Saturday Morning Reading #50

Here’s your (slightly cynical) Saturday Morning Reading…
1. Making International Development Research and Assistance Work | Ken Opalo – An Africanist Perspective
I had this thought just the other day – if governments had to actively say yes to any donor project, rather than not say no, national priorities would stand a better chance of being funded as opposed to half the government working to keep donors happy. People working for donors may be surprised by how much of some governments’ activity/attention is dictated by the international community.
“Imagine for a second how different IMF or World Bank interventions would be if all their agreements with developing countries (say above a prescribed dollar amount) were subject to ratification by host-country legislatures. The process would be messy, yes (looking at you, Greece*). But I’d argue that finance ministers would get much better deals for their people — in no small part on account of greater levels of intra-elite accountability in the management of aid resources.
The irony of development research and practice is that we talk a lot about the importance of institutions, but then turn around and come up with ideas to circumvent them (and their elite membership) at every opportunity.”
This is the best one so far. Development satire always welcome.
“None of us knows how to monitor what we’re doing or – even harder – evaluate if a project achieves anything. Usually we just count up how much money we’ve spent.

The M&E guy was supposed to do it, but then he said he had tonsillitis – an obvious lie to get out of working over the holidays. I mean, his doctor note said he needed to recover on Zanzibar. As if!

So I copy-pasted the M&E plan of that agriculture project you funded last year. Everywhere the plan said “chickpea” I changed that to “child”.”
“I know there are a lot of run-on sentences. That’s because the pedants in HQ think that grammar is kudzu. Their tracked changes, once merged, were blinding. Microsoft actually ran out of colours to express them all. Even worse were the comment boxes, wherein each reviewer argued – hysterically! – that her/his input was essential enough to make you, the donor, welcome a narrative that exceeds your page limit by a good 800%.”
3, The pope v the UN: who will save the world first? | Global Development Professionals Network
Speaking of committees and sprawling documents…
“The encyclical is visionary. It is bold, uncompromising and radical, where the SDGs are staid, timid and mired in a business-as-usual mentality.”
“The SDGs are right to embrace a wide range of issues […] But they have confused thoroughness with holism, lists with patterns. It’s a mistake born of outdated thinking. The pope, by contrast, has struck at the systemic nature of the issue.”
“The SDGs frame the problems of global poverty and inequality as things that just exist, as if they have no cause. “Every country is primarily responsible for its own development outcomes,” the document insists. Apparently colonialism, slavery, resource theft, debt, structural adjustment and financial crises don’t have anything to do with it. Poverty and ecological crisis don’t just exist, they are caused – by institutions with specific interests. Unlike the SDGs, the pope dares to cast blame.”
On David Miliband and Ravi Gurumurthy’s article in Foreign Affairs on how the aid system needs to change:
“It’s kind of amazing that “be more efficient”, “stop doing things that don’t work” and “do the things that do work” are all revolutionary statements in aid. Good for them for finally pushing this.
I will push back at Miliband and Gurumurthy in one place, though. It comes down to what I see as a humanitarian blind spot: the perverse incentives they help create, and the silence on the crimes that result.”

Saturday Morning Reading #48

Here’s your Saturday Morning Reading…
1. Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
2. Violence against development | 59 minutes of development
4. If I ran the innovation zoo | Linda Raftree – Wait… What?

