Welcome to my personal website! I am a consultant specialized in facilitated reform, strategy and learning, and research, working mostly in the field of governance and anti-corruption. Click here to find more about my projects and partnerships.
I have a PhD in Political Science from Cornell University and for over a decade I have worked in international development, first as a researcher and then as a consultant.
Some time ago I published a book that appears to have resonated with development practitioners: Why We Lie About Aid: Development and the Messy Politics of Change (Zed Books, 2018). You can find a list of all my other publications here.
Last year the German Institute of Development and Sustainability published my most recent research piece:
The politics of “what works”: evidence incentives and entrepreneurship in development organisations
Abstract: Over the last two decades, national development agencies have committed to results-based approaches and to putting evidence at the centre of their decision-making. For evidence “optimists”, this is a much-needed corrective to past practice; in contrast, “pessimists” worry about ideology masquerading as science, and results-based approaches contributing to the further depoliticisation of development. This paper argues that reality falls somewhere in between these two extreme interpretations, and that the experiences of development organisations are varied enough to warrant further interrogation, not into whether evidence shapes policymaking, but into how it does so, and whose evidence matters most. The paper seeks to address these questions through an analytical framework that highlights the process of contestation between evidence agendas against a backdrop of policy complexity, professional barriers, and organisational incentives. A brief review of evidence from development cooperation agencies – with spotlight cases from Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom – reveals that institutionalisation and entrepreneurship play a critical role in enabling and shaping evidence-based policymaking. This leads to clear implications for practitioners, whose focus should be not only on getting the right kind of evidence, but on getting the politics of evidence right.
A new paper has just been released that I worked on with ODI’s Ed Laws and Sam Sharp, both of whom are really smart.
The main goal of the paper is to provide some structure for understanding why and how donors can adapt in more fragile contexts, beyond just saying “be flexible” and hoping something good will come out of it. The paper presents some concepts, some categories, and a lot of insights from practitioners in two programs, one in Lebanon and the other in Libya.
The almost complete suite of learning papers and briefings from the Strengthening Action Against Corruption in Ghana Programme (STAAC) have now been posted online.
We have put together a publication series that documents the adaptive approaches and methods we used to deliver on the programme’s aims, some of our proudest achievements, and also a few of the challenges and difficulties we encountered along the way.
In the link below you will find an overall implementation learning paper, together with six shorter briefing papers on key issue areas: beneficial ownership, financial intelligence, criminal investigation mentoring, integrity in service delivery, transparency in the oil sector, state-society collaboration around legislative change. There is also a briefing on the evolution of our adaptive results framework, which I am sure will be of interest to many. Additional papers may be added down the line.
There is much more that we could have documented about this catalytic partnership between Ghanaian reformers, DFID/FCDO, and a small team of committed technical advisers. But it is a start, and definitely much more than what is the norm, sadly. You will find in these pages proof that smart aid programmes can work to reconcile local and global agendas, provided that they are ready to work adaptively and in politically-smart ways, supporting (not overriding) the ongoing efforts of local actors.
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.
While I subscribe fully to the limitations of PEA reports, I also understand why such products are more frequent than PEA processes: it is easy to draft terms of reference for them, there’s a more or less obvious pool of potential writers, and the deliverables are tangible and easy to measure. Mainstreaming PEA beyond reports is much harder, of course, for a number of reasons: organizational cultures, procurement imperatives, misguided M&E expectations… But at the micro-level – the level of implementation – I am starting to think that a better heuristic for the constrained space for PEA processes would entail talking about floors and ceilings. Continue reading PEA Confessions, part IV: Of floors and ceilings
A while back New Internationalist asked me to participate in a written debate opposing the motion “The West should stop giving aid to Africa”. In front of me was Firoze Manji, a veteran Kenyan activist, communicator and intellectual. It was a tricky setup, because Firoze was maybe forced into a position that he may not fully identify with. Perhaps because of that, instead of a trite debate on the merits of aid, our exchanges veered into a bigger, more important question of revolutionary vs evolutionary change. I have always been a pragmatist and incrementalist, but Firoze really drove home the frustration that the gospel of small bets engenders in those concerned with social justice and transformation.
Here’s a couple of illustrative excerpts:
Firoze: Aid uses public funds to subsidize and encourage the implementation of neoliberal policies that have resulted in growing impoverishment of the majority, and the obscene accumulation of wealth by national elites who are among its main beneficiaries.
Pablo: Foreign aid is a very flawed tool, but one that is suited to the grey areas of development challenges. It works incrementally: testing, searching, making plenty of mistakes along the way, but also building unexpected coalitions, and planting the seeds of change.