Development is Good, Politics is Bad, Governance is Hard

[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

“Investigadores por una cooperación de calidad” (post en 3500 Millones)

¿Puede la investigación ayudar a la cooperación al desarrollo? Más importante aún, ¿pueden las agencias y profesionales internalizar las implicaciones de los proyectos de investigación? Estas son las preguntas que me hago cada día como investigador en un centro sobre política de desarrollo basado en la Universidad de Manchester pero financiado por el Ministerio para el Desarrollo Internacional del Gobierno del Reino Unido. …

Sigue leyendo mi post en el blog 3500 Millones (y sígueles en Twitter).

Maybe donors should not settle for Mr Right-Now

I am off to New Orleans in a few days for the International Studies Association, armed with a fun little paper which – as usual –  I uploaded past the official deadline (it would not be a proper conference experience otherwise): “The influence and responsibility of aid in transnational political settlements”, part of a panel on “Fostering inclusive political settlements” which will convene at the ungodly hour of 8:15am on Saturday (expected N: audience < panelists). Forget the cumbersome title: the paper could easily be titled “What works ain’t necesarily what’s right”, or “Why donors should not settle for Mr Right-Now”. Here’s the gist of it. Continue reading Maybe donors should not settle for Mr Right-Now

Para Español, pulse 2

Meses después de haber tomado la decisión de bloguear principalmente en inglés, de repente me llega la oportunidad de escribir para un público español. Ironías de la vida. Y esto viene a cuento de una iniciativa encomiable de la gente de ISGlobal y el editor del blog 3500 Millones., quien la semana pasada orquestró una visita de parlamentarios españoles a Londres para comprobar de primera mano cuán diferente es la política de desarrollo aquí: el nivel de compromiso político entre los principales partidos, la audacia e independencia del ministerio de cooperación al desarrollo (DFID), y los considerables fondos públicos que se dedican a la investigación independiente para mejorar la calidad de la ayuda.

Yo ya he escrito en otras ocasiones sobre las limitaciones del sistema español, aparentes incluso para un observador distante como yo. Pero es que cada encuentro personal con trabajadores de la AECID confirma esta impresión, hasta tal punto que la comparación entre Reino Unido y España resulta francamente deprimente. Lo interesante – casi podría decir, lo esperanzador – de la reunión de la semana pasada fue constatar que estas limitaciones no resultan invisibles a todos nuestros políticos, y que las ganas de hacer las cosas mejor quizás creen un espacio para el debate e incluso la reforma.

Hay muchas cosas que me gustaría aportar a este debate, como investigador en un centro independiente financiado con dinero público, como académico que intenta ayudar a los practicantes, y como participantes ocasional en varios debates punteros sobre el futuro de la ayuda (Doing Development Differently, Thinking and Working Politically…). Pero si todo va bien, mis contribuciones sobre estos temas no serán ya aquí, sino en el blog 3500 millones. Porque lo verdaderamente interesante de la investigación aplicada no es gritar a la nada como un eremita en el desierto, sino sumar otra voz más a una insurgencia intelectual en ciernes.

For English, press 1; para Español, pulse 2.

What comes after all the shouting about politics and aid?

[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?

A quixotic ethic of development?

I came across an interesting quote today by Spanish novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It caught my eye because lately I have been thinking about ethics – the ethics of development in general and of donor interference in particular. But it also resonates with all too frequent claims about aid “not working” or public sector reform being “too hard”. These words make me think that perhaps there is a simple answer to those claims: “so what”. Think of it as a kind of quixotic ethic of development: Continue reading A quixotic ethic of development?