherent and high quality research programme.

 Melissa is an anthropologist and has a wide range of research interests centrered on sustainable inclusive development, with a particular emphasis on the politics of the processes that do or do not facilitate it.

She is a trailblazer in many ways--she has some great ideas to take IDS to the next level--but also as the first woman and the first noneconomist as IDS Director. 

I know Melissa will do a brilliant job and she can count on my full support now and in the future.

Bravo IDS!