Saturday Morning Reading #44

Here’s your (Satur)Sunday morning reading on the Gates Foundation and the SDGs, complexity and development and how to shift the debate on taking care of ourselves as aid workers…
1. Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs | Alex Evans – Global Dashboard
The SDGs were reportedly repeatedly ridiculed at a recent Gates Foundation meeting. Alex Evans suggests that this could be due to the Foundation’s focus on apolitical service delivery, which fits well into the MDGs narrow remit. However, the SDGs are necessarily political and complex; if objections come in the form of #1 below rather than #2 this could set the Foundation against the inclusiveness of the process.
“SDG objection # 1 is that you may disagree with their breadth – in other words with the range of issues that are included (for example whether the framework should, unlike the MDGs, include climate change, inequality, or peaceful societies as headline Goals), and wish that they were focused on a smaller set of issues to do with absolute poverty.
SDG objection # 2, on the other hand, agrees with what’s included in the framework, but disagrees with how it’s communicated – either because of the verbosity of a 17 Goal, 169 target framework, or because so many of the targets are manifestly inconsistent with SMART criteria (i.e. being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).”
2. Complexity
Do you keep hearing about complexity and development and wonder what it means? Here are a couple of blog posts that may help.
a) A flowering of approaches to complexity and development? | Ian Thorpe – KM on a dollar a day
A whole range of initiatives and approaches are emerging that could be loosely grouped under the umbrella of “complexity” i.e. the idea that development is a complex adaptive process and thus top down long-term planning doesn’t really work – instead we need to be more nimble and iterative in how we respond to circumstances and push the system in the right direction rather than developing a detailed master plan for a perfectly designed future.”
These include: Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), Doing Development Differently (DDD), human centred design, Cynefin approach for knowledge management, UNICEF innovation principles. These can also be traced back the Bill Easterly’s idea of searchers rather than planners. Having a number of approaches like this makes sense from a complexity viewpoint – diverse approaches for diverse situations.
What complexity doesn’t mean: 1) We’re not condemned to to fatalism, 2) We cannot solve problems through better analysis alone, 3) We cannot progress by simply  identifying ‘missing ingredients’, 4) we should avoid creating protected incumbents that become obstacles to change, 5) the problem is not ‘lack of capacity’.
So what does it imply? Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot of what the Center for Global Development in Europe already pushes as part of the ‘beyond aid’ agenda; it’s about creating systemic change in transparency, trade, migration, media, tax, innovation and connecting ideas.
“Sustainability has been elusive in practice because the aid industry thinks too much about gaps and too little about systems. Interventions that accelerate the evolution of a successful economic and social system can be catalytic; interventions that ignore the complexity of the system and only try to fill the gaps that it leaves or imitate its consequences will work only for as long as the intervention continues.”

3. Take Care | J. – AidSpeak
“It’s interesting to note the emergence of two strands of discussion in the public space around humanitarian aid and development. One is the issue of chronic and/or traumatic stress and accompanying PTSD among humanitarian workers. […] The other is the issue of fair/ethical payment for NGO staff, most specifically entry-level staff, interns, etc.”
So what is the way forward?
“We need to assertively remove every shred of overhead from how we discuss our work, whether internally or externally. Efficiency matters, for sure. But low overhead and efficient delivery of humanitarian outcomes are not only not the same things, but they’re not even related. We have to take references to “how much of your dollar goes to beneficiaries” out of our marketing, off of our websites, and out of our conversations.”
“We need to assertively remove any doubt about the legitimacy of our own needs as humanitarian aid and development workers. As Alessandra Pigni puts it, this is not a contest to see who can suffer the most. Lots of embedded issues, here: This is a job, like any other, that we do to make a living. We are professional people with specific, identifiable skills which we employ in the course of doing our humanitarian work. Aid work is work, for which we absolutely deserve to be compensated fairly. To suggest otherwise erodes the argument that we deserve anything more than treasure in Heaven in exchange for our service.”

Saturday Morning Reading #43

Here’s your Saturday morning reading (because you need to read something that isn’t about the election). This week’s edition features the future of (beyond) aid, the data revolution, an attack on advocacy, shock tactics in NGO messaging, how to make it easier to give effectively and some answers to why the number of poor people in Africa seems to be growing despite economic growth.

1. Aid 2030 | Owen Barder – Owen abroad

What is going to happen to development cooperation up to 2030?
Group members may be especially interested in the third implication on what new skills and mind-sets are going to be needed.

“There are three big global trends which will shape the future of international development cooperation:
1. The concentration of poverty in fragile states
2. Inequality in middle income countries
3. Global and transboundary problems

And there are four implications for development policy:
1. Aid still has an important role to play.
2. If we are to meet to SDGs, we need to focus much more on the beyond aid agenda, notably the question of how we bring about effective international action to tackle shared problems.
3. We are going to need new mind-sets, new institutions, new skills, and new approaches.
4. And we are going to have to build a consensus that sees this as a shared enterprise rather than a competition.”


2. Data for Development | Project Syndicate – Jeffrey D. Sachs

Even within a developing country government, it’s currently supper difficult to get any kind of reliable data (trust me, I’ve tried many times!). Therefore, while data availability can be transformative, it has to align with the domestic political economy; It’s important that the ‘data revolution’ is not just another agenda pushed by donors without enthusiasm from governments who would rather not measure how well (or not) they are doing. At the moment, we barely know the progress of many countries against the MDGs let alone have baselines for the 169 targets that could be part of the SDGs. [rant over]

In this article, Jeff Sachs points out four main purposes for data:
1. Data for service delivery
2. Data for public management
3. Data for accountability of governments and businesses.
4. The data revolution should enable the public to know whether or not a global goal or target has actually been achieved.


