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The new UN Human Development Report on vulnerability and resilience: ignoring trade-offs and an epic fail on power and politics

25 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

I started off reading the exec sum of yesterday’s Human Development Report (UNDP’s flagship publication) with initial excitement, followed by growing dismay. It’s a pretty traditional kind of disillusion (I’m a bit of a connoisseur). Allow me to walk you through it.

In a nutshell, an interesting diagnosis and a few good new-ish ideas, followed by a pretty thin proposal for anything resembling a cure, while ducking most of the tricky questions. Recognize the pattern?

Let’s start with the positive. First a good topic: vulnerability and resilience – development fuzzwords that really need examination, clarification etc, in the way the HDR is usually good at.

Despite recent progress in human progress, the report correctly identifies an underlying malaise: ‘a widespread sense of precariousness in the world today—in livelihoods, in personal security, in the environment and in global politics.’

‘Real progress on human development, then, is not only a matter of enlarging people’s critical choices and their ability to be educated, be healthy, have a reasonable standard of living and feel safe. It is also a matter of how secure these achievements are and whether conditions are sufficient for sustained human development. An account of progress in human development is incomplete without exploring and assessing vulnerability.’

Some of its useful contributions:

It proposes a pretty broad conception of ‘human vulnerability’ (presumably to sit alongside the UNDP’s traditional focus on human development), and breaks it down a bit between groups (see first diagram).

It raises the possibility of some kind of multidimensional approach to inequality, pointing out that inequality in healthcare has fallen, whereas disparities in income has risen, while inequality in access to education has stayed roughly constant in recent years.

It points out that the rate of progress in human development has fallen significantly since 2008 (see bar chart).

It highlights the need to think about vulnerabilities in terms of life cycles. People’s vulnerabilities and strengths are cumulative and path dependent. That begins even before birth – babies born to undernourished mothers are less likely to do well in school or later life. Unemployment in youth can derail people for a lifetime.

The logic of this is ‘intervene early’ (see 3rd graph), but this is where I started to get frustrated. The obvious response is, ‘OK, but money doesn’t grow on trees (OK technically it does, in the case of paper money, but you know what I mean). What are you suggesting you do less of? Take money from pensions and spend it on early childhood development’? The nearest it gets to this is saying ‘Spending on health, education and welfare that increases over the life course does not nurture and support capability development during the crucial early years.’ That sounds like a recipe for a spectacular wonkwar between Save the Kids and Helpage, but as far as I can see, the report ducks the potential trade offs entirely.

Similarly it argues for a return to full employment as an economic policy objective. That’s a brave and radical proposal, but fails to acknowledge, let alone discuss, any possible trade-offs between full employment and decent jobs – it wants both (natch).

Finally, where’s the politics? I know it’s hard for UN bodies to talk about power and politics, but this is a pretty dismal example of a technocrat’s charter, assuming a benign, pro-poor government keen to improve (that’s a hell of a big can opener).

‘Building human resilience requires responsive institutions.. in particular states that recognize and take actions to reduce inequality among groups are better able to uphold social cohesion and prevent and recover from crises.’

And what do you do if you have a state that isn’t this kind of paragon? Complete silence: the executive summary (which is all most people read) doesn’t go there. No discussion of how non state actors can influence states, of how to shift incentives, build coalitions with sympathetic fragments within the state, seize the political opportunities provided by disasters (very important in this case). Likewise, no discussion of the politics of ‘turnaround’ – when and why have bad states turned good? There’s a page in the full report (106) on the role of civil society activism and participation, but that doesn’t make it into the exec sum. All in all, an epic fail, epitomized by the widespread use of what Robert Chambers calls the ‘passive evasive’ tense ‘greater efforts are needed’ etc etc.

My heart rose briefly when I saw a subhead saying ‘Deepening progress and collective action’. Great, here comes an edgy section on how change happens in real political systems. Oh, wait. ‘Collective action’ turns out to mean loads of governments agreeing some really kickass post 2015 goals. Don’t get me started on that one.

Now I’m a big fan of the UNDP (and they are more than welcome to set me straight). Maybe this is as far as an official UN report can go, but if so, that’s a shame. And it rather illustrates just how hard it is to talk about power and politics, even for NGOs. But that’s a topic for a future post.

How can politics change to serve future generations (on climate change, but lots of other stuff too)?

24 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

No-one objected to yesterday’s rehash of a recent BS (blue sky, OK?) session, so here’s another. An hour in a cool café in Brixton market with Kiwi academic Jonathan Boston, wrestling with the really big question on climate change and the survival of our species: how could political institutions emerge that govern for future generations?

Jonathan, who used to run the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at the Victoria University of Wellington, is researching this fascinating question, and starts off from a pretty gloomy place. In 2011 he wrote an excellent paper for the Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal (gated, so I’m not linking to it) which identified a ‘Serious mismatch between the magnitude and urgency of the climate change problem and the current political will to overcome or mitigate the problem’

He identifies four ‘asymmetries’ preventing action:

The voting asymmetry: The young and future generations have no vote.

The cost-benefit asymmetry: The costs and the benefits of policies to mitigate climate change are significantly different with respect to the crucial dimensions of time, certainty, visibility, and tangibility.

The interest group asymmetry: Many of the costs of mitigation policies tend to be concentrated and fall mainly on easily identifiable and powerful vested interests, whereas the potential beneficiaries are highly dispersed.

The accounting asymmetry: Firms are not required to include the effects of their activities on the environment in their financial statements and governments ignore net changes in natural capital (and other environmental impacts) in their national accounts.

Jonathan sketches out four possible solutions to these obstacles along with (unfortunately) the weaknesses of each:

Supra-national solutions (eg UNFCCC). Designed to shift decisions away from nation states to regional or global entities that are subject to different incentive structures, and are shielded to a greater extent than democratically elected governments from the pressures of voters and powerful interest groups dominated by short-term horizons. But these will only work if national governments are prepared to cede sovereignty and comply with the rulings, and the ailing UN climate change negotiations show how unlikely that is on climate change.

Because more evidence is definitely what we need…..

Institutional solutions: Designed to shift decisions within the nation state from governments and parliaments to independent bodies, such as expert committees, that are not directly accountable to voters. Role models include various Monetary Policy Committees, or the UK’s Committee on Climate Change. But just as with supra-national bodies, governments are reluctant to give such institutions real power beyond and advisory role.

Constraining solutions. These constrain the decisions of national governments by giving greater weight to future generations. E.g. the constitutions of Bolivia, Japan and Norway have such provisions, but the fact that Norway’s Supreme Court has never cited the relevant article in the 22 years since it was introduced suggest this is more of a nudge than a slam dunk.

Rebalancing solutions. These give decision makers a greater incentive to protect the environment and the interests of future generations by, for instance, changing the preferences of voters, the distribution of power between relevant interest groups and/or national parliaments, or the quality and availability of information about environmental performance. Lowering voter age is a smart, if fairly timid, first step – more voters interested in a slightly longer term future. Shifting to various kinds of green accounting could also help tilt the balance over the longer term.


‘Most democratic governments will be constrained by the four asymmetries such that only gradual, ad hoc measures to reduce emissions will be electorally feasible. This may be grim news for future generations, but it appears to be the only realistic conclusion.’

That was published in 2011. Jonathan’s new research project is looking for a few more reasons to be cheerful. Here’s some of the things we discussed over our Brixton beer:

We need to think more about the crucial importance of norms – when in history has one generation sacrificed for the benefit of future generations? Three examples:

  • Medieval Cathedrals: splashing the cash on a building which will only be used by your grandchildren
  • Fighting Wars: risking your lives now to keep your country free for future generations
  • Sovereign Wealth Funds: can anyone explain the politics of why Norwegians seem happy to keep paying high taxes so that future generations can build up an almost $1trn pension fund? Why didn’t some populist party spring up and sweep the elections by saying ‘sod the grandkids, you never have to pay taxes ever again’?


These examples are most definitely not driven by immediate cost-benefit calculations but by norms and values – what is right, what is socially (un)acceptable etc. They are driven by life-defining norms like religion or national identity that trump short term material interests. That’s why climate change campaigners should be spending much more time on plugging into deep normative frameworks by, for example, engaging the major religions on issues of stewardship.

National myths and stories: Policies are often invisibly constrained/stoked by social memory – of inflation (Germany), revolution (Bolivia), rationing and togetherness in wartime (UK), myths of equal opportunity (US), encirclement and threat (Russia). Understanding and plugging into these narratives may help shift behaviours.

