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?

A club that will accept me as a member

People who have met me in person know that I am a skeptic, either out of conviction or because somebody has to be. Part of this comes from my upbringing: too many Marx brothers films growing up. Like all good Marxians (of the absurd persuasion), I enjoy quoting Groucho’s famous message to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” Therefore, I find it difficult to say the following: I seem to have joined a club, and it is one I am happy to belong to. Damn you, Doing Development Differently! Continue reading A club that will accept me as a member

The DDD Manifesto

Statement from the October 2014 ‘Doing Development Differently’ workshop [re-posted from here]

Too many development initiatives have limited impact. Schools are built but children do not learn. Clinics are built but sickness persists. Governments adopt reforms but too little changes for their citizens.

This is because genuine development progress is complex: solutions are not simple or obvious, those who would benefit most lack power, those who can make a difference are disengaged and political barriers are too often overlooked. Many development initiatives fail to address this complexity, promoting irrelevant interventions that will have little impact.

Some development initiatives, however, have real results. Some are driven domestically while others receive external support. They usually involve many players – governments, civil society, international agencies and the private sector – working together to deliver real progress in complex situations and despite strong resistance. In practice, successful initiatives reflect common principles.

  • They focus on solving local problems that are debated, defined and refined by local people in an ongoing process.
  • They are legitimised at all levels (political, managerial and social), building ownership and momentum throughout the process to be ‘locally owned’ in reality (not just on paper).
  • They work through local conveners who mobilise all those with a stake in progress (in both formal and informal coalitions and teams) to tackle common problems and introduce relevant change.
  • They blend design and implementation through rapid cycles of planning, action, reflection and revision (drawing on local knowledge, feedback and energy) to foster learning from both success and failure.
  • They manage risks by making ‘small bets’: pursuing activities with promise and dropping others.
  • They foster real results – real solutions to real problems that have real impact: they build trust, empower people and promote sustainability.

As an emerging community of development practitioners and observers, we believe that development initiatives can – and must – have greater impact.

We pledge to apply these principles in our own efforts to pursue, promote and facilitate development progress, to document new approaches, to spell out their practical implications and to foster their refinement and wider adoption.

We want to expand our community to include those already working in this way.

We call on international development organisations of all kinds to embrace these principles as the best way to address complex challenges and foster impact. We recognise the difficulties, but believe that more effective strategies and approaches can generate higher and lasting impact. Continue reading The DDD Manifesto

Doing Development Differently: The future is now-ish

[Re-posted from the ESID blog]

Two weeks ago Harvard Kennedy School and ODI co-hosted a very particular kind of workshop, entitled “Doing Development Differently”. I say particular because I have not attended anything similar in my years as a grad student or researcher: the list of participants was small, largely a self-selected group mixing incredibly qualified veterans and refreshingly energetic newcomers; the format of sessions was heavily geared towards interaction, so that everyone felt like a contributor; the pace of debate was relentless, with real space for reaction and accumulation; and the point of it all was not simply to share knowledge or pad a CV, but to build a community and even lay down the foundations of a manifesto. Credit for all this must go to the three individuals who led the experiment: Harvard‘s Matt Andrews, and ODI‘s Marta Foresti and Leni Wild. Reacting against the unfortunate trend of getting the “usual suspects” of aid together for yet another session of group therapy, they conceived and successfully executed a different model for informed policy debate. Continue reading Doing Development Differently: The future is now-ish

Aid Counterbureaucracy 2.0: ForeignAssistance.gov

I came across a post at CGD today commenting on the new site ForeignAssistance.gov set up by the US government, of which I was completely unaware. When you click on the site you find a seemingly revolutionary web portal containing data on where and with what aims American foreign aid is spent. It is not too different – although a bit more comprehensive and accessible – than DFID‘s own new website. However, I hesitate to celebrate ForeignAssistance.gov as a success: while it does increase the transparency of aid data, it tells citizens disappointingly little about the aid process, much less the actual challenges of development. Continue reading Aid Counterbureaucracy 2.0: ForeignAssistance.gov

Levels of analysis in foreign aid advocacy and research

It’s been over 5 years since I started working on issues of development assistance, and yet I still get incensed when I see the polemics that periodically surface in public debate: “aid is dead!”, “no, we need more aid!”, “but aid experts are deluded planners!”, “even so, you should give at least 0.7%!”, and so on. It has taken me a while to come to the realization that this kind of crossfire annoys me because I tend to work on much more specific issues: what kind of aid can promote institutional reform? Or, what kind of donor can exact reform from a patrimonial government? This has led me to realize that aid debates take place on at least three different levels of analysis, each of them based on a different conception of what aid is: a macro resource, a meso strategy, or a micro tactic. And the peculiarities of each level have implications both for research and advocacy. Continue reading Levels of analysis in foreign aid advocacy and research

Politics in the trenches of development: Mainstreaming political economy analysis in aid agencies

“Politics matters for development”. From project officers all the way up to the heads of multilateral development agencies, from lowest-rung civil servants to cabinet ministers, everyone who has ever worked trying to enact social, economic or political change knows this basic fact. But that does not mean that they can talk openly about it, let alone plan for the eventualities of politics or set aside budgetary items for dealing with it. Aid agencies in particular seem to be trapped in a nether realm where everyone discusses the politics of development in private, but few dare to risk their careers by engaging with it in public. That is why the rise of political economy analysis (PEA) poses an interesting dilemma. The basic principle is intuitive and almost elegant in its simplicity: many projects flounder due to limited understanding of local politics, so the answer is to build more analysis into projects to ensure greater effectiveness. And yet turning this principle into practice has proven to be less than simple. Continue reading Politics in the trenches of development: Mainstreaming political economy analysis in aid agencies