Why is researching donors so hard?

I have just finished supervising a master’s thesis at the University of Manchester which compares the extent of internal reforms in DFID and the Spanish Development Co-operation Agency, AECID. The student – an AECID civil servant – wanted to know why her organization failed so miserably to reform internally in accordance with its international commitments to principles of aid effectiveness, in particular when one could find in the European vicinity other agencies like DFID that did so much better on all indicators. What emerges is a story of politics and institutional infighting: a socialist prime minister who symbolically boosted the foreign aid budget through the roof without actually planning how it would be managed, a tenuous balance of institutional power where only a few key individuals tried to make a semi-autonomous agency work, and a cadre of jaded civil servants headed by political appointees for whom development co-operation was often a stepping stone in their political careers. This is as much as I can spoil right now; for the whole picture you will have to wait a while. Continue reading Why is researching donors so hard?

The irony of inequality policy? A small elite diagnosing the plight of millions

Inequality is at the core of our work at the Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre (ESID): our entire analytical framework rests on the idea that there are powerful groups and individuals – elites – who influence or make policy with the intended or unintended effect of perpetuating privilege. We ask why these actors behave the way they do, what kind of institutions they support, and what policies – if any – would encourage them to build less unequal societies. Our intent is certainly noble, and our focus on inequality aims to produce research that leads to a better world. But the profound irony in our work is that we ourselves belong to a small intellectual and policy elite, and I wonder whether we should match our fight against global inequality with a more intimate reaction against the unequal nature of our voice in this conversation. Continue reading The irony of inequality policy? A small elite diagnosing the plight of millions