Shocks: I’m an even bigger broken record on this than on the importance of working with faith groups. Anyone wishing to shift to longer term considerations has to get better at understanding and grasping the transformative potential of ‘windows of opportunity’. Fast forward to the next major floods in the UK: what if climate groups, religious leaders, scientists, opinion shapers and others had already set up their network, so that on the day the floods hit, they can press the button for a rapid response of events, publications and campaign razzmatazz to begin within days? Totally doable, precious little sign of it last winter.

Leadership: it would help if we understood where the future Mandelas and Gandhis will come from, so the forces of light can get to them early. The Developmental Leadership Programme is doing some interesting work here, but plenty of room for more.

In the meantime, the debate seems to be gravitating towards ‘co-benefits’- eg green investments that also boost jobs and growth, or getting a technological edge by investing in green tech before your competitors. A more sophisticated version recalls ‘The Leopard’ – ‘everything must change so that everything can stay the same’ – if those with power see a sufficiently serious existential threat, they may prefer preemptive change instead. Fine, but it’s a hell of an assumption to say that these are enough to avert catastrophic climate change. What if they aren’t?

Finally, at least let me indulge in some gallows humour. According to Jonathan, the New Zealand government set up three commissions: a short term one (council of economic advisers), a medium term one (planning council) and a long term one (commission for the future). Only the short term one survived. Maybe there’s just no (political) future in long term thinking……

Any other political reasons to be hopeful/straws to clutch?

Update: or maybe the answer is just to give up on democracy? Here’s a new piece on Chinese leadership on mitigation. I discussed this with Tim Jackson a while back.

Big Data and Development: Upsides, downsides and a lot of questions

23 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

One of the more scary but enjoyable things I do is be interviewed on stuff I know absolutely nothing about (yeah, yeah, I know – no change there then). You get to grasshopper around multiple issues and

disciplines, cobbling together ideas and arguments from scattered fragments, making connections and learning new stuff. Great fun. This week, I’ll blog about a couple of these BS (blue sky, of course) sessions to give you a flavour.

First up, half an hour discussing ‘big data’ with a friend/researcher who shall be nameless (don’t want to destroy their reputation). Here’s some of the points that arose:

First, massive confusion on definition: depending on who you talk to, ‘Big Data’ means scraping massive amounts of existing data from sources like Facebook and Twitter (the UN’s Global Pulse has done great work on this); generating large volumes of new data; computer modelling of the existing data or using it for particular purposes like transparency and accountability, or targeting humanitarian relief.

Big Data is great when it throws up new questions and correlations, and stimulates thinking and discussion (The Economist had a fascinating piece this week on how Big Data is a natural partner of iterative, experimental approaches to change). But I’m dubious about it providing a short cut to political change, empowerment etc. There are lots of inspiring examples of using data to promote social change, but plenty of caveats and warnings against magic bulletism too, as the recent contributions to this blog from 3 transparency and accountability gurus showed.

How will Big Data evolve? It may follow the path of governance work – starting off with lots of supply (people building crowdsource websites that no-one uses), when that doesn’t work, move on to demand (citizens’ movements demanding data from baffled/incompetent/hostile governments) and then end up looking for combos of the two – hybrid institutions for data that combine old and new systems in new, context-specific ways; getting lots of unusual suspects in a room to find tailored solutions, including data-based ones, to agreed problems.

And what about the downsides? What are the risks of Big Data?

Data tribalism: mass media gives way to tribal media, as everyone splits off into their own online echo chamber, and increasingly has no idea what the rest of the world is thinking.

Big Brother Data: around the world,
governments are trying to close down space for civil society. CSOs routinely use a lot of IT, which provides a perfect channel for snooping and repression.

Don’t assume libertarianism will persist. Ok the internet still reflects its libertarian origins, but what if it is taken over by bad guys, whether governments or corporate?

What’s the link to inequality? Does the top 1% of the digitally connected have access to x times more data than the poorest 10% and is that digital divide growing or shrinking, between and within countries? What are the knock-on effects in terms of power and wealth?

Which all leads to a broader question. Is there something inherently individualist about the acquisition and use of data, as currently conceived? There are signs that it undermines collectivism, for example by allowing what were once pooled risks (eg National Health Service) to become customised, and eventually fragmented (her risk is bigger than mine, so why should I cross subsidise her with my taxes). If so, is a collectivist alternative approach– i.e. collective acquisition and access, data even conceivable?

Possible implications for today’s developing countries:

Big Data could of course allow them to leapfrog the painfully slow business of building solid national statistical capacity. A bit like mobiles v landlines.

Does building their data capacity in a world ruled by outside multinationals require a data equivalent of industrial policy? Perhaps countries should protect and nurture their infant data-related industries, only opening data ‘borders’ when national capacity and competitiveness has been created: a data equivalent of the East Asian tigers. But that would seem to go against any push for data comparability.

It feels like the governance of data is going to become ever-more important as a global issue. Who owns it? When can it be bought and sold? Do we need a UN Convention on

Self explanatory, really

Access and Use of Information to try and lock in some positive norms around its usage?

I think I can guarantee that most, if not all, of this is complete nonsense, but I’d be interested to hear if anything resonates with data people

Next up: how could political institutions emerge that govern for future generations?

Update: Alan Hudson recommends ‘The rise of data and the death of politics‘, an excellent example of big data as dystopia, by Evgeny Morozov

What can Islam teach secular NGOs about conflict resolution? (and human development, climate change, gender rights…..)

22 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Lucy Moore, a policy adviser at Islamic Relief Worldwide came to talk to Oxfam staff last week. We used the ‘in conversation’ format, along the lines of my recent chat with Jamie Love, which seems to work better than the standard powerpoint + Q&A.

Islamic Relief has some really interesting publications on Islamic approaches to human development, gender and development, and in Lucy’s case, ‘conflict transformation’ (which I think means making it better, rather than worse…). She came to Oxfam to present Working in Conflict: A Faith Based Toolkit for Islamic Relief, and its shorter ‘Introduction for external agencies’ (7 pages + 3 page glossary of Islamic terms – v handy).

Lucy’s work points up some of the benefits of working within a faith perspective (most of these apply to other religions just as much as Islam):

Legitimacy: research by the World Bank and others consistently underlines the importance of their faith in poor people’s lives, and that they trust their religious institutions far more than they trust governments, NGOs or anyone else. But if your approach is secular, legalistic, evidence-based and rationalist (all good things, right?), don’t expect it to resonate – it will sound alien to the lives of an awful lot of the people you are trying to help. Take this quote from IR’s work in Yemen:

‘While the trainer was making reference to the UN and international human rights, a participant responded by saying that Islam addressed human rights 1400 years ago… Another participant stood up and said they (the trainees) would not believe or trust any book or material not related to Islamic concepts.’

Collective v Individual: Faith-based approaches often emphasize the importance of the collectivity – community, family etc, over the individual. There are problems with this approach (I’ll come to those), but with regards to some areas like resolving conflicts or climate change (stewardship – the duty this generation owes to future generations), I suspect collective approaches are more likely to work. Discuss.

The importance of ritual: ‘Rituals play an important part in conflict resolution’ – secular agencies often underestimate the importance of ritual in the people’s lives. Not so, faith groups.

Restorative rather than retributive justice: Lucy’s paper states that Islamic theology is very clear that ‘reconciliation and restorative justice is preferable’ to retribution and that wrongdoing creates obligations to ‘make things right’. Shame not everyone is listening – this seems a world away from some of the punishments meted out in the name of Islam.

On obligation to take action on injustice (and not just speak or think about it): According to a well-known Hadith (saying or tradition of the Prophet): “Whosoever of you sees an injustice, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.” And I don’t think ‘with his hand’ includes clicktivism……

Lucy’s advice to secular NGOs wishing to work with faith groups was a) don’t start pretending you’re a theologian; engage with faith leaders instead and b) treat them as ‘architects’ not just ‘gatekeepers’ (when I asked staff in DRC if we worked with faith groups they said ‘sure, we get the priests to distribute our leaflets’. Oops)

So much for the positives, but there were (unsurprisingly) some pretty big concerns.

Firstly, IR seems to understand social capital better than power. The emphasis on community and family is fine when power is equally distributed, but what if the community victimizes some of its members, or husbands abuse wives, or parents beat up their children? The introduction for external agencies was particularly feeble on gender: ‘while social norms do typically exclude [women and youth] from decision-making processes, it is important to be aware that they are likely to be marginalised from the decision making process, while simultaneously utilising alternative avenues of influence and communication.’ Sorry, but I don’t buy this, if it’s saying that backchannels (conversations over the dinner table?) are a substitute for explicit power over decisions.

Secondly, while IR emphasizes the importance of ‘faith literacy’ and paints a remarkably positive picture of Islam, the dissonance with what I see on the news is vast. Even allowing for the bias of Western media, I see few signs of a search for harmony and restorative justice in the Muslim world right now, which seems to be home to a disproportionate number of the world’s conflicts.

