All posts tagged Governance

Doing Development Differently: An Interview with Matt Andrews and Leni Wild

This month we focus on Doing Development Differently (DDD), a community of development researchers and practitioners brought together in an effort to understand better flexible and locally led approaches to governance issues in developing countries. This article is based on separate conversations led by Thomas Kruiper, Head of Communications at the ReSeT´s Polis Project, with Matt Andrews at Harvard´s Center for International Development (CID) and Leni Wild at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London, who were instrumental in leading a 2014 DDD workshop and creating a DDD manifesto. Andrews´ research focuses on Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in governance and policy reform. Wild is an expert on political economy and service delivery, accountability and aid, and currently leads an ODI program on the politics of service delivery.

Having worked on governance and service delivery in a wide variety of countries for many years, Andrews and Wild know the traits of traditional development thinking. Andrews´ interest in PDIA was born from his observations from working in governance, both as a researcher and as an outsider from the World Bank, in which many reform initiatives fail to deliver sustained improvements because organisations and governments focus on what policies look like rather than what they actually do. Andrews: “You see laws being passed and money being moved for a health project, but you don´t see actual nurses being hired or drugs being moved into place.”

In traditional development, solutions tend to be placed before the problems. Wild: “A lot of aid programs still tend to come in with a set of solutions and look for local groups to implement them, rather than coming in to identify who are the local reformers, who is making change happen, and how can they be supported”. Fortunately there is a growing community of people who try new things and share their experiences.

DDD, successful development, and connectivity

The people and organisations within the DDD community turn upside-down two things: they put problems before solutions, and they put local actors before outsiders. In Wild´s view, fundamentally, successful development cooperation facilitates and supports the process of a project rather than managing or dominating it. Locally led means that those people who are already there lead the project; they are in the driving seat. They identify and address problems, and they have the strongest incentives to solve them. Outsiders can be invited to give their views and share information.

The term ´local´ should be widely interpreted. Wild: “It works at the grass-roots level, but also at central governments or in the private sector. We often tend to think of locals as community leaders but it´s much wider than that.”

This diversity was reflected in the workshop too. Andrews: “All these people have framed their agendas so as to empower people rather than telling people what to do. They´ve been doing that for a long period of time. The workshop wasn´t about getting them together and saying to them that they had to do DDD, because they were the ones that are doing it.”

The DDD community also serves as a teaching tool in showing practitioners what successful development cooperation looks like, but also how to actually do it. The fifty or so public servants that take Andrews´ course at Harvard are stimulated to engage with the organisations in the DDD community and to watch the videos they post online about their methodologies.

Problem driven, locally led, and flexible strategies are not new by any means. In policymaking and development studies, voices have long preached for community driven work and against top-down approaches and blueprints. Andrews: “My sense is that when those ideas (of Hirschmann and Brinkerhoff) were coming up they were completely overwhelmed by what I would call the more engineering mindset in development, where people thought that you build governments like you build a road. For a long period development was dominated by either engineers or by very mathematics based economists.”

Today the circumstances to get like-mind souls together are easier.  Andrews: “One of the things that we are trying to take advantage of, and why we had the workshop last year, and why we developed a manifesto, is that there is more connectivity between people.  And our hypothesis is actually that there´s more people doing development in this way than we commonly would think about.”

Connectivity also seems to be a key to success for local actors and their projects. As Wild explained on the connectedness of a local actor in a community scorecard program in Malawi: “He understood the dynamics happening at different levels and in different areas; he was able to appraised things at the local level and say: in this community, we don’t have the right people on the ground to do what we are going to do, so we need to stop working there or we have to find a different way of working”. Putting well connected actors in the driving seat is thus essential for success.

Donors and Measuring Success

For locally led and flexible approaches to gain ground, donors have to be brought aboard too. Some donors try to lock things in at the beginning and to remove flexibility later on. Andrews: “So during and after the workshop we spent a lot of time talking about: how do you buy that flexibility later on. How do you use things like logical frameworks in more flexible ways? I think that you can use exactly the same tools, just in more flexible ways.”

