21 July 2014

Why Worry About the Politics of Nutrition? New Paper

So, why worry about the politics of nutrition?

In a new (open access) paper in World Development by Nicholas Nisbett, Stuart Gillespie, Jody Harris and me, we argue that nutrition is inherently political.

First, there are the multiple sectors, power bases, alliances and aims. This entails negotiation, contestation, alliances and compromise. In short, politics.

Second, there are information asymmetries. Nutrition is highly technical.  Are complex services being delivered in a good enough way?  Are nutrition-related products being marketed responsibly?  Information asymmetries allow power to be exercised in the shadows. And that is not typically a good thing.

Finally, there is the invisibility of malnutrition: stunting is hard to see, what is being spent is difficult to track across sectors, and micronutrient malnutrition is largely hidden. Being out of the public eye means that no-one is going to be blamed if things don't improve.  Invisibility undermines accountability.

We then go on to suggest that nutrition can learn a lot from other sectors in terms of power analysis (the power to but also  power over and the power within), governmentality (moving from the conduct of government to the governance of conduct -- of all actors) and hybrid governance (moving from simple state-society interactions to mash ups or hybrids of these two types of institutions).

We also argue that governance research can learn from the challenges of nutrition and its current dynamism.  For instance where else can you see a global movement such as SUN rise in a period of 5 years or so?  The SUN movement on its own is a potential source-- and beneficiary -- of hundreds of political science PhD's.

There are of course research gaps. Can communities hold governments and other service providers to account for quality of delivery?  What are the effects of capacity gaps on nutrition outcomes --which types of capacity and at what levels?  Can commitment really be measured?  When does more timely data lead to more timely action?  Check out the Transform Nutrition RPC site for on-going attempts to fill those gaps.

So don't worry about the politics of nutrition, just recognise they exist, navigate them -- and maybe even influence them.

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