But (to end on a positive), another striking aspect of Islam is its willingness to evolve according to changing contexts, and to incorporate local customary law (provided it doesn’t contradict fundamental principles). That at least bodes well for IR’s effort to blend the legitimacy and social roots provided by faith, with the search for empowerment and human development. And respect to Lucy for a) braving a bunch of rights-based headbangers, and b) giving a lunchtime talk in the middle of Ramadan (though I did ask people not to bring sandwiches…..)

I also have a feeling she might want the last word on this topic – over to her (and everyone else)

Links I liked

21 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Highlights from last week’s tweets (and more displacement activity for Monday morning). Follow @fp2p if you want the rest, including lots more serious development type stuff

Last Monday was Bastille day. Time for a makeover….. [h/t Stephen Brown]

It was a good week for America’s comedians, (well Johns Stewart and Oliver anyway, best to forget Bill Maher). They both excel in brilliant satire/commentary on the toughest of topics. John Stewart took the soft option out and covered Gaza…….. English exile John Oliver took on income inequality and Uganda’s treatment of gays and lesbians (including US complicity in stoking up the hatred).

While we’re on gay rights in Africa (or lack of them), ODI’s Kevin Watkins had an excellent piece in Huffpo on the role of outsiders, aid donors etc (Engagement better than conditionality, he reckons).

Lots of UK political news last week:
Wondering why Britain’s Tory Party is sticking to its promises and keeping aid at 0.7% of national income, while slashing everything else? I think there’s a clue in Project Umubano, the party’s volunteer project in Rwanda & Burundi, now sending out a team for the 8th year in succession. Reminds me of Nicaraguan Sandalistas back in the day…..

DFID is to face a full judicial review over its alleged funding of rights abuses and relocation in Ethiopia (DFID denies it).

In the week when the former schools minister lost his job, pupils at Barrowford Primary School leavers got a lovely letter about their exam results. The authors admit it’s not original. Who cares?

Shameless self plug for the new Global Policy ebook on the Future of Aid, put together by Andy Sumner at Kings College – pieces from lots of interesting thinkers. And me.

Those funky tech types at DFID have put together the world’s first Instagram documentary (on FGM and early marriage). Suitable topics for John Oliver’s in tray?)


What’s the best way to measure empowerment?

18 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) used to send me into a coma, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get sucked in. After all, who doesn’t want to know more about the impact of what we do all day?

So I picked up the latest issue of Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal (GAD), on MEL in gender rights work, with a shameful degree of interest.

Two pieces stood out. The first, a reflection on Oxfam’s attempts to measure women’s empowerment, had some headline findings that ‘women participants in the project were more likely to have the opportunity and feel able to influence affairs in their community. In contrast, none of the reviews found clear evidence of women’s increased involvement in key aspects of household decision-making.’ So changing what goes on within the household is the toughest nut to crack? Sounds about right.

But (with apologies to Oxfam colleagues), I was even more interested in an article by Jane Carter and 9 (yes, nine) co-authors, looking at 3 Swiss-funded women’s empowerment projects (Nepal, Bangladesh and Kosovo). They explored the tensions between the kinds of MEL preferred by donors (broadly, generating lots of numbers) and alternative ways to measure what has been going on.

The start by breaking down the fuzzword ‘empowerment’, into the ‘four powers’ (power within; power with; power to and power over) model best known from my Oxfam colleague Jo Rowlands’ 1997 book ‘Questioning Empowerment’ (although she claims not to have invented it) and used by everyone ever since.

When you disaggregate power in this way, you come up with an interesting finding:

‘[quantitative] M&E can capture some evidence of increased ‘power-to’ in numbers of people trained in a skill or knowledge, or able to market their products in a new way, or mobile phones distributed to enable women traders to share knowledge. However, ‘power-within’ is a realm of empowerment which does not directly lend itself to being captured by quantitative M&E methods.’

What’s more, while obviously women worry a good deal about income and putting food on the table, soft data (eg on feelings and perceptions) best collected by qualitative methods such as in depth interviews:

‘Appear to be what the women value most in [these] projects. While this is probably a very obvious point for feminists working with women, it is noteworthy for practitioners who tend to focus on supporting ‘power-to’ through provision of material resources and other tangible changes.’

That certainly chimes with what I found when talking to women in Community Protection Committees in the DRC last month – the biggest personal impact of their participation was the palpable sense of pride and self esteem that came from learning about their rights and how to exercise them, and then passing that knowledge on to their neighbours. Hard (though not impossible) to put a number on that. Listen to this interviewee from Bangladesh:

‘Before taking part in the project, I was not allowed to visit places outside my house. This all changed after I joined the producers’ group. My income and communication skills increased and improved. Due to the income and awareness, my husband allows me to attend different meetings of the producers’ group, village and district levels. Due to my involvement in the producers’ group, other producers encouraged me to run for a local government election as member in Union Parisad [UP – lowest tier of local government in Bangladesh]. I was motivated to try and finally was successful in winning the election. From a simple housewife, I am now an elected member of the UP.’

That last quote highlights another plus of qualitative methods – they really help communicate project impact (as do numbers, of course – maybe for different audiences). But Carter & co. want to move on from a crude ‘quant v qual’ dichotomy. They argue that quant and qual methods complement each other – and mixed methods can actually be the best way to tackle both the “did change happen” questions, as well as the why. For example, ‘Research methods associated with collecting qualitative data often actually reveal unexpected quantitative data, including changes in children’s school attendance, better nutrition, and so on.’

And how you do qualitative research matters. Yes, lots of qualitative research is pretty slapdash, but beware the temptation to ‘professionalize’ it and send for Rigorous Qual Consultants Inc: ‘If qualitative information is collected by an external agency with a clear, pre-determined mandate, there is the risk that much potentially interesting information is ignored as irrelevant to the task in hand, and not transmitted to the project staff.’ So NGOs may be better advised to build staff skills in qualitative research, rather than outsourcing.

In the end, they argue, ‘the best way to measure empowerment is to ask those directly concerned’. But it’s not quite as simple as that. Sure, it would be perverse in the extreme if we tried to measure empowerment by ignoring the nuance of voice and lived experience of those involved in order to generate another dry statistic. But equally, you just can’t rock up in a village and ask do you feel empowered?’ and expect to get a useful result.

There are clearly difficulties with putting all this into practice, namely that ‘‘value for money’ seems to require quantifiable facts’. But the authors think that’s no excuse. ‘Nevertheless we wonder if better communication on the part of development professionals about the worth of qualitative evidence in demonstrating value could mitigate this demand.’

Excellent piece, and if you’re not already signed up to either the journal or its twitter feed (@GaDjournal), why not?

And here’s a blog introducing the GAD issue from one of the contributing authors, Kimberly Bowman

A seismic shift in improving the behaviour of large companies? Guest post from Phil Bloomer

17 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

My former boss, Phil Bloomer is now running the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (check out its smart new multilingual website). Here he sees some signs of hope that the debate on corporate responsibility is moving beyond trench warfare over voluntary v regulatory approaches. Fingers crossed.

‘Mind the gap’ is a refrain that any visitor to London’s Underground trains will have had drilled into their brains. In development and human rights, one of the most controversial issues is how to deal with the dangerous governance gap that has opened up between the powerful globalising forces in our economies, often led by large companies, and the often weak capacity of societies to cope with the problems and damage these forces can create.

A fortnight ago came a seismic shift in this debate. The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create an international binding treaty for transnational corporations. This comes three years after the adoption, by consensus, of the more voluntary, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Most observers put this major tremor down to rising frustration at the apparent glacial pace of implementation of the Guiding Principles by governments (only the UK, Netherlands and Denmark have so far agreed National Action Plans), and few companies are stepping up. The age-old, and sometimes theological, divisions between opposing panaceas of state-regulation v voluntary codes, may be returning.

But there is also a positive difference in the debate at this juncture: there are many voices that believe that a smart mix of regulatory and voluntary approaches are essential to the progress we need in business’ contribution to human rights, development, and sustainability. Perhaps the Guiding Principles and the binding treaty approaches might be complementary?

John Ruggie, author of the UN Guiding Principles, in a response this week, is deeply concerned that a blanket international treaty is impractical and a distraction. But he views “international law as a tool for collective problem solving” and calls for “precision tools” in international law focused on specific governance gaps. He also highlights the inconsistency of opponents of advances in international law:  “if national law and domestic courts suffice, then why do TNCs not rely on them to resolve investment disputes with states? Why is binding international arbitration necessary, enabled by 3,000 bilateral investment treaties?”

