As we move along 2020 and inch closer to the completion of Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC), there are plenty of lessons to be learned from a programme that ICAI called “an agile, thoughtful response to Ghana’s corruption challenge” and “built on best practice for achieving sustainable outcomes.”
Later this year we will work to produce learning papers that can disseminate to the community insights as to what we did well and not so well, what our partners achieved, and what an adaptive programme looks like in practice. In the meantime, I wanted to share a previous paper I co-authored with former STAAC programme manager Isabel Castle a couple of years back.
STAAC Paper 1 – Lessons from Building STAAC – March 2019
This has been my third year teaching political analysis of development policy at Manchester GDI. Strangely, I have never used any of the donor-produced PEA frameworks in my course materials or lectures. The reason lies partly in the fact that commonly employed PEA frameworks – like most social science – are better at identifying structures than theorizing change; to my mind, this was true of Drivers of Change, SGACA, and the World Bank’s Problem-Driven PEA. So if you are interested in change – which is what development actors do – then you need a different set of tools. With that in mind, here are three intuitive but subversive conceptual tools that I introduce in Why We Lie About Aid. Continue reading 3 concepts that should change how we do political analysis in development
Value for Money (VfM) sounds eminently reasonable. It represents the kind of due diligence we expect from modern liberal states: accountability to taxpayers’ demands that governments keep an eye on how public funds are spent, assurance that these funds are, in fact, employed for their stated purposes, and transparent management of public funds are all necessary for avoiding corruption and waste. In that light, VfM is not only reasonable but perhaps even morally desirable.
However, not all areas of public policy are equally amenable to the same calculations and standards of proof. When procuring bricks to build a school, for instance, we can easily compare the costs and estimates of different providers in order to choose the most economic, efficient, effective, and cost-effective option. As we move to less tangible goals, however, the simple logic of VfM begins to unravel, and at a certain point the demand for hard evidence does not necessarily lead to accountability. And, as we know, many development assistance goals are of the less tangible variety. Continue reading The banality of certainty (Book excerpt)
These days I am writing a paper on how the STAAC programme that I work on in Ghana has managed to chart a bespoke adaptive programming course to anti-corruption. There’s a lot in there about embedding PEA into everyday practice, about being smart and adaptive, about doing things differently. And you would expect as much from a DFID programme designed with TWP/PDIA buzzwords in mind. But the exercise of reflecting on two years of experimentation with the approach and evolving relations with partners has also made me ask questions about the broader dilemmas of anti-corruption programming.
The challenges of combatting corruption are well known: informal institutions, social norms, principal-agent and collective-action poblems (I have written about some of these in my book). In fact, corruption tends to be one of the most difficult components of the broader public sector agenda. Naturally the anti-corruption community – such as it is – appears to be developing a new consensus that challenges conventional approaches to anti-corruption, compiling evidence of what works, and asking for a smarter way of tackling an intrinsically difficult problem: we need to “move away from thinking of anti-corruption as a blueprint”, finding solutions that are “localised and adapted to individual country contexts”.
All of this sounds great, and is very much in line with DFID’s own approach to chain-link, politically-smart, adaptive approaches to anti-corruption. There is just one minor glitch: local partners do not necessarily share this view. Continue reading Adaptive anti-corruption: Best-fit methods for best-practice goals
Taylor & Francis has finally released online my Third World Quarterly piece with Badru Bukenya: ‘New’ approaches confront ‘old’ challenges in African public sector reform. It has been a lengthy process between TWQ and T&F, but we are finally there. Here’s the abstract:
The disappointing performance of conventional public sector reforms in developing countries has led to the rise of ‘new’ approaches seeking to overcome traditional bureaucratic barriers to change: leadership-focused interventions like the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI); accountability-focused initiatives like the Open Government Partnership (OGP); and adaptation-focused models like those of Africa Power and Politics (APP). While these approaches are appealing to aid donors in their promise to move beyond the limitations of purely formal institution building, they fail to provide new answers to the ‘old’ analytical and practical challenges of public sector reform, in particular administrative patrimonialism, public corruption and political capture. The evidence is yet inchoate, but all points to the need for these approaches to work together with conventional ones. Beyond novel implementation tactics, however, there is a need for new strategies of sustained political support for embattled reformers who face powerful incentives against institutional change.
[Originally posted on the ESID blog.]
These days I am reading psychologist Daniel Kahneman‘s book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2012), in which he outlines two aspects of our brains which determine how we process information, associate ideas and solve problems. Kahneman speaks of two systems: System 1, which is quick, intuitive, and effortless; andSystem 2, which is slow, analytical, and costly.
The first chunk of the book is devoted to the interaction between these two systems, and in particular how System 1 is prone to bias by jumping to unwarranted conclusions on the basis of what’s familiar or sounds right, even without us consciously realising what we are doing; System 2 can then jump in to check our intuitions against facts and avoid logical mistakes, but doing so requires willpower and freedom from disruptive stimuli (we all have a limited budget for effort, be it mental, emotional or physical).
As I read the book, I started wondering whether the proponents of political analysis in aid agencies could learn something from the interaction between these two systems in our brains. Continue reading Development is Good, Politics is Bad, Governance is Hard
[Re-posted from the ESID blog]
Last week DFID’s research team hosted representatives from four research programme consortia on development, including ESID, for a debate and set of presentations on what we have found so far and what – if anything – DFID can do about it. Without going into details – there were surveys, concepts, migrants, onions, and even vampires – it was yet another interesting opportunity to witness that uncomfortable interface between academic and practitioner frustrations. In a very polite and reasoned way, researchers shouted to DFID staff that “context matters, reality is complex, and you’d better take politics into account!”, while DFID staff in turn shouted back that “we too are subject to a political context, and you’d better show us how what you are suggesting would work in practice!” Of course, this being a professional event in the UK, there wasn’t any actual shouting; but one could sense the deep-seated frustration, misunderstanding, even recrimination underlying the entire event. Eventually, we ended up where all these meetings seem to end: with the realization that everyone needs to do more to facilitate stronger researcher-practitioner linkages. Which is not a bad message at all. But it still makes me wonder what comes next. Continue reading What comes after all the shouting about politics and aid?