7 Responses

  1. alex
    alex June 10, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Just a Quick Point:
    I have just come back from my first time working in a middle income country, having previously worked only in LDCs.

    It is immediately obvious that that gap between our resources and theirs was smaller than in LDCs. But the gap between our knowledge and theirs is even smaller.

  2. Marianne Jago-Bassingthwaighte
    Marianne Jago-Bassingthwaighte April 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    This is a wonderful and rich discussion that I think really seeks to bridge the elusive gap between good policy and practice.

    There is one piece here that has been turning for me in the couple of years since I became an independent consultant (having worked at AusAID for a number of years). This is about the need for a promotion across the sector of the kinds of values that Joel describes: in my experience it is really hard to offer useful knowledge unless there is the kind of “humility, honesty and a skill-set of facilitation rather than just technical smarts” that Joel is talking about. Lots of development practitioners I think know this and it is here that many find meaning in their work – when they actually facilitate a process of transformation that leads to better, sustainable, locally appropriate development outcomes. In this dynamic it is often the bringing out and valuing of existing knowledge that catalyses sustainable change and frankly, local empowerment. That means, for example, building coalitions of local change agents who are steeped in local culture and politics (perhaps advised by an expert), rather than setting up a technical advisory panel for hire.

    At the same time, in engaging this topic, ie the need to aim for mutuality in interactions with counterparts, I also run up against a deep ambivalence among practitioners. I have had most to do with managing contractors and academics, but it goes something like this: “the Government” (AusAID, DfiD, USAID) has all the power, and won’t give it up – this is why project designs aren’t truly locally appropriate, nor locally driven.

    The next bit is more slippery. This is the exhale of the practitioner/managing contractor who fears jeopardising their livelihood in the longer term, and takes the safe route of not challenging “the government” to do a bit better. I have seen in myself an investment in being the one that knows, and in the (undue) deference I can be afforded because I represent the donor’s purse strings. And as a consultant focussed on development effectiveness, I wonder if I am in danger of catching the contractors’ malaise that can see an unimaginative approach to contract implementation (usually with an over-focus on TA), and no space made or allowed for innovation and dare I say it, mutuality.

    To put it bluntly, managing contractors tendering for work are the first to say they are slapped (ie they don’t win bids) if they try to be innovative, even if innovation is what AusAID asks for in later performance reviews. Perhaps there is some degree of defeatism or even laziness here, but I see a sectoral resistance to staying at the edge of good practice on the grounds that it isn’t what AusAID rewards in the arenas that matter to implementing organisations. For every horror story I heard in AusAID about frustratingly dumb managing contractors, I’ve heard others about AusAID asking specifically for “a dumb contractor who doesn’t think, just implements”. This kind of arrogance and paternalism are exactly what is wrong with aid more broadly. Perhaps not surprisingly, contractors seem not take opportunities to hold AusAID accountable (this is also called not biting the hand that feeds you), which means a sea of lost opportunities to promote changes within AusAID that might lead to a true partnership approach to promoting good practice.

    In fact, there is enough in the development good practice literature and in donor policies (yes, donor policies!) