Trying to Understand Rising Inequality? Me, too

Some brief thoughts to try to break down the discussion on inequality. There are a lot of theories and discussions bouncing around, and explainers about why inequality has grown so much. Conflict, disaster, urban migration. But rather than putting it in academic terms and rationalizing why it has been happening, let’s just understand it:

“The sense is that the most important thing to look at is not necessarily about different incomes, but what they can do with the services and incomes that they have. Are they essentially free to pursue a life of opportunity, or are they so tied down by satisfying everyday needs that they have no chance?” (Luis Bettencourt) Continue reading ‘Trying to Understand Rising Inequality? Me, too’ »

Will We Ever Truly Measure Resilience?

I try to keep up to date on developments and trends on a variety of international development topics – my ties to the Pacific mean that I spend a significant amount of time exploring ideas and opportunities around climate resilience. So there’s a backlog of articles on the topic bookmarked on my computer. This morning I sat down to go through a few of them and was less than impressed. So much of what is discussed in terms of climate resilience focuses on how advanced government plans and programmes are. In truth, government plans, programmes and financing make a huge difference in the lives of the most vulnerable and in the most climate-vulnerable countries like the Pacific and other LDCs. Good points were made in the article I read this morning, breaking down the essentials, keeping it simple. Continue reading ‘Will We Ever Truly Measure Resilience?’ »

Those Pesky Unmeasurable Variables

I read recently that we see diminishing creativity in society because we are too busy. We never take time to let our minds empty to allow those ‘ah ha!’ moments in. This is probably true. But I had a ‘seriously, it took me that long to realize that?’ moment this morning. Like, full on, I’d-like-to-go-back-and-rewrite-an-entire-evaluation kind of moment. And it all hinged on the confluence of events. The first took place over my morning coffee, reading a recent Guardian Development Pros article ‘Development is Not a Science and Cannot be Measured.’ Indeed, it is not (as I’ve argued here before). Despite all the tools and academic and policy maker claims to the contrary, there are too many variables in development for any of us to explicitly state ‘A therefore B’. And we know this (those of us who do the work day in and day out and try to meld development policy with practicality and bare bones reality). The second took place at the gym a short while later as I was reading ‘Aid on the Edge of Chaos’ by Ben Ramalingam (this book in itself providing me numerous ‘ah ha’ moments recently). We jump through hoops to make development somehow measurable, sacrificing ambition and creativity along the way (for more on that, read chapter 5 of the book). That is, until we lose our cool and tell off HQ for being ridiculous (me) or let it all out in an editorial in the Guardian (Michael Kleinman, see above). Continue reading ‘Those Pesky Unmeasurable Variables’ »

Aid Effectiveness Triangle: The Type, Conditions and Delivery of Aid

Can donors promote reform while not undermining ownership? Is conditionality, or the requirement that aid recipients undertake certain actions in return for the provision of that aid, inherently inconsistent with an ownership agenda? So asks Matt Dornan in an interesting blog post discussing ownership and aid effectiveness.

His post may focus on conditionality and ownership, but it links to another issue: that of how aid is delivered to countries, and how delivery mechanisms impact ownership. It all circles back to aid effectiveness and one big question: is the onus for aid effectiveness on the donor or the recipient? I would be willing to go all in and say the onus is on the donor. Why? Because the delivery mechanism, the conditions and the type of aid (see our post from last week) are the prerogative of the donor. Continue reading ‘Aid Effectiveness Triangle: The Type, Conditions and Delivery of Aid’ »

What Kind of Aid is the Best Kind of Aid?

There was a series of three articles recently on cash versus programme aid in Papua New Guinea. The essence of the articles was to discuss which form of capacity building assistance is better – through advisors or through budget support. Obviously, we all have our own opinions on this topic, and it has been written about frequently on this site (see here, here and here). However, some of the main themes of development effectiveness are ‘ownership’ and ‘on-budget’ programming, so the issues raised in the PNG case are due our consideration. Continue reading ‘What Kind of Aid is the Best Kind of Aid?’ »

On Theories of Change

Recently, a friend asked me if I would take a look at a draft of the mid-term evaluation being undertaken for the programme he manages. It’s a large programme, some USD 35 million covering a number of countries. MTRs being, in theory, pretty straightforward exercises, I was keen to know why he needed my opinion. ‘It’s the theory of change. The consultant has created a new one and I’m at a loss as to why. We have one – it’s in the project design document.’ Indeed. Weird. Consultant myself, I sometimes have to wonder consultants feel the need to prove that they have better ideas than literally everyone else, and also why they feel that it’s somehow in the scope of their job description to literally try to change a project  (unless, of course, that actually is the job description). Continue reading ‘On Theories of Change’ »

Yes, Trafficking in Persons is Likely Right in Front of You

For years I had thought I would work in human trafficking (as an advocate for victims as opposed to a perpetrator, just to be clear). But life took a different course and I ended up doing different work. But trafficking was never far from my mind and never far from me – the time I spent in Kosovo was eye opening as to just how out in the open trafficking can be – it’s not all shady backroom deals like the movies portray. Sometimes it’s just right in your face. Continue reading ‘Yes, Trafficking in Persons is Likely Right in Front of You’ »

Our Control of Development Variables Inhibits our Ability to Learn

There’s been a lot of feedback on the last two articles on ‘breathing space’ in development programming. One particular question focussed on why the development system is so keen to avoid such ‘space’ and how we can rationalize not undertaking impact studies a few years after a project has been completed. The first thing that comes to mind is that we could argue that paying for a study is impossible since we can’t hold donor funding from the project for three or five years after completion. But that’s kind of a cop-out – if we budgeted differently organizationally, we wouldn’t need to worry about using donor project funds for impact studies. But I digress.

I think the biggest rationalization for not taking a break between project phases and not doing impact studies long after a project has completed is because we are too afraid of what the results will be. Continue reading ‘Our Control of Development Variables Inhibits our Ability to Learn’ »

Could We Actually Assess Impact and Sustainability?

Last week I wrote about the need for ‘breathing space’ in development programming – time for ‘beneficiaries’ to take the new skills, systems, policies and various tools imparted and go at it alone to see what happens. Because we can’t master something – or fit it to our own contexts – unless we are given a chance to do it on our own for a reasonable period of time (no, a month doesn’t count… I’m thinking a whole planning and budgeting cycle).

The more that I have reflected on this over the past week, the more keen I am on this idea being a required practice in development. What makes this idea so much different than the others we have discussed? It boils down to a very practical reason: as an M&E practitioner, there is nothing more frustrating than doing an evaluation – based on OECD DAC criteria – and BS’ing your way through the parts on impact and sustainability. Because evaluations usually take place in the last months of a project – or within three months of project completion if you’re lucky – so you can infer what may happen but you can’t know. Continue reading ‘Could We Actually Assess Impact and Sustainability?’ »

In Need of Some Development ‘Breathing Space’

Back in January I wrote about how, as we enter the second year of SDG implementation, it’s time to stop talking and planning and start doing. Doing the actual hard stuff that we’re really good at putting off because it’s uncomfortable and removes ‘safe spaces’ of corner cubicles, spreadsheets and monitoring plans. It’s painstaking and frustrating and slow. But it’s even slower if we don’t do it. However, there was one aspect which I did not discuss because I shied away from too much controversy at once – basically, that the ‘doing’ really necessitates letting go. Continue reading ‘In Need of Some Development ‘Breathing Space’’ »