Equally, one European government official admitted recently, under Chatham House rules, that it is using the threat of a binding treaty to demand more decisive action on the Guiding Principles by fellow governments.

Peter Frankental of Amnesty International has said ‘we should not be afraid to frighten the horses” regarding a treaty, and that we need a “far-reaching debate on the kind of binding mechanisms that are necessary to ensure companies operate to acceptable standards and the different pathways towards achieving this”.

But there are also voices of polarisation: one of them, described in a recent report by Misereor and Brot fur die Welt, is the business associations that lobby the United Nations intensely. The report highlights the “influence that corporate actors exert and their ability – in cooperation with some powerful UN member states – to prevent international binding rules for TNCs at the UN and, instead, promote legally non-binding, ‘voluntary’ approaches such as CSR and multi-stakeholder initiatives.” Equally Richard Howitt MEP, the CSR rapporteur for the European Parliament, recently expressed his frustration at business associations’ lobby power in Europe to delay and, at times, derail even innocuous regulation for ‘non-financial reporting’ by companies regarding their environmental and social impact. Though, happily, this advance in basic transparency, was finally passed in April this year, after 15 years of debate.

It is perhaps this blanket opposition to a blend of regulatory and voluntary approaches to human rights in business that is most damaging to advances in business contributing to human rights and development. A number of business leaders, led by the likes of Paul Polman of Unilever, accept that there is a dangerous governance gap. In contradiction to some business associations, they are beginning to speak out in favour of appropriate regulation, as they want a more level playing field in social and environmental standards which will cut out the cowboys, and provide a benefit to responsible companies, and to the societies they operate in.

It is this governance gap that the proponents of both the UN Guiding Principles, and the binding treaty seek to address. While a robust debate is necessary, cooperation and complementarity between them is likely to do far more for the victims of abuse in supply chains than sterile dispute and competition.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. Twitter: @pbloomer

How Change Happens: Supporting tribal people to claim their rights to India’s forests

16 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Next up in the series of case studies in promoting ‘active citizenship’ is Oxfam India’s work in an impossible-to-spell new state. All comments welcome, full case study here [P&C case study. v2 12 June 14]

India’s new and heavily forested state of Chhattisgarh is home to some of its most marginalized communities, whose traditional ways of living from forest products are under threat from encroachment by mining and other ‘development’. Oxfam India has supported a local NGO to help forest communities take advantage of the implementation gap between this reality and the provisions of progressive legislation. Early results are encouraging, with dozens of villages winning new forest and grazing rights under the Act.

Forests are critical to tribal people’s lives and livelihoods. They provide jobs and income through the collection of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), such as Tendu leaves (Diospyros melanoxylon), used for making Indian cigarettes (beedi). People consume NTFPs or sell them to government-promoted co-operatives and societies, as well as private traders.

But the use of forest land by tribals is a perennial source of conflict, with their legal rights often ignored by government officials, producing a situation of insecurity and eviction, as mining and industry has encroached on the forest.

However, this process of economic marginalization has prompted a political reaction. The “Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 marks one recent effort by the Indian government to correct historical discrimination. The result of decades of struggle by tribals and their allies, the FRA assures their rights over forests and other traditionally accessed natural resources around tribal habitations.

Although there are several tiers of administration involved in implementing the Act, the key level is the Gram Sabha, or village assembly. The Gram Sabha is in charge of receiving and verifying claims under the Act, and appoints the statutory 10-15 person Forest Rights Committee (FRC) containing at least 1/3 women, and 2/3 from Scheduled Tribes.

Legislation is one thing; implementation (especially in India) is entirely another. When the local partner started work, communities and officials alike were largely oblivious to the FRA, and unsurprisingly, there were few efforts to implement it.

Theory of Change

The position of different players on community forest rights stems from a complex interplay of incentives and motives within the different levels of the state and beyond. Those supporting community forest rights for tribals include (unsurprisingly) the tribals themselves, and their civil society allies, but also District and village level officials and those specifically tasked with defending tribal communities, such as the Principal Secretary, Tribal Development.

Other parts of the state machinery are, however, more hostile. The powerful Forest Department sees the FRA as undermining its control and tries to avoid cooperating with those, even state officials, charged with implementing the Act.

According to the local partner, although some local media and individual journalists are sympathetic, most other potential stakeholders are largely uninterested in (or hostile to) the community forest struggle. Faith organizations, especially mission services, are broadly indifferent unless disputes affect their own service delivery in areas such as health and education. The police and judiciary only react when a law and order issue arises, which has so far been avoided.

The private sector is largely present in the area in the form of private traders, seen by tribals and CSOs as highly exploitative and often linked to the ruling political party. Large mining companies, such as Adani Mining, have preferred to keep a low profile, although this may of course hide ‘closed door’ lobbying activities.

The widening gulf between a harsh economic reality and potentially progressive legislation created both an implementation gap and an opportunity. Led by an Adivasi grassroots activist, Oxfam’s local partner, Chaupal Grameen Vikas Prashikshan Evum Shodh Sansthan (Chaupal) is a combination of four people’s organizations, founded in 2005. All four organizations are predominantly tribal people’s organizations, with a a large proportion of their membership from tribal communities. They came together through their work on another popular initiative – the Right to Food campaign.

Chaupal’s work at state level has been a fairly typical NGO combination of coalition-building, brokering links with local and national officials, and information dissemination.

In January 2013, as a first step, Chaupal worked with village communities to make a traditional map of their village and forest area on the ground, which was later mapped on paper. Everything was marked out, including canals, schools, trees, rivers etc. Livelihoods dependent on natural resources and all NTFPs along with average quantities harvested were recorded, along with the usage of medicinal herbs, tubers and the types of flora and fauna found in the region. This map was sanctioned and signed by all village members, FRC members, Gram Panchayat members and even people from neighbouring villages.

Parallel to the process of filing claims at the village level, Chaupal had a critical role in advocating with the district level government officials like the Collector (the senior government official) and the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), making them aware of the content of the Act and convincing them of the importance of implementing it.

With support from other donors in addition to Oxfam, Chaupal filed a total of 40 CFR claims. The results so far have been encouraging. On 7th Sept 2013, 34 villages got their NTFP and grazing rights as part of the CFR claims. These were distributed in person by the Chief Minister, Mr. Raman Singh. But although this success was historic, it is by no means complete. In particular, the state seems more willing to recognize individual rights than community rights, which are needed to protect the land from proposed diversion for mining and other non-forest purposes.

But even partial victory was a novel experience for many of India’s tribal communities, and the process by which it was achieved was as important as the immediate gains.

Wider Lessons
Although the Community Forestry Rights Project’s combination of extreme social exclusion, grassroots mobilisation and judicial activism is quintessentially Indian, it provides wider insights about the ability of NGOs and other outsiders to catalyse change.

  • It is essential to have a partner that can bridge the divide, with roots in the tribal communities, and connections in the relevant decision-making bodies.
  • Implementation gaps offer particularly productive areas for advocacy and organization – since the state has already agreed to the principle (in this case of community forest rights), the battle to persuade it to take action is already half won.
  • It is vital to understand the incentives and motivations of officials at different levels of the state. That enables change-makers to identify and build alliances with champions, and weaken opposition.
  • Nothing inspires and empowers more than success: Chaupal has broken the myth that the state government is unwilling to provide CFR title due to pressure of forest, mining and industry lobby.
  • Communities with little literacy and connection to the outside world have shown themselves able to engage and successfully mobilise in procedure-intensive claim processes. They can organise at village level and negotiate with the state.

To read or comment on previously blogged case studies in this series, go to Campaigning on the US Deepwater Horizon oilspillChanging hearts and minds on Violence Against Women in South Asia, promoting Women’s Leadership in Pakistan and NepalLabour Rights in Indonesia, and Community Protection Committees in DRC


Good? Bad? Ugly? Two years in, how’s Jim Kim doing as World Bank boss?

15 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Nicolas Mombrial, head of the Oxfam’s Washington office, does his cup half full/empty thing on Jim Kim’s first two years in office

This month, Jim Kim celebrated his second anniversary at the head of the World Bank Group (WBG). After his first year, I concluded “pretty good so far but the jury is still out”. Has anything changed since then? Well, Jim Kim has said a lot of good things this year but the effects still remain to be seen, mainly because the agenda has been over-dominated by the Bank’s big internal reorganization. The main difference is that Jim Kim has been confronted with a big scandal around the IFC’s investments in Honduras. More on that later…

Last year I concluded “success or failure will hinge on whether Jim Kim can mobilize the institution and its shareholders behind the vision”. The shareholders are definitely now on board. As for the institution, it is not yet so clear (although he will have the full support of the newly appointed Directors). I also can’t honestly say what the impact of the reorganization will be (fingers crossed). I am just happy that we can now get back to talking about policy and impact on poverty. 2 years has been a long time.

So let’s talk about policy. As last year, Jim Kim has said some remarkable things and has continued to lay down a more progressive agenda.

It may be the first time that we see a President of the  WBG acting as an activist, challenging people to unite around a movement to end poverty, raising the need to address gender issues, speaking against anti-gay laws and against  discrimination of all kinds. But not all the picture is that rosy: under Jim Kim the number of women in management position has fallen by about 25% and as our colleagues from Human Rights Watch have said, progress on human rights still need to be institutionalized.

On inequality, while we criticized the Bank’s lack of ambition, we recognized that its new goal on “shared prosperity” – Bank-speak for inequality- was already a success. This year, Jim Kim has continued to raise the imperative to fight inequality making it crystal clear to any doubters that it is the end of a WBG that thinks that it is enough to focus on growth alone. However, the Bank still risks missing the real picture in terms of extreme income inequality and a big part of the problem (political capture) as long as it refuses to look at the top 10% as well as the bottom 40%.

It also needs to say what it is actually going to do to reduce inequality. Answers will apparently come at the Annual Meetings in October. I am curious to see if they are now going to evaluate all their projects with an equity angle (including what the IFC does), to talk about things they have been silent on lately like tax, or if they will just repackage some old policy wine in some shiny new bottles.

Jim Kim continues to be a powerful advocate for the role of health in ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality. He added this year a strong new argument: the positive impact health can have on growth. Kim went a step further on user fees, accepting that the Bank was excessively ideological on this issue in the past. The Bank has also been pushing Universal Health Coverage on the global stage, developing a framework with the WHO to measure it. But we have not yet seen how this is going to change the WBG’s work. Does it mean that the WBG is going to review all projects –including the IFC’s – to make sure they focus on equity and we do not end up with another Lesotho health PPP; that it will support governments to develop publicly provided health care and to abolish user fees; and that it is going to stop supporting private health insurances that do not benefit the poorest? If so, we will truly have cause to celebrate.

The WBG is more than ever putting its weight behind the efforts to combat climate change, making the economic and social arguments that it has far reaching development benefits for everyone. But once again, it remains to be seen how Kim can transform his speeches into action. Is he going to ensure that WBG programs are more climate sensitive by supporting a specific safeguard on climate change? Or push for funding for renewable energy to dramatically increase as it could not only be better for climate change but, maybe even more importantly, better for providing poor people with access to energy? The WBG in 2013 invested 38% of its energy lending in fossil fuels and 24 % in renewables. These numbers need to change.

In the middle of these promising noises, a big stain spoiled Jim Kim’s second year in office: the scandal around the IFC investment in Corporacion Dinant in Honduras, which will go down in history as one of the very few cases where the WBG Board stood unanimously against management. While Jim Kim inexplicably signed on the initial appalling IFC answer that basically refused to recognize mistake, under pressure from CSOs and his Board, he promised that the findings of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) would be listened to and pushed the IFC for a better response.

But that is not enough. Though an extreme example, Dinant is not an isolated case. Other IFC investments such as Tata Mundra, Agrokasa, Dragon Capital;  the CAO report conclusions on Dinant, or the WBG’s own staff survey demonstrate that Dinant is the consequence of deeper cultural/systemic problems at the IFC (including risk categorization, project selection, inadequate weight given to social and environmental standards, and staff incentives). To this, Jim Kim has not given a proper answer. There has been an IFC ‘lessons learned’ paper but it is insufficient. Jim Kim needs to do more than find solutions to cases as they arise; he needs to give a strong political signal–as Zoellick did after the Wilmar case – by urging the IFC to come up with concrete, time bound proposals to address its  cultural and systemic problems. That is the only way he can ensure the IFC gets behind his grand vision.

So all in all, a good second year, but the jury is still out (and two years is a long time to reach a verdict – the judge may soon declare a mistrial). Let’s hope that by the time of JYK’s third anniversary, the World Bank Group will be firmly on the right side of history.

Links I liked

14 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Highlights from last week’s tweets (and more displacement activity for Monday morning). Follow @fp2p if you want the rest, including lots more serious development type stuff

Twitter loves snark – the ‘4th law of thermodynamics’ got by far the most (in fact, an order of magnitude more) retweets last week. [h/t Conrad Hackett]

Is humour a better mobilizer than pity? The rise of aid satire (I blame the Norwegians) [h/t WhyDev]

50 top books by African women

Why is accusing someone of doing something ‘like a girl’ an insult? Inspiring, viral (33m hits) video. Does it matter that it’s linked to product promotion?

Getting action on Climate Change will need a combination of shocks, readiness and narratives, but so far we have only had the shocks. Great piece from Alex Evans

How to shine in Meetings continued [h/t Paul O’Brien]. (Please add to last week’s list)

MSF issued a highly critical report on the state of humanitarianism. Here’s a review of aid workers’ mixed reactions. Oxfam’s Jane Cocking responds here

This could make a really annoying ringtone: Hear the Oldest Song in the World: A Sumerian Hymn Written 3,400 Years Ago.

Two breakneck tours of Britain’s regional accents: this one’s fun, but this one is more accurate [h/t Alan Beattie]

Misheard song lyrics. Let’s ruin some of your favourite songs [h/t Leah Kreitzman]

Some Friday Feelgood: Why campaigners should take heart from Anthony Trollope, the Overton Window and Madiba

11 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

“Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable;–and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.”

“It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, “to have taken the first great step in making it.”

“The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr. Monk,–”taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”

— Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn, 1868 (see left, peak beard definitely a Victorian thing)

So take heart all you ‘revolutionary demagogues’ demanding action on climate change, reining in the finance sector, redistribution, planetary boundaries, the care economy, limits to growth, international taxation, open data, or rights for any number of excluded/oppressed groups.

The Overton window, by the way, is a political theory that describes as a narrow “window” the range of ideas the public will accept. On this theory, an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window rather than on politicians’ individual preferences. It is named for its originator, Joseph P. Overton. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

Nelson Mandela put it rather more succinctly:

Why ‘political economy analysis’ has lost the plot, and we need to get back to power and politics

10 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Adrian Leftwich (right), a much-loved guru of the ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ (TWP) movement, died in April 2013. But in testament to his importance (and the slow grind of academic publishing), his last paper only came out last month, and it is an important one.

Written with David Hudson of UCL (and universally referred to as the ‘Hudwich paper’), From Political Economy to Political Analysis critiques the way TWP has evolved. In a nutshell, it fears that it has succumbed to two temptations – trying too hard to look like economics, and succumbing to pressure to turn itself into a toolkit. Time to get back to power and politics.

I loved the paper for two main reaons: it nails the origins of my disquiet at the way that in polite society, we often say ‘political economy’ when we actually mean politics, and it puts human agency back in to what can sometimes seem like a defeatist exercise (political economist = someone who comes and explains why your project has failed). Some highlights:

‘Political economy has thus now virtually become a shorthand term for the emerging consensus that it is not only technical, administrative or managerial factors that explain poor development performance. The way in which political and economic processes interact is also critical in promoting or frustrating developmental processes.

There have been three broad phases – or ‘generations’ – of political economy work:

The ‘first generation’, in the 1990s, mainly addressed issues of ‘governance’ (and especially the reasons for the absence of ‘good governance’), but largely from a technical, administrative, managerial, capacity-building and, subsequently, public sector management perspective. Work in this tradition continues.

The ‘second generation’ is best typified by DFID’s Drivers of Change, Sida’s Power Analysis, and the Dutch SGACA work (Strategic Governance and Corruption Analysis). Importantly, these approaches and the many studies they generated made a huge contribution. They ‘brought politics back in’, with a greater emphasis on historical, structural, institutional and political elements that shaped the context within which actors worked.

The ‘third generation’, often combining elements from the previous two, has come to be strongly influenced by assump­tions, concepts and methods drawn from economics. It emphasises the way in which institutional incentives shape behaviour to produce positive or dysfunctional developmental outcomes. In short, political economy has come to be the economics of politics, and less about political analysis.’

But the latest twists have some serious limitations:

‘The key analytical concepts are seldom well-defined, carefully differentiated or usefully disaggregated. Among these we include institutions, structure, agency, ideas, contingency and – above all – power. The way they are used tends to provide for lumpy, one-dimensional analysis. It does not allow analysts or policy makers to reach the detailed inner politics that shapes or frustrates change.

The explanatory core of third generation political economy has increasingly come to focus on how interests, incentives and institutions shape and explain both how agents behave and the political processes and practices that affect development outcomes.