Andrews does not recognise the dichotomy between inflexible donors on one side and governments and NGOs on the other. Across the board, organisations struggle to create space for more flexibility, not only on the donor side.

One of these struggles has to deal with measuring success in ways that help us understand how people learn, rather than simply looking at meaningless milestones. Wild: “Often people are stuck with a particular set of project and reporting frameworks, so all of the things they are doing that are actually making a difference – the way they are adapting, learning, or navigating local relationships – don´t get reported on. We need some kind of benchmarks to know what a genuinely locally led process looks like.”

In Andrew´s view, many policy makers underestimate the difficulty of planning in developmental environments. In a controlled and developed environment, planning a project is relatively easy; you know your objectives and you know how to fulfill and measure them. DDD practitioners know that the reality looks different: “The problem is that if development looks like going from St. Louis to the west coast in 1803, it´s a different strategy. You don´t have any roads, you don´t know where the west coast is, and you don´t know where your milestones are going to be. And if you were to lay a 2013 map onto a team and say: “Go to Albuquerque”, they would say “where´s Albuquerque?” And then on the first day, they would find out that the road to Albuquerque doesn´t exist. So you want them to be learning step by step how to get to the west-coast. So you want to be saying: “OK, when you said you were going to get to Albuquerque, what were the assumptions that you made, and what did you learn about your assumptions? What step did you take? What capacities did you build as you were moving on?” Those things are as important (or maybe more important) than the question: Did you spend the money?”

DDD in 2015

2015 is an interesting year for the development sector, in which the world awaits a new set of global commitments. Although the CID and ODI by no means have a political agenda related to the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals, the DDD community does realise that ideas need to be cultivated, marketed, and taught. Each organisation has to look at itself and contribute to change in its own way. The website and the manifesto just help facilitate it. Wild: “We don´t want to be sitting here in 2030 or 2040 saying: Don’t we need to do things differently?”

The manifesto currently has a community of over 400 signatories from 60 countries, with more organisations (Including ReSeT and its Polis Project) joining every week. Besides people meeting in small groups, the CID and ODI frequently organise events and publish research on DDD approaches to development cooperation. The recently published DDD website also includes a blog, forum, and videos of organisations in the community. Additionally, ODI has just launched a report called Adapting Development, which picks up on many of the themes discussed in the interview.



2015 – Time to Rethink Global Decision Making

Posted by / 15th January 2015 / Categories: Analysis, Opinion, Polis / Tags: , , , / -

As harbingers of a troubled 2015, last week’s events in Paris were a stark reminder that the world is facing a year desperate for clear and benign leadership: the ever increasing complexity of our societies requires thoughtful and wise decision making. Any balance in the globalised world is easily disturbed, and difficult to restore. While humanity as a whole possesses resources as never before, the ways those resources have been allocated in recent times does not bode well. This is particularly visible in international policy making. With organisational bureaucracies bloated, it is increasingly unclear who is responsible for global politics and choices on war and peace, poverty and prosperity, destruction and creation. The world is inevitably turning into a system where no one is in control, and no one is responsible for centralised decisions. The necessary response to this is one of stimulating natural checks and balances, thereby ensuring flexible response mechanisms to disasters and global opportunities alike.

2014 was a year in which the flaws of international decision making processes were painfully exposed, ranging from continued violence around the globe to failing global economic policy and ever present local hardship. The fundamental problem is not one of lack of potential, or of large scale conspiracies, nor of conscious manipulation by those in power. It is one of system creep, in which the answers that human structures provide no longer coincide with the reality of the problems. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq only exacerbated the position of Western nations, causing destruction and mayhem along the way. Huge budgets spent on fundamental issues such as European and global governance, on development cooperation, on human security and economic stimuli show very little bang for their buck.

