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.
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.
Check it out!
As we move along 2020 and inch closer to the completion of Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC), there are plenty of lessons to be learned from a programme that ICAI called “an agile, thoughtful response to Ghana’s corruption challenge” and “built on best practice for achieving sustainable outcomes.”
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.
STAAC Paper 1 – Lessons from Building STAAC – March 2019
[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?
[Reposted from the GDI blog]
Why We Lie About Aid is a book born out of bafflement, and not a little bit of frustration. Continue reading Why We Lie About Aid – in defense of hopeful pragmatism
Hot off the ESID press: “Public sector reform in Africa: Understanding the paths and politics of change”, ESID Briefing 28, Deceber 2017.
This briefing explores why some states in Africa seem to be stuck in a spiral of corruption and institutional weakness, while others build effective bureaucracies that are able and willing to tackle the challenges of development. Drawing on research from ESID’s PSR project, it compares the public sector reforms of Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda during the period 2000-15. The three countries exhibit different kinds of political settlement, which makes for a useful comparison of how national-level politics filters the diffusion of transnational norms. This helps to build a more nuanced understanding of the varieties of state-building in Africa, and provides some policy implications for reformers.
Purely institutionalist explanations cannot explain variations in African state-building in the 21st century.
There are different paths to change, like Ghana’s fragmented reform under competitive clientelism, Uganda’s cosmetic reform under a decaying dominant party, and Rwanda’s directed reform under a dominant political settlement.
Understanding these paths requires a theoretical framework that highlights the contested nature of the PSR policy domain, the effect of political settlements on elite time horizons, and the ideational fit between transnational policy ideas and elite ideologies.
Lessons for reformers and donors:
- Reform spaces are fluid, but contested;
- The ‘black box’ of political will is no longer enough;
- Strategic framing of policy ideas is key;
- Sustained change requires sustainable coalitions
It turns out there are some things in life that will limit your online presence. Here are my excuses:
- Having a second child
- Getting more job responsibilities
- 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.