The net effect has been to transform the analysis of politics into the economics of politics. And, by effectively reducing politics to a form of ‘market’, much recent political economy misses what is distinctively political about politics – power, interests, agency, ideas, building coalitions and the impact of contingency.

Political analysis on the other hand takes politics, power and agency much more seriously. Unlike second and third generation political economy, political analysis enables one to dig down to the level of messy, everyday politics.
This is where there are competing ideas, interests, values and preferences; where specific groups and interests struggle over the control, production, use and distribution of resources; where conflict is negotiated; where bargains are struck; and where formal and informal political settlements, alliances and coalitions are made and broken. Here politics collapses and violent conflict can break out; institutions are contested, shaped, implemented, avoided, undermined or amended; contingency, critical junctures and windows of opportunity disturb old patterns or open up new possibilities and – crucially – here the different players use different sources, forms, expressions and degrees of both de jure and de facto power.

There is now a growing realisation that we need to refocus not simply on ‘big structures’ but also on actors – in short, agency, defined as the ability of individuals, organisations and groups of collective actors to consciously deliberate and act strategically to realise their intentions, whether developmental or not. But, whether individual or collective, agents do not work politically in a limitless, structureless and institution-free plane of open possibilities.

The structural and institutional contexts of power – formal and informal, local and external – always and everywhere consti­tute constraints. However, while structures and institutions are constraints, they are not destiny. People, groups, organisations and coalitions do not move in unison, like reeds in the wind, to a change of incentives.

Structures and institutions provide opportunities and resources that agents can use – and hence also provide room for manoeuvre. The point is that structures and institutions of power not only constrain political actors, but can also provide the resources which they, as agents, can find and use to initiate or bring about change.

Political analysis does not ignore interests, incentives or institutions, but goes further and deeper. It differentiates and disag­gregates interests, ideas, incentives and institutions, and also has the analysis of power (and the sources and forms of power) at its core.

Political analysis focuses on how the structures and institutions of power shape how agents behave, and how they do or can strategise, frame, generate, use, mobilise and organise power and institutions to bring about domestically owned deliberation and appropriate change in the politics of development.

Ultimately, if you wish to defeat poverty, prepare to address the power and the politics that keeps people poor. That is why political analysis matters.’

If you want to understand what TWP is all about, the full 108 page paper is a great place to start.

From ‘baby-making machines’ to active citizens: how women are getting organized in Nepal (case study for comments)

9 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Next up in this series of case studies in Active Citizenship is some inspiring work on women’s empowerment in Nepal. I would welcome comments on the full study: Raising Her Voice Nepal final draft 4 July

‘I was just a baby making machine’; ‘Before the project, I only ever spoke to animals and children’; ‘This is the first time I have been called by my own name.’ [Quotes from women interviewed by study tour, March 2011]

While gender inequality remains extreme in Nepal, Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme on women’s empowerment is contributing to and reinforcing an ongoing long-term shift in gender norms, driven by a combination of urbanization, migration, rising literacy and access to media, all of which have combined to erode women’s traditional isolation.

During the past 20 years, Nepal has also undergone major political changes. It has moved from being an absolute monarchy to a republic, from having an authoritarian regime to a more participatory governance system, from a religious state to a secular one, and from a centralized system to a more decentralized one.

These shifts have produced some important windows of opportunity and implementation gaps on which RHV seeks to build. To do this, RHV has set up some 80 Community Discussion Classes (CDCs), bringing women together for up to 2 hours a day to share experiences, enhance their knowledge of local decision making, and build their communication, advocacy and leadership skills. Crucially, facilitators come from the communities themselves.

CDCs have become the building blocks of a remarkable exercise in grassroots empowerment. Women have seen tangible progress in their homes, communities and broader social and political roles on issues such as violence against women, political representation and the right to be heard.

Change Strategy

The change strategy in Nepal echoes RHV’s global framework (see diagram)

Personal Sphere

Although men have many informal and formal forums in which to discuss their issues, such as local tea shops or community meetings, women have previously been more isolated. Aiming to counter this, the CDCs have reached about 2,000 women through 80 classes.

CDC activities include literacy, discussions on community issues selected by the participants, and agreement on action plans to tackle shared problems. Often the facilitator introduces new information to the group, using printed material, but also role plays and debates.

Social Sphere

The CDCs have proven effective in breaking down the walls of women’s isolation. Almost all of them have started collective savings and credit schemes. Many have claimed ring-fenced, but often undisbursed village budgets for construction of community toilets and halls. Others have organized ward meetings that bring together women and men from across the community, as well as teachers, political party representatives and local government officials.

In many cases, CDCs took root slowly, identifying a few women who were relatively free to join project activities and building out from there, as they encouraged others who were either less convinced or faced greater constraints from husbands or others.

By creating an ‘enabling environment’ of women’s empowerment, rather than a specific project, RHV was able to adapt to the different context in the three project districts. In one, the focus was on addressing shared issues such as alcohol abuse, whereas in the other two, there was a stronger focus on supporting individual women through group coaching, counselling and mediation.

In addition to promoting women’s participation, the project deliberately sought to influence existing, mainly male, committee members as well as other influential local actors such as policy officers and civil servants.

Political Sphere

Work at national level highlighted poor governance, particularly at village and district levels, and its negative effects on the people, especially women. This was achieved through radio programmes, national assemblies involving over a hundred community women representatives, subsequent lobby meetings with politicians, bureaucrats, police, rights organisations etc.

In the event, RHV found that although the lobby meetings did not yield anything concrete immediately, they served as a strong morale booster for the women who came to Kathmandu (the majority of them for the first time in their lives). Many said that now that they had interacted face to face with so many senior officials and politicians, they could easily face the local level officials and politicians and would not allow them to look down on them and ignore their voice. They went back to their villages and did exactly that.

The CDCs also encouraged women’s participation in Nepal’s plethora of community organizations. RHV targeted four in particular: Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs), School Management Committees (SMCs), Sub-Health Post Management Committees (SHMCs), and Drinking Water and Sanitation User Groups (DWSUGs).

Women’s participation has grown most in committees with quotas, and evaluation finds that women members have more influence on, and are more likely to have leadership roles in, committees when they have received more training, are involved in more than one committee and are fully supported by their family.

New institutions are often more malleable and thus easier to influence than established ones, and an opportunity has arisen with the Ward Citizen Forums that are being gradually implemented under the Ministry of Local Development’s Local Governance and Community Development Programme. These are intended to facilitate participatory planning processes at village and ward levels, and also espouse accountability and transparency in local governance until local elections are held.

To some extent, CDC women leaders have also become role models for women in other communities, inspiring numerous women from villages next to RHV communities to ask for help in setting up their own CDCs.

Surprises and Dilemmas

Local political party committees and leaders soon noticed the confidence, leadership skills, and networks of RHV women and started trying to recruit them. Initially, the women were reluctant for fear that if they joined different political parties, they would lose their previous levels of solidarity and organisation, and things might fall apart.

Oxfam and its RHV partners cautiously watched and supported the CDCs, helping them analyse the manifestos of different political parties, explaining how political parties function, the electoral processes, and the pros and cons of joining political parties. This was a delicate balance between giving useful knowledge but at the same time leaving the decision up to them. So far more than 150 CDC women have joined different political parties and some of them now plan to stand in local elections.

When a project like this succeeds, it has to accept a certain loss of control. In the phrase of Robert Chambers, project managers have to ‘hand over the stick’ to poor women to take their own decisions. Empowered women come up with their own priorities and approaches, and these are sometimes uncomfortable for project organizers, as for example when women set up a number of Alcohol Control Committees, started limiting alcohol sales in the villages and imposing fines on drunkards. Some then went further and physically destroyed bars.

Feel free to comment on previous draft case studies in this series on Campaigning on the US Deepwater Horizon oilspill, Changing hearts and minds on Violence Against Women in South Asia, promoting Women’s Leadership in PakistanLabour Rights in Indonesia, and Community Protection Committees in DRC

An important breakthrough on disability, aid and development

8 juillet, 2014 - 10:02

One of the trends in aid and development in recent years has been increasing recognition of issues around disability. A lot of that is down to the activism of Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs). Here disability campaigners Mosharraf Hossain and Julia Modern update us an important breakthrough

In April we blogged on this site about the publication of the UK parliament’s International Development Select Committee report on disability and development. Last week the Committee published the official response to the report from the government. It’s a thorough and thoughtful reply to the challenges that the Committee set to the Department for International Development (DFID), and the changes that are set out have big implications for practices throughout the international development sector, particularly for organisations that DFID funds (including NGOs and multilaterals), which will find themselves increasingly being held accountable for whether they include disabled people in their work.

