It must be a tough time for donors. From every side new research is showing that the development world is more complex and more political than their standard approaches can cope with. The rise of Political Economy Analysis points to the need to think and work politically, and to ensure that foreign aid does not undermine local institutions. Meanwhile evidence of successful institutional reform points to the need for problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) – not a one-size-fits-all, best-practice approach. Research on the underlying complexity of development problems suggests that a responsive, learning and networked approach is required. Recent work points to a negative effect on performance that comes from trying to monitor and manage complex projects too closely.
William Easterly’s “Tyranny of Experts” is an important and enjoyable book. Easterly aims to provoke a debate about the role of rights and freedom in development, and that he does. Not everyone will be sold on his argument, but this is a conversation worth having.
Helder Da Costa, General Secretary of the g7+ group of fragile states, is about to head to Mexico to represent the group at the First High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership.
Ryan Flynn caught up with Helder in London to discuss what the g7+ would like to see come out of the meeting, progress implementing the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, and how the g7+ secretariat is changing and evolving as an organisation.
In the pursuit of this impact-seeker’s Nirvana, it’s easy to conflate a couple of things, notably that an RCT is not the only way to evaluate impact; and evaluating impact is not the only way to use evidence for policy. Unfortunately, it is now surprisingly common to hear RCTs conflated with evidence-use, and evidence-use equated with the key ingredient for better public services in developing countries. The reality of evidence use is different.
It’s now common dogma among development experts that institutions are central to improving the welfare of the poor. And we now also have a better understanding of the types of policies that are conducive to development. There is also agreement that institutions must deliver on their responsibilities for countries to succeed: tax authorities should be able to raise resources effectively; and executing agencies deliver expected services or outcomes. However, after decades of reforms and billions spent in aid, success stories of institutional development are few and failures all too common. It is like a re-run of the movie ‘Source code’ but unlike the movie there are no solutions and no happy endings.