Those who benefit are people working within the system, within the tools that supposedly serve the wider population; they make a living- and therefore are the primary beneficiaries- by spending money on taxpayer’s behalf to provide specific services. And yet, the productivity of such expenditure is typically alarmingly poor. Trust in European institutions is at an all time low, and the UN is increasingly farcical, with workers and consultants all around the world facing increasing moral dilemmas about their own standard of living compared to those local populations that they are supposed to serve. The Pentagon has consistently failed to show how its actions make the world safer for the average American, but on the flip-side, it does have over 200 golf courses.

The issue is not even limited to the public sector. Share and stakeholders are increasingly left out of the loop in ever-expanding private companies, with internal benefits to be reaped from expansion, even if it makes the general outcomes of operations less effective. One of the main causes of the economic crisis of the past decade was a private sector run amok, without any counterbalance to internal interests and system creep into competitive enterprise. CEO-employee wage ratios are higher than they ever have been in modern society,  without any proven increase of CEO importance in company success. That is not the sign of an evil elites, but of a system not working properly.

Humanity is currently suffering from its own structures, its own institutions; their added value is too low for the resources we spend on them, while their costs are still increasing. System creep is eating away at our structures, and the most fundamental challenge for 2015 will be to halt that trend.

A problem as old as civilisation itself

Throughout history, civilisations ended when clear lines of responsibility faded. During the heyday of the Roman Empire, its bureaucratic bulwarks were unable to react to new threats, leading to unresponsive policy making. These ills were later inherited by the Byzantine Empire, which was also unable to cope with autonomous organisational growth, with systemic interests crowding out effective leadership. China’s Ming dynasty fell from grace in large part because of quarrelling, inward looking bureaucrats and corrupt eunuchs. Tsarist Russia had been in steady decline for decades before revolution finally struck administrative incompetence.  Similar explanations have been used to explain the decline of Babylonian, Egyptian and Classical Mayan empires.

The pattern here is one familiar in current global society: steady growth of social structures and economic welfare, followed by a rapid boom signifying the zenith of society, which then leads to failing checks and balances on ever-growing human organisations. Initially these institutions have clear purpose and add value to society’s growth and wellbeing, but once a certain peak has been reached, they tend towards slow endemic corruption of their original purpose and nature. They begin to hog resources and stifle critical thought, while becoming vehicles for internal interests rather than tools in the hands of political and social leadership. Personal interests by insiders begin to trump social interests, and growth of the system becomes a primary objective, regardless of whether this caters to the needs of its wider environment.

The problems that this systemic expansion brings often remain hidden when social and economic conditions are favourable. They only rear their ugly head when crisis strikes. Then, all of a sudden society is confronted with an inability to react to barbarians at the gates, environmental collapse or internal strife, with institutions consuming the resources necessary to face such existential challenges. Having grown fat and lazy through economic boom, the ability to deal with unexpected downturn evaporates. What is even worse is that these once proud institutions not only have lost purpose, but typically resist attempts to bring back political strength and leadership. They have become hijacked by countless individual, mall-scale agendas that will resist personal loss of status or income. The role large scale organisations play is too abstract to be able to compete with the livelihoods its employees count on. There is no general decision-making process anymore; the initial tool for greater purpose has come to life, and has turned into an independent creature no longer be controlled by its original masters.

The beginning of the end…

The events after 9/11 and the War on Terror were not those of institutions solving existential threats, but rather of using such threats to remain relevant, despite their tremendous costs and long-term destruction. The UN and European Union, having started off with clear direction and purpose, are now mere shadows of their former selves, inhabited by anonymous employees whose livelihoods depends on ever-expanding departments and institutional agendas. Original purpose be damned, the main objective of transnational organisations is their own survival, like an aging male lion increasingly monopolising food supplies to stay alive while the pride that it was supposed to protect starve.

Other global challenges, such as climate change, violent conflicts and lacklustre economic trends, remain largely unsolved, without any serious attempt to deal with such existential threats. Some are even fed to the beast in order to satisfy its hunger. Eisenhower’s warning of the dangers of the military-industrial complex is as valid as it has ever been. Companies, conferences, academic departments and armies of specialists and consultants work on the issue, but they become part of the very same animal that is starving the system. Instead of serving societal needs, they endanger them.

The problem can even be seen at a national level, especially in Western countries. After decades of social and economic growth and steady improvements in democratic and welfare structures, the peak seems to have been reached- perhaps sometime in the 1990s- and the state has well and truly started to move downhill. Governments seem rudderless, managing rather than leading their country. Populism and centric mediocrity compete for favour. Beholden to special interests, and living in fear of losing influence or power, politicians feed the institutional beast rather than putting it on a diet. Après nous le déluge.

…Or the end of the beginning?

Despite similarities with past civilisations, not everything in history repeats itself, and there are a number of fundamental differences between then and now. Firstly, 20th and 21st century globalisation and technological advances increasingly allow for global dynamics, and therefore global responses. This ability to globally communicate, analyse and find solutions dramatically changes the range of options available. Secondly, unlike historical cases, there is no clear antagonist, no barbarians at the gates, attempting to spur on our civilisation’s decline. Thirdly, we have come to understand and appreciate the strength and elegance of natural, decentralised dynamics without heavy handed interference from above, even in societies that emphasise social cohesion and the welfare state. Fourthly, we have the benefit of hindsight. More than ever before we understand the past, and know how and why societies collapsed.

Unlike empires of the past, human society in 2015 is much closer, much more united through natural flows than it has ever been. Even if this increase in scale of operations may have contributed to the system creep discussed above, it also allows for a reversal of such dynamics. Unlike other ages, the current world is in it together; there are no new tribes ready to sack and pillage a decaying empire. No one benefits from collapse, and people all over the planet are facing very similar challenges.

Without downplaying substantial differences in agendas between specific human groups, there is no reason to believe that the general masses around the world are in opposition to each other. There is no such thing as Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, however much certain self-serving institutions and small groups of violent fanatics would have us believe exactly that. The dynamic nature of a planet facing success and failure together means a constant stream of new ideas and alternatives to reverse global society’s fortunes. Dynamic competition and cooperation between ideas, projects and outcomes tend to stimulate the best in human beings. As long as there are no stifling institutional monopolies and systemic beasts starving global society of resources, its modern worldwide nature is in a unique position to bounce back. If society can make institutions work for them, rather than being beholden by institutions’ insatiable appetite, global civilisation could benefit tremendously from technological progress and opportunities.

All of this requires from politicians and social leaders an adjusted set of priorities; not the kind that bloats the circles around them, but the kind that strengthens micro dynamics in their respective societies. We must return to smaller-scale lines of responsibility, with dynamic cooperation and competition in which outcomes, rather than size, are recognised. This also reduces the margin of error, as small scale mistakes, failures or corruption are much more quickly corrected by other micro dynamics than large, centralised, error prone bureaucracies can ever hope to do. Encouraging  institutional cultures in which small is beautiful, and effective outcomes are all that matter, is therefore an absolute priority. The inverse relationship between organisational size and purpose must be understood and recognised. It is a matter of taking pride in small-scale success, and taking responsibility for personal outcomes. It is about not letting the eunuchs get in the way of our civilisation’s survival. Eugene O’Neil sagely wrote that “there is no present or future- only the past, happening over and over again -now”. It is time to prove him wrong.


REDES Report on Natural Resources published

Posted by / 19th January 2014 / Categories: Reports / Tags: , , / -

As part of a larger campaign by REDES, ReSeT wrote a report on Africa’s extractive industries and their impact on local societies: Natural resources in Sub-Saharan Africa: economic growth, poverty and social inequalities.

Most of the more than 900 million people inhabiting sub-Saharan Africa live in countries rich in natural resources. The region harbours more than 30% of the world reserves of minerals (more than 50% in the case of uranium, platinum, diamonds and gold). Equally, most of those people live below the poverty threshold. 34 (most of them rich in natural resources) of the bottom 40 countries of the UNDPs Human Development Index belong to that region.