What does this mean for the 800 million disabled people living in the developing world? The proof will be in the implementation, but this is a giant leap forward. DFID have made a public commitment to prioritising the inclusion of disabled people, improving their own work and signalling to others that more needs to be done. In the humanitarian sector in particular the response talks about a fundamental shift, with disaggregated reporting on age and impairment of recipients a requirement in all future humanitarian proposals.

After Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in 2007 I witnessed the results of not thinking about the inclusion of disabled people in emergency responses; with thousands of people competing for limited assistance, disabled people lost out. Monitoring recipients and supporting training in disability inclusion for relief providers will help to ensure this doesn’t happen in the next disaster responses.

While DFID

haven’t accepted every recommendation made by the Committee, they have committed to an impressive series of actions:

  • Publish a disability framework by November 2014. To be developed in consultation with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and NGOs, the framework will set out DFID’s ‘commitment, approach and actions to strengthening disability in our policy, programme and international work.’
  • Strengthen DFID’s capacity to work on disability inclusion, by: appointing a senior-level managerial champion to work alongside Ministerial champion Lynne Featherstone MP; increasing the number of staff working on disability in the central policy team and creating a network of disability experts across DFID; and creating a ‘basic disability awareness module’ that will be rolled out to all staff, as well as providing more and better guidance on inclusion.
  • Push DFID’s partners towards disability inclusion, including through the World Bank’s current safeguards review; reviewing the Multilateral Aid Review process to check that it adequately monitors disability inclusion; and asking civil society organisations that DFID funds to report on disability in future annual reviews.
  • More thoroughly embedding disability in DFID internal processes, for example by including DPOs in the Ministerial disability advisory group, putting ‘specific reference to considering disability and other vulnerabilities in guidance for future country level operational plans’, and strengthening inclusion in large-scale programmes ‘through strengthened systems as well as ministerial and managerial championing’.


It is this last area, strengthening DFID’s internal processes, in which the response gives least detail, suggesting that whether the attempt to embed inclusion into DFID’s processes is successful will be decided largely by the details of the new disability framework, to be produced by November. We hope that the framework will address a few areas that remain unclear:

  • There isn’t much information in the response about how DFID’s practices will change at country level.
  • The response doesn’t fully engage with how DFID will access the expertise of Southern DPOs.
  • While DFID set out a clear commitment to support the development of better data on disability, they have not taken on board all the Committee’s recommendations about monitoring of their own programmes or other UK ODA spending.
    The investment DFID is making in global capacity to collect data on disability should be matched by setting out in November’s framework a timescale for introducing systems to collect this data in all DFID bilateral programmes. Gathering this data is the only way to properly monitor whether DFID are increasing on that 5% of bilateral aid going to programmes that consider the needs of disabled people, and is therefore an essential part of making sure the increase happens.


DFID’s response is truly promising, and shows respect and consideration to the evidence the inquiry received from disabled people and their supporters. As a trend-setter in development, we hope and expect that the promised changes will be transformative for disabled people in the developing world.


Links I liked

7 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

[for Jenny, who only ever reads these posts, never the more boring ones]

Inevitable World Cup nonsense (and sense)

Number of extra ‘O’s in ‘GOAL’ in Facebook posts, by country average [h/t Ben Phillips]. (Caution, this is based on the group stage – subject to rapid change over next few days)

The Brookings Institution on African teams’ mixed performance (& behaviour)

Best photoshop reactions to Luis Suarez getting his teeth into the opposition


Americans who say Bible is an ancient book of fables has gone up from 13% in 1976 to 21% in 2014 [h/t Conrad Hackett]

‘The American political system is overrun by money’. Inequality is not inevitable. Powerful polemic from Joe Stiglitz [h/t John Magrath]

Chris Blattman is on the money (in both senses) in this New York Times piece on the case for cash transfers in the US and everywhere else

Other stuff

How to appear smart in meetings – leap up and draw Venn diagrams; randomly say ‘could you go back a slide, please?’ [h/t Geoff Mulgan, who always seems smart]

Let’s get linear, people, here comes the Log Frame of Love (there must be a song in there somewhere)

Meanwhile, back in a small island off the French Coast…..

Politicians Beware Children: Watch one asking George Osborne “What’s 7×8?” Then enjoy his answer [h/t Ben Phillips]

Defence against backsliding? The Liberal Democrats (junior coalition partners in UK government) seek to enshrine in law a commitment for UK aid budget to be at least 0.7% of Gross National IncomeI (the UN target). It may well pass, too.

But enough of Westminster, this from the other (much more real, wonderful etc) Britain: “For my sisters across the world” 13 year old Sadia from Tower Hamlets, London. [h/t Ben Phillips]

These are some of the links I’ve tweeted over the last week – if you want the real thing, sign up on @fp2p

Is ‘thinking and working politically’ compatible with results? Should advocacy ever be done in secret? Big questions at the LSE this week.

4 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

This week I found myself on a fun panel at LSE discussing ‘can politics and evidence work together?’  with Mary Kaldor (LSE), Ros Eyben (IDS) and Steven Rood (The Asia Foundation – TAF has a really interesting partnership with LSEto study its use of theories of change). Early last year, I promised to revisit the topic after this blog hosted an epic debate on the politics of evidence between some top DFID people and (in the sceptic corner), Ros Eyben (again) and Chris Roche. Has anything changed since then?

My 15 minutes of fame are summarized in this page of speaking notes: Notes for Thinking and Working Politically LSE panel July 2014

I largely summarized previous pieces on this blog, but added some alliterative categories for some of the obstacles aid agencies face in thinking and working politically, namely:
· The Toolkit Temptation: managing large bureaucracies creates a demand for standardized and simplified procedures (indeed it’s often the first thing hard-pressed staff ask for). Difficult to shift from that to deep engagement with the local context, thinking on your feet and responding to events etc, trying multiple experiments and failing faster etc
· The Planning Preference: Similarly, big aid organizations maintaing internal coherence and external direction by agreeing (at great length) and implementing plans – strategic, operational etc. After years of thrashing out a plan, they are often understandably reluctant to begin all over again because some major event has presented a new window of opportunity
· The Data Delusion: non-scientists in particular are dazzled by numbers, even if they don’t mean much. I still remember my alarm in a meeting of Oxfam’s big cheeses when, after a discussion based on the experience and judgements of senior people with decades working in the development business, someone said ‘right, so much for the opinions – what do the data tell us?’

The other presentations and ensuing discussion (lots of sharp questions, as you’d expect at LSE) drew out some further lessons.

Ros sees actual state of discussion on evidence in DFID and elsewhere as very unreconstructed, with my preferred TWP-compatible approaches still languishing at the bottom of the ‘quality of evidence pyramid’ (see graphic from her slides)

This leads to a major ‘drunk under the streetlamp problem’ of going where the data is, rather than looking at what’s important (see cartoon, not that I’m suggesting MEL people are usually drunk)

Fear of failure is deeply rooted at field level – you can forget all that stuff about celebrating/learning from it, at least when there’s a funder in the room.

The real challenges to TWP are often ‘managerial’ – processes like staff rotation, and the kinds of people you employ.

I’ve been mulling over one issue in particular since then: Mary Kaldor was very opposed to any suggestion that TWP might involve some level of acceptance of the ‘dark arts’ – i.e. working in the shadows, persuading people to do things or talk to others in ways they would not want to become public etc. In contrast, Mary argued for transparency and openness throughout, as the only way to ensure accountability.

Which raises some pretty massive dilemmas: TWP and politics in general often moves forward by opposing forces doing deals that would rapidly collapse if exposed to the light too soon – think of just about any peace negotiation in history, or even just the Northern Ireland one. In NGO world, there’s a reason why advocacy is separate from public campaigning, with different staff, language and tactics. One is based on clear, simplified messages, the other on arm twisting and compromise.

But it must be right to be sceptical of advocacy and policy insiders singing the virtues of secrecy (it’s so easy to be coopted – there’s nothing more intoxicating for an advocacy type than to be the only NGO in the room, get the draft document before all your colleagues etc). Fundamentally, secrecy disempowers anyone who is not in the room, and that usually includes the people we are trying to help.

I wondered if the ‘policy funnel’ – a way to understand how new policies evolve from outlandish ideas to agreed policy – might need to be adapted. We need maximum openness in the early stages, eg trying to get issues onto the official agenda, but have to accept a degree of non-transparency if you get as far as negotiating deals, policies, or cash. But then whatever is agreed needs to be open to public scrutiny (so the funnel becomes more like an egg timer on its side). Mary was entirely unconvinced.

