Saturday Morning Reading #11

Here’s your (deep-thinking) Saturday morning reading:

1) Big bloggers asking big questions

Part 1) Is ‘the Struggle’ the Baby or the Bathwater?
Owen Barder on why “struggle” is a key part of development:
Typically aid aims in some way to diminish the struggle, or ideally to bypass it altogether. But if the struggle is necessary, at least some of the time, then we should think twice about whether and when it makes sense to try to minimize it.”

Part 2) The Aid trilemma: are complexity, scale and measurability mutually incompatible?
Duncan Green scratched his head following Owen’s post and came up with the following typology.
“You have two out of three of the following:
Able to go to scale (reaching millions of people, rather than a couple of hundred)
Compatible with complex systems (inherently unpredictable, discontinuous, shaped by local context)
Measurable and attributable (being able to say change happened and that it was due to a given intervention or action)”

2) If I ruled the world: Daniel Dennett
The philosopher touches on the ethics of educational interventions (or for that manner pretty much any intervention in another country/culture).
“We don’t own our children, and to put it bluntly, we have no right to misinform them. Billions of people in the world don’t see that yet, and would be bitterly and justifiably suspicious of any movement to teach their children new and troubling ideas, but if we can get over that shock, I think we can make some real progress.”

3) Does foreign aid really work? An updated answer.
Roger Riddell says it depends on what you mean by the question.

  • Do different aid projects meet their objectives? Yes
  • Does aid makes a lasting difference to the incomes and well-being of poor people, and helps to lift them out of poverty? Yes (with caveats)
  • Are poor country economies are better off with the aid they receive than they would be without it? We don’t know but it seems likely there negative effects to do with dependency.

“Evidence… suggests that aid focused on short-term and visible interventions is not merely resulting in less aid being used “transformationally”, but that it is adding to a recipient’s systemic problems and holding back long-term poverty reduction.

4) In defence of western journalists in Africa by Michaela Wrong
“As it is, there’s a strong element of self-congratulation to the academics’ lament. “Why, oh why, aren’t journalists just like us?” they wail. To which the answer would be: “We don’t have time, we don’t have space, and anyway, that’s why you guys exist, remember?””

5) Systemic Innovation: An Important Idea For Development?
“These are innovations that don’t focus on specific product or a process, but instead attempt to bring about change at the level of ‘whole systems’. The basic idea is that there is an urgent need to transform whole systems of human endeavour in order to meet some of the social, economic and environmental challenges we face.”

Ben follows this up with a top ten tips for systems innovators via Nesta. E.g. “Systems innovation turns on alliances” Useful stuff.

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