3. Book Review of ‘Advocacy in Conflict’ – a big attack on politics and impact of global campaigns | Duncan Green – From Poverty to Power

From Duncan: “Advocacy in Conflict brilliantly explores the contradictory pressures on transnational advocacy: northern campaigners’ need to simplify, grab headlines and declare victory v the messy reality of achieving long term structural change in the complex social and political environments of countries wracked by conflict.”

From the book: “Our central argument is that the development of these specific forms of activism, in which advocates have shaped strategies to fit the requirements of marketing their cause to Western publics, and adapted them to score tactical successes with Western governments (especially that of the USA) has led to the weakening or even abandonment of key principles, including receptivity to the perspectives of affected people and their diverse narratives and attention to deeper, underlying causes and therefore a focus on strategic change rather than superficial victories.”


4. Up yours! Why charities keep giving us the finger | Kirsty Marrins – Guardian Voluntary Sector Network

Poverty porn is being replaced by profanity. Is this the best way to get the public’s attention or does it oversimplify too much? Could it backfire? What is the logical end point? Will UNICEF end up plastering posters with the C-word all over billboards?

“Disruptive messages won’t be for everyone but in this ever competitive market charities need to take calculated risks in order to get cut through. And it certainly seems to be working.”


5. Proponents of strategic philanthropy should provide practical help for donors | Caroline Fiennes – Stanford Social Innovation Review

We have to make it easier to make good choices about where to give money. This means producing and sharing evidence in order to nudge foundations and wealthy donors to make better decisions. Should the same approach apply to fundraising more widely?

“Our fundamental challenge is this: that social change is hard and calls for slow thinking, but most donors will only think fast. It therefore falls to us to do the work that Thaler describes: get the evidence, and make it easy.”


6. Why is the number of poor people in Africa increasing when Africa’s economies are growing? | Laurence Chandy – Brookings Institution

In summary: 1) Rapid population growth; 2) depth of poverty; 3) inequality already high (absolute increases in income at the bottom are small); 4) a mismatch between where growth is happening and where the poor are; and 5) data quality is poor so we don’t have an accurate and put to date sense of progress.

Saturday Morning Reading #41

Time for #41.

Here’s your Saturday morning reading, in which we learn how we can challenge the power of the few, make realistic promises, have nuanced stories that put the poor as the protagonists, make grand ethical theories about the shamefulness of barriers to migration and then get screwed over by Katie Hopkins.

1. How can we take on the power of the few? Three lessons from Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement in advancing a society that works for all | Ben Phillips – Global Dashboard

“Development is about power, and the biggest threat to development today is the excessive power of the few. But what can we do to take on this power? Perhaps we can learn three lessons from Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. First, we need to help make visible the hyper-concentration of power in the hands of a few, how this is impacting all that we all value in on our world, and how it doesn’t need to be this way. Second, we need the courage to set out a policy platform that really addresses the inequality of power and wealth. Third, we need an approach to how change happens that is commensurate with the scale of transformation required. 

The challenge of shifting wealth and power from the few to the many can seem so overwhelming that we can wonder if it can ever be won. But we’ve learnt from Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement that transformative campaigns can prevail, and it seems they’ve even set out for us three steps that we can take to help bring forward the time when we shall overcome.” 

P.S. It’s a mark of good writing when I can copy and paste the first line of each paragraph and it makes a coherent narrative!

2. Elephants aren’t the only ones who never forget broken promises | Maria May – 59 Minutes


(Real) honesty about what you know you can deliver can be less compelling at first, but pays dividends if you over-deliver later on.
“The leaders from Miruku told us that when they first approached communities and explained what they could offer, the farmers said that they weren’t interested in market information and cooperatives; they only wanted to do it if they would get cash or other benefits. Miruku refused, and the farmers were lukewarm during the early activities. But just a few years later, the farmers are telling us that Miruku is the best organization they work with! 

3. Protagonists and power: why the aid organization shouldn’t be at the center of the story | Stephanie Buck – Until the Lions


“Think about word choice, perspective, and the voices of the people you work with. Think about framing. Small changes can make a big difference.”
“If we see people as protagonists, we’ll include them from the beginning. And rather than trying to tack on ‘local ownership’ as an objective at the end, they’ll own the process as equal partners from the beginning. Because protagonists own their stories.”
Also from Stephanie Buck – some tools to help you tell stories that are respect integrity, retain nuance and avoid jargon.