As to the main question, it didn’t feel like much has changed since last year’s FP2P wonkwar on evidence. Maybe there’s been some progress on learning how to measure what matters, rather than just what’s easy to count, and the randomista craze seems to have passed its peak and hopefully RCTs will soon settle down to become one tool among many, rather than the ‘gold standard’ for everything (remember what Keynes said on the real Gold Standard – a ‘barbarous relic‘).

So over to you – do you see progress on reconciling TWP and evidence? And how do you balance TWP and commitment to openness and transparency? Any good examples?

And here’s the rather nice slide that ended Ros’s presentation (don’t suppose Mary will thank me for the panel pic – click to expand and see why)

Which governments are doing best/worst in the fight against hunger and undernutrition?

3 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) 2013 measures political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition in 45 developing countries. It uses two types of data. Primary data comes from Expert Perception Survey’s (EPS) and provides an in-depth view of six countries in the larger dataset (Bangladesh, Malawi, Zambia, Nepal, Tanzania and India). The secondary data analyses 45 countries across 22 indicators analysing political commitment to tackle hunger and undernutrition in terms of policies, laws and spending (see diagram for how the index is constructed).

Main findings?

Economic growth has not necessarily led to increased action by governments. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are global hotspots of hunger and undernutrition, even though many countries within these regions have achieved sustained economic growth over the last decade. For example, Zambia has had a decade of rapid economic growth, yet hunger is highly prevalent and nearly half the population were undernourished during the period 2010-2012, and according to HANCI the Government’s efforts to address these are actually weakening.

Nutrition does not get as much political traction as hunger. Hunger is about empty stomachs; undernutrition is about having the wrong things in your stomach – a critical lack of nutrients in people’s diets – and/or a weakened immune system. Expert perception surveys show that hunger spending is strongly sensitive to electoral cycles, in contrast to nutrition.

For instance politicians in Tanzania anticipate that people vote on the basis of having their stomach filled, so those in power prioritise action to reduce hunger, such as investing in maize production, over efforts to address chronic undernutrition, e.g. by focussing on dietary diversity and clean water. Limited awareness by political leaders and the general public of the dire consequences of undernutrition means that it is harder to get undernutrition onto political agendas.

Perhaps because of these different political dynamics, as Lawrence Haddad points out on his blog, there is very little correlation between government action on hunger, and on nutrition.

This is the second year of the index, and once again, Guatemala is ranked number one. However competition for the top spot is heating up with Peru and Malawi making significant improvements on their political commitments.

Some low ranked countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Liberia and Myanmar, are showing clear improvements. E.g. Burundi increased agriculture spending by 5.9 per cent; enhanced people’s security of tenure over agriculture land; enhanced coverage rates of Vitamin A supplementation; increased access to water and sanitation; initiated a national nutrition policy/strategy; and strengthened safety nets.

But some countries which are already at the bottom of the HANCI ranking, including Guinea Bissau, the Yemen and Sudan are demonstrating a decline in relative commitment. These countries are increasingly getting left behind.

To view the full HANCI data and download the report visit the new HANCI website, which allows you to explore the index data in depth to analyse and compare how each country has performed.

And here’s the country rankings


One minor, nerdy beef: I wish we could standardize the year people put on their annual reports. When publishing something in 2014, some (I’m looking at you, World Development Report) slap a ‘2015’ on it, presumably to enhance its shelf life; others more sensibly say 2014; but modest/bashful/honest ones like HANCI, go with 2013 – I spent ages (well, a couple of minutes) trying to find the 2014 version. Maybe my brain was still recovering from a week’s bird-watching……..


Piketty + Ninja Puffins: A Perfect Week

2 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Spent last week on a remote Welsh island, Skokholm (if it sounds like Stockholm, I think that’s because the Vikings invaded it at some point). There was nothing to do

1. Puffin resists

except watch the achingly cute puffins arriving with beak-fulls of eels and try and dive down the burrows to their

2. Goes all Luis Suarez on gull’s eye

waiting chicks before the lurking gulls could grab them. One

3. Gull vanquished. Go puffin.

photographer in our group, Richard Coles, caught some great puffin-on-gull action (see pic sequence, click to enlarge), clearly influenced by Luis Suarez. David fought back, grabbing Goliath by the eye, and didn’t let go. Puffin wins. The pics went viral in the puffin-watching community, apparently. If you fancy it (groups of about 15, small island to yourselves, + several hundred thousand sea birds), check out the website – some slots still available in August.

But back to the day job – development and all that. When it rained, I finally sat down to read Thomas Piketty. There’s not much point in me trying to add to the mountain of handy summaries, reviews by very clever economists, online discussions, largely unconvincing takedowns by the FT etc, so here instead are some impressions from a non-economist.

It took a while to get started – I grazed til about page 200, then got increasingly hooked. It reads like a rather wonderful, scholarly seminar, with multiple digressions, cross references and reflections. A bit like Hobsbawm, but with graphs.

A more brutal anglo-saxon edit could have got it down to 400 pages, but that would have been a shame. Part of its charm is its quintessential Frenchness – an insistence on cross-disciplinarity, the importance of politics, power, institutions and social justice, and a healthy scepticism about all things British or American (see excerpt). All in all, a wonderful, and much-needed alternative narrative on globalization and inequality.

But not at all in the ranty ‘globalization ate my kids’ style that occasionally characterizes French polemics. Capital in the 21st Century is wonderfully measured and numerate, using numbers to understand the broad sweep of modern politics and distribution, the role of the state etc – a great primer. If anything, it probably should have been even longer, because it has some pretty serious blindspots – notably the implications of planetary boundaries for the future economy (climate change gets its first mention on page 567). The care economy and gender issues warrant no mention at all.

And as far as I can tell (schoolboy French only), the translation by Arthur Goldhammer is outstanding – the text is fluent, witty, full of nuance and enjoyable asides. Doesn’t read like a translation at all.

So I’ll be mining it for quotes for years. Convinced yet?

Please steal these killer facts: a crib sheet for advocacy on aid, development, inequality etc

1 juillet, 2014 - 07:30

Regular FP2P readers will be heartily sick of used to me banging on about the importance of ‘killer facts‘ in NGO advocacy and general communications. Recently, I was asked to work with some of our finest policy wonks to put together some crib sheets for Oxfam’s big cheeses, who are more than happy for me to spread the love to you lot. So here are some highlights from 8 pages of KFs, with sources (full document here: Killer fact collection, June 2014).

Development Success

Income Poverty: Worldwide, the proportion of people living in extreme income poverty (< $1.25) has more than halved, falling from 47% to 22% between 1990 and 2010. (Source: UN Millennium Progress Report 2013)

Health: Globally, the mortality rate for children (under-five deaths) fell by 41 per cent—from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990. (Source: UN). In absolute numbers, Under-five deaths have fallen from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. (Source: UNICEF)

Finance for Development

From 1990-2011, total international resource flows to developing countries grew from US$425 million to US$2.1 trillion. Much of this has been driven by rapid expansion in foreign investment in developing countries, growing remittances, and increases in lending (see graph). (Source: Development Initiatives).

Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) remains the main international resource for countries with government spending of less than PPP$500 per person per year. (Source: Development Initiatives)

Locally generated revenue: Government spending in developing countries is now US$5.9 trillion a year, over 40 times the volume of aid. (Source: Development Initiatives)


Conflict: According to the OECD, half the world’s poor live in conflict-affected or fragile states (Source: OECD DAC); by 2030 it may by two-thirds (Source: Brookings Institution).

In 2014 the world will spend $8 billion on peacekeeping (Source: UN), compared to $1,745 billion total military spending in 2012 (Source: SIPRI) (i.e. peace merits less than half of one percent of war).

‘Natural’ Disasters: The number of weather-related disasters reported has tripled in 30 years (Source: Oxfam).

For all the talk of building long-term resilience, the world spent $532 million to prepare for and prevent disasters in 2011 – and $19.4 billion to respond (so 40 times more spent on cure than on prevention). (Source: Oxfam)

Inequality and taxation

The 85 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. (Source: Oxfam). Update: Forbes using 2014 billionaires list, say it’s now down to 67 richest individuals.

More than 1.5 million lives are lost due to high income inequality in rich countries alone, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.

Governments around the world lose around £100bn a year in tax from rich individuals using tax havens. (Source: Oxfam).

Climate Change and Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuel subsidies cost over half a trillion dollars ($500 bn) globally in 2011. Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Venezuela, spend at least twice as much on fossil fuel subsidies as on public health. (Source: ODI.)

Feel free to add your own favourite Killer Facts, (with sources please) or take issue with these ones, not least because I am probably going to have to update this at regular intervals. And here’s our guide to writing your own.

And here’s another page of KFs on inequality and crises, which Ed Cairns has just sent me: The Inequality of Crisis – 1 page of key facts 25 June 2014