Publication: The politics of “what works”

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.

You can download the paper here.

Is your development agency Conan or Saruman?

[Original post from 24/3/2014. Reposted for fun factor]

The journal Development Policy Review will publish in May my article on the types of aid donors and their impact on institutional change. It will have been a little over two years since I first presented the argument at the Midwest Political Science Association with the help of Conan of Cimmeria, Saruman the White, the Black Knight, and the criminal genius Vizzini. Continue reading Is your development agency Conan or Saruman?

Is foreign aid more like Superman or Batman?

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?

So, I wrote a book called Why We Lie About Aid

It turns out there are some things in life that will limit your online presence. Here are my excuses:

  1. Having a second child
  2. Getting more job responsibilities
  3. Writing a book

I want to write at some point about 2 in some detail. But right now I wanted to offer a little teaser about 3.

Earlier this year I finally submitted the full manuscript of my potential book Why We Lie About Aid: Development and the Messy Politics of Change to Zed Books. Then two months ago I received a really positive set of reviews and comments, including an actual endorsement for the back cover. I won’t reveal who wrote this just yet, but I will shamelessly copy here the reviewer’s opening words:

This is one of the most exciting books about development aid in many years: original and timely, closely argued and evidenced, and beautifully written.

I have finally managed to complete the revisions, and it is now up to the editor to give it a final green light. If everything goes well, we are talking about a February 2018 release date in paperback. Both ESID and GDI are super excited about it, so expect a bit of promotional work in the second half of this year.

As time goes by I will post here particularly juicy excerpts from the manuscript. For now I will only copy here the table of contents:

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: The theatrics of aid debates
Chapter 3: The banality of certainty
Chapter 4: The ugly politics of change
Chapter 5: The limits of donor influence
Chapter 6: The paradoxes of development diplomacy
Chapter 7: The struggle of thinking politically
Chapter 8: Understanding the messy politics of change
Chapter 9: Conclusion

Stay tuned for more previews.

Book project: Why We Lie About Aid

(And The Messy Truth About Promoting Development)

It is now official: I am writing a book under contract with a publisher. Until the end of the year I will be posting updates and excerpts as I write it. But I can start today with the initial pitch:

Donor publics have been misled about the nature of development: for decades they have been told that it is about charity and technical fixes, when in fact it is as much about fights as our own policy-making is at home. Aid practitioners work in a world of struggles for reform, but they are forced to misrepresent and obfuscate the reality of development in order to comply with very restrictive and selective interpretations of principles like accountability, transparency, ownership or harmonisation. That is the dysfunctional aid system that we in donor countries have built, and then shackled with a discourse that mistakes short-term results for long-term transformation. A different approach is possible, and indeed has been quietly applied by innovative development practitioners around the world who provide political coverage for reformers or build coalitions that open up spaces for change. With real stories from aid practitioners in Britain, the US, Spain, Uganda, Honduras, Nigeria, Liberia, Rwanda and Ghana, this book explains what lies behind the much-criticized pathologies of aid, and challenges us to have a more honest conversation about development assistance.

La cooperación española en la nueva encuesta sobre influencia y utilidad de donantes

La organización AidData ha publicado una encuesta de líderes y responsables públicos en países receptores de ayuda en la que se les pregunta si consideran que los donantes con los que trabajan son útiles, sirven de ayuda, o influyen sobre la agenda de desarrollo. El documento final está disponible online. Varios investigadores del Center for Global Development han decidido revisar los resultados en base al número de respuestas recibidos (por ejemplo, Luxemburgo aparece como el cuarto donante más útil, pero este resultado se basa solamente en 18 respuestas de un total de 6.731 participantes). Esta es una de las tablas revisadas por el CGD:

Continue reading La cooperación española en la nueva encuesta sobre influencia y utilidad de donantes