Duncan Green’s FP2P blog recently featured a self-described rant about the disconnect between academic debates on aid and actual aid practice. Judging by the number of comments and twitter responses, by practitioners but mostly by academics, you could say he has hit a nerve in our little development studies community. Many of my academic colleagues and friends were disappointed with Duncan’s apparent simplification and stereotyping of development scholarship. I have a slightly different take, based on my personal experience. Why does my personal experience matter at all? Well, I did get a PhD in an American political science department (as academic as it gets), then for five years I worked at a DFID-funded research centre in a UK development studies department (meant to influence policy), and then over the last two years I have been working as an aid practitioner. And my sense is that while Duncan’s rant is justified, the apportioning of blame needs to be much more nuanced. Continue reading Duncan Green’s rant is not wrong. But the blame does not lie only in academia
[Original post from 19/3/2914. Reposted for the fun factor]
It has been more than a year and a half since I received my Ph.D. after writing and defending a lengthy dissertation that I liked to think of as “policy-relevant social science”. Thirteen months into my current job, researching and networking with the same aid organizations and actors that populated my dissertation, I have come to realize that social science and development policy are two entirely different beasts, and that reconciling them in any meaningful way is a challenge far beyond the skills of even the most imaginative Ph.D. candidate. Continue reading What development research can learn from Asimov’s psychohistory
Whenever I am in writing mode my mind makes strange leaps to justify a connection between work and fun. Take these two things: my fondness for DC Comics superheroes, and my work in international development. And here’s the leap: in this (recycled) post I argue – in a totally unscientific manner – that the international development community can reflect on its own potential and shortcomings through the lens of super-powered humans. Let me tell you how it works. Continue reading Is foreign aid more like Superman or Batman?
I have written things you wouldn’t believe. Country assessment frameworks for social accountability organizations. I watched donors try to coordinate in a small Central American country. All those reports will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
It’s Part Deux of PEA confessions! This time I want to discuss one of my favourite pet peeves: PEA reports. In this case I will refer back to some of the themes covered in Why We Lie About Aid, and in particular to a 2015 ESID briefing that I wrote: “Making political analysis useful: Adjusting and scaling”. Again, the goal here is to see if prior insights hold true in light of more practical experience as a PEA consultant. Continue reading PEA Confessions, part II: Report rapport
Four years ago I published a research paper and policy briefing at ESID that focused on the barriers to political-economy analysis (PEA) in donor agencies. I thought our research gave me a pretty good grasp of the promises and pitfalls of PEA in the aid community. After two-and-a-half years of working as a PEA consultant, the time has come for some self-imposed accountability. This is part I of a new series of posts dramatically called “PEA Confessions”.
I want to begin with ESID Briefing Paper 5: “Mainstreaming political economy analysis (PEA) in donor agencies”. It is not my most inspired writing, but at the time it felt like a very clever contribution. Having found – with David Hulme – how organizational dynamics made the use of political analysis by DFID and the World Bank very inconsistent, I thought I needed to devote some thinking to the “so what” question and come up with some semi-coherent recommendations. Continue reading PEA Confessions, part I: Mainstreaming woes
It hasn’t been a great year for aid charities so far. Public outcry about abuse and unethical behaviour in the high profile examples of Oxfam and Save the Children has been inflamed by opportunists, who have tapped into a constituency of popular disdain for the aid industry, and a certain resentment towards the holier-than-thou language and attitudes of the charity world.
This crisis of confidence arising from the scandals has led to apologies from many in the sector and some tangible commitment to change. But without a change in the underlying strategy and messaging of aid, there is zero guarantee that good intentions and gestures alone will forestall future attacks.