4. Walling Ourselves Off | Jay-Ulfelder Dart-Throwing Chimp


On building walls (or keeping the sea dangerous) to keep out outsiders:
Physical or legal, these walls implicitly assign different values to the lives of the people on either side of them. According to liberalism—and to many other moral philosophies—this gradation of human life is wrong. We should not confuse the accident of our birth on the richer or safer side of those walls with a moral right to exclusively enjoy that relative wealth or safety. The intended and unintended consequences of policy change need to be considered alongside the desired end state, but they should at least be considered. The status quo is shameful.

 5. Why Katie Hopkins is so dangerous for development (journalism) | Tobias Denskus –  Aidnography

“We are stemming against a tide of opinions like Katie Hopkins’- just deny climate change, arms trade, bad corporate engagement in developing countries or continue with silly stereotypes about ‘Africa’ and post your ‘opinion’ about them. Forget about international law and the little bit of international governance that the UN system for example provides. And worst of all: Forget about empathy.
Katie Hopkins painfully reminded me of my own filter bubble – and how powerless we are when you are on a destructive mission and simply deny education, public debates, arguments and ‘evidence-based’ something with your opinion. You can find that in many other debates, but the development and humanitarian field is already quite small and under pressure to lose even the last rougher edges of civil society global social change engagement.
She has made the lives and work of development journalists, teachers, researchers and everybody who is interested in a civilized debate so much more difficult-right in time for the upcoming British general election and probably more debates about the ‘usefulness’ of development in its aftermath.” 

Saturday Morning Reading #38

Do it right then quickly
Get it right then do it fast. Image from Matt Andrews.

Here’s your Saturday morning reading featuring development consultants, learning from the bad guys and from mistakes, distortions in humanitarian assistance and doing things right before you try to do them quickly.

1. Development Consultants: Over-paid, Over-rated, and Over-used | AID LEAP

“Funders also often allow organisations to count consultants as a programme cost, while full time staff count as administrative costs. If you hire a staff member with expertise in child protection, you look inefficient and bureaucratic. If you hire a consultant at twice the cost you look dynamic and action orientated.

In the short term, I would love to see a TripAdvisor equivalent for consultants. Something where clients could rate consultants and provide feedback in an open forum. Think of it as
In the long run, however, there’s only one thing which will really make a difference. Development organisations need to stop relying on consultants and invest in their own staff.”

2. Advocacy and Lobbying: What Can We Learn from the Bad Guys? | Duncan Green – From Poverty to Power

The list: Control the ground, spin the media, engineer a following, buy in credibility, sponsor a think tank, consult your critics, neutralise the opposition, control the web, open the door and offer jobs. NGOs can’t/shouldn’t use all of these tactics but there are some that could be adapted.

3. Glorious failure: the joy of learning from your mistakes | Scott Macmillan – Global Development Professionals Network

“Despite the vogue for failure, it’s not often that nonprofits admit to it. For one thing, people are not clay pots. We need to be careful about blithely celebrating failure when their lives and wellbeing are at stake, especially when it results from programmes that were poorly designed to begin with.”

Scott discusses early failures by BRAC and how the organisation learned from these to grow in scale and success.

4. The way we give disaster aid to poor countries makes no sense | Tim Kovach – Vox

Media coverage and distance play a big role in how much assistance is given to victims of disasters.

“In the weeks after the floods, Pakistan received just $16.36 per person affected. That pales beside the $388.33 per person affected for Pakistan’s earthquake, or $1,249.80 per person affected for the Indian Ocean tsunami.”

“”To have the same chance of receiving relief, a country at the other side of the earth must have 160 times as many fatalities as a country at zero distance.” This type of neighborhood bias has clear ramifications for countries in the developing world. Compared with disasters in Europe, those occurring in Asia-Pacific and Africa garner 36 percent and 21 percent less relief aid, respectively.”

5. Political Patience, part 3 | Matt Andrews – The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development

I find this making a lot of sense in my own context in Zanzibar.

“I often find new political leadership speaking about introducing reforms that will generate something like the Malaysian ‘Big Fast Results.’ This seems to assume that they have small, slow results and the management challenge is one of scale and speed. But what if the management challenge is more severe, and the government is not producing anything at all–or the government produces things that are of poor quality (regulations that are not enforced, roads that do not last, police services that are corrupt, schools that produce poor teacher quality, clinics that fail to dispense proper health care, etc.)?”

“Political patience, on the other hand, supports a management and reform process that builds quality before it forces speed and scale (as in the figure below). This is essentially what PDIA aims to do–gradually address the problems with organizational failure, working at a rational (but fast-as-possible) pace to establish the wherewithal for an organization to function successfully. Political patience helps to support and protect this kind of process. This patience is usually built on clear and prioritized views of ‘what is important’ (where the list is not very long) and is maintained through adherence to a structured process of ‘building’ with constant feedback and learning. It is not clean or easy but it is structured.”

Saturday Morning Reading #37

Here’s your Saturday morning reading featuring sustainable development goals, volunteering, South Sudan, thinking about development as a process not a project, and farming in Uganda…

1. Sustainable Development Goals

a) The 169 commandments | The Economist

“Developing countries seem to think that the more goals there are, the more aid money they will receive. They are wrong. The SDGs are unfeasibly expensive. Meeting them would cost $2 trillion-3 trillion a year of public and private money over 15 years. That is roughly 15% of annual global savings, or 4% of world GDP. At the moment, Western governments promise to provide 0.7% of GDP in aid, and in fact stump up only about a third of that. Planning to spend many times the amount that countries fail to give today is pure fantasy.”

b) SDG Targets: Here’s How to Make Them Stronger | Charles Kenny – Center For Global Development

CGD suggest many tweaks to the SDGs draft – increasing the poverty line, lowering the required rate of economic growth and more useful indicators.

More on poverty lines and health.

2. The professionalization of development volunteering – towards a new global precariat? | Tobias Denskus – Aidnography

Great to see a political economy angle on the volunteering debate.
“An ‘experience industry’ is now linked to the regular development industry that demands more qualifications and skills while at the same time contributing to precarious quasi-employment that often masks the challenges of over-supply of young professionals and shifting dynamics in global development engagement away from the traditional ‘North-South’ flow.

I will arrange my reflections around two key points: First, the paradox that rightly demands better educated aid professionals, but not necessarily links them to equally professional work and salaries.

And second, a growing ‘volunteering industry’ that usually brings together state, civil society and academia, but that is more likely to contribute to a depoliticized ‘employability’ discourse than meaningful political engagement over development policy and practice.”

“Well-meaning teachers, academics, policy-makers and NGO staff need to critically engage beyond the ‘any money for development is better than nothing ’ argument .”

3. South Sudan: war without end | Richard Dowden – African Arguments

Depressing. It’s difficult to see the way out.

“What, I kept thinking, have the Southern Sudanese learnt from the rest of Africa’s post-independence mistakes over the last 50 years? How could South Sudan avoid the coups and bitter personal enmities that rivals tribalised to make war on each other? Who was able to stop the gross theft of state funds? Why did so many African rulers live in paranoid secrecy and total security? Above all why did those rulers lack any interest in development for their own people? I had seen it in Idi Amin’s Uganda, in Moi’s Kenya, in Mobutu’s Congo, in Abacha’s Nigeria, in Houphouet-Boigny’s Cote d’Ivoire. And here, now, in 2015, in Africa’s newest country all those criminals are being mimicked by this scarcely literate clown in a black cowboy hat.”

4. Why it’s time to stop thinking of development as a project | Stephanie Buck – Until the Lions

“Projects have a start and a finish. They have goals and objectives to meet. There should be some sort of visible result at the end. They are designed in advance, often from a distance. Their design usually struggles to adapt to different or changing realities on the ground.
Processes are fluid. They adapt to their environments. They are not seen as ends in themselves. They adjust as needed and are part of long-term, systemic change.

We know that development is hard. We know it takes time. We know that it means something different in each context and culture.

Yet international development activities continue to be funded as isolated projects. If we’re lucky, it will be a series of projects meant to build on each other. But even these often don’t get to the root challenges. The lack of coordination, and lack of focus on processes and institutions remains troubling.”

5. #FreeTheSeed and the Romanticization of Uganda’s Hunger | Francisco Toro – Campaign for Boring Development

“The prevalence of undernourishment has actually risen in Uganda, from 27.1% of the population in 1991 to 30.1% in 2013.

Nobody who has actually sat down to look at the realities of farming and food security in Uganda in detail can miss the fact that without much better farming technology able to substantially increase yields, these trends are going to continue. Techniques like shifting cultivation that made some sense two generations ago are not viable in the vastly changed social circumstances of 2015.

Improved Seed – no need for scare-quotes here guys, they really are better – when used alongside better agronomic techniques and reasonable amounts of fertilizers, have been shown to multiply smallholder yields up to sevenfold within a single season.”