You can find information on the REDES Africa campaign, as well as the report, on their website, and download it here (in Spanish): Informe sobre la Explotación de Recursos Naturales en África.



Global Governance: Why Size Matters

Posted by / 20th December 2012 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: , / -

Now that the end of the Mayan calendar turned out to be just that -the end of a calendar rather than the world- we should perhaps turn our attention to issues that actually do threaten our global community’s existence. Spoiler alert: they do not include nuclear war, Malthusian concerns or melting icecaps. Our human mind is very good at recognizing such imminent dangers, and we are innovative and rational enough to deal with them, even if not always timely or efficiently.

The issues that truly endanger humanity are those that form part of ourselves, individually, and as such are hard to spot and even more difficult to deal with effectively. Within that category, there are few forces so strong as our attraction to size and numbers; 2012 was one of those years in which large groups and bloated international organizations showed their true nature, and it has not been a pretty sight.

Unfortunately, increased scale does not mean better governance. It reduces individual responsibility and accountability, and the initial purpose of organizations loses out to internal interests and dynamics. Different answers to our problems will be needed if we want to reach the end of the century in reasonable shape.

The mix of globalization with growing populations and growing economies is putting new demands on the way we govern our world. The answers that global society is coming up with so far are focused on the expansion of existing structures: ever-growing governments, expanded transnational organizations, dubious attempts at universal law enforcement, mass popular movements, ever-merging private companies. Globalization has become a further excuse for our psyches to find shelter in size, to hide in numbers.

Systems such as large human organizations have an inherent tendency to expand. This process is closely linked with the desire for survival of any system, and size typically means strength. Moreover, individuals within large organizations have their own particular agendas that are defended through mini-expansions within the system as well: the creation of a new management layers to accommodate promotions, management’s pet-projects leading to new departments and increased budgets to justify increased salaries are only a few of the internal expansionist forces at work. The result is perpetual growth.

And with growth come strong internal survival mechanisms. When in November Nate Silver used relatively simple statistical models to predict- astoundingly accurately as it turned out- the outcome of the US presidential elections, the mainstream media jumped on him in ways usually only reserved for North Korean dictators or cheating congressmen. The criticisms didn’t question his method or philosophy, because there was not much to criticise. But the world of punditry realised that if a nerdy looking statistician could use reason rather than instinct to analyse politics, they could all be out of a job soon. And thus the reaction was fierce, like a threatened organism defending itself from an existential threat.

Are such ever-increasing expansion and self-defence mechanisms necessarily a bad thing? Let’s look at a few examples, starting with the go-to place for any analyst of declining civilizations: ancient Rome. During its final stages of decline, the Roman Empire continued to expand its bureaucracy. This created civilization-wide inertia and blocked attempts at reversing the civilization’s fortunes. Whereas during, say, the 4th century AD, Romans still had the know-how, prestige and resources to avoid eventual collapse, they no longer had the effective means to put those competitive advantages to use. No one was able to take responsibility for the bloated bureaucratic monsters and its internal organizations kept on growing ad infinitum. This is exactly what our global civilization is facing in the early 21st Century.

The BBC crisis surrounding Jimmy Savile, for example, showed how large organizations can become inert, lack lines of responsibility and are incapable of dealing with anything beyond standard procedure. As one former BBC head said, “an organisation that allowed that sort of structure to grow up so that people can’t make decisions, has got something to do – it has got to be cleared out”.

National governments have clutched at any straw they could find to stay relevant, including using the fear-factor of terrorism, health-scares- anyone remember BSE and avian flu?- and now economic meltdown. At a time that national politics and governments are losing their validity and importance to their citizen’s lives, it is their organizations’ internal intuition, their systemic desire for survival, that drives them forward. Now that growth through welfare-state dynamics are on the decline, they look towards security and transnational concerns. The main driving force behind state intrusion into private lives and infringement of individual rights are bureaucracies. Every surveillance program justifies internal budgets and employment, and every weapons-system development benefits a whole chain of people, including lawyers and politicians. This world is not driven by dark conspiracies; it is driven by increasingly faceless actors within large organizations defending their own small islands of interests. The result is wasted resources, inefficiency and, most importantly, lack of responsiveness to true threats to our societies.

This year, and in a stunning display of institutional chutzpah, the European Union demanded- and is likely to get- a budget increase amidst the worse economic downturn in generations. If this had been done on Keynesian grounds- i.e. the need to invest our way out of the crisis- then it would have not been so brazen. Unfortunately, there was no such philosophy behind the demand. The EU has grown so large, and with so many national politicians and bureaucrats linked to specific islands of interest, that institutional growth benefits too many to halt it. The grey masses of anonymity that move national politics forward pale in comparison with the unaccountability of Brussels’ bureaucracy. And so, without anyone specifically being responsible, the EU continues to bloat. Not only does this lead to more inefficient bureaucracy, ineffective expenditure and frustrated citizens, it also undermines the EU’s abilities to to add value to our societies. Its primary purpose is now its own survival.

The UN is another prime example of a bloated system without any lines of responsibility (unless someone truly believes that Ban Ki-moon heads the world order?). It suffers under the weight of its own complexity. It was difficult enough to deal with roughly 200 nation-states, but now the UN is also increasingly dependent on other actors and on the good-will of its internal departments. They all have with their own agendas, budgets and specific interests. Unless such organizations are reformed into leaner and independent agencies without being able to hide behind institutional complexities or national agendas, they will fail their primary purpose.

One can observe this desire for size and numbers in all layers of society, not just in the public or international domain. Multinationals and other large companies do not escape internal expansionist dangers either. Mergers, development of new markets and other growth strategies often do not add any share or stake-holder value, except for those internally benefitting through increased bonuses or wages. In a globalised world- and just like national leaders- CEO’s may have formal responsibility over the actions of their organization, but true responsibility and choices come from deep down below.

To add insult to injury, not only are such companies too large for internal lines of responsibility, many of them have achieved “too big to fail” status. Because of society’s dependency on their operations, they will always be saved from doom. Needless to say that this negates the very essence of capitalism, and takes away significant flexibility and adaptability of how our global structures operate.

Even on the popular movement front things are not much better. 2012 is the year that effectively ended two popular movements that suffered because of their size and lack of clear lines of responsibility: the Tea Party and the Occupy-consortium. Both grew out of anger with the status quo, and very quickly became mass forces to be reckoned with. Both movements were based on size, with their power coming from numbers of followers. Both failed because of exactly that.

Believing that in today’s complex world you can have an effective agenda without clear leadership and hierarchy is preposterous. Without specific ambitions, and ways of holding people to account for their actions, any organization loses validity. Neither the Tea Party or Occupy attempted to create clear structure, and as a result their overly ambitious efforts turned into an aimless cacophony which then quickly faded away as both followers and observers moved on.

Humans are amazingly gifted creatures when it comes to applying their ingenuity, innovation and creativity to problem-solving. Huge challenges such as environmental degradation and poverty can be dealt with through innate abilities. Unfortunately, we are going down a dangerous path in which we are blocking our own problem-solving mechanisms. We are becoming incapable of creating the organization necessary for concerted global action. Instead, we have islands of specific interests and interest-groups ever-expanding, and increasingly blotting out the light. It is a fight of individual short-term interests versus societal long-term goals.

To avoid that challenges such those mentioned in the first paragraph of this article turn into unmanageable and survival-threatening problems, we need to rethink our love-affair with size. Organizations need to be lean and mean. Networks can connect organizations in order to coordinate efforts and cooperate, but let’s keep those as light, unfinanced and informal as possible. Civilization’s death does not come suddenly or through specific calamity, it comes through structural inertia. Strengthening individual responsibility, accountability and responsiveness are much worthier causes than doomsday-thinking. It is not the Mayan’s we need to fear; just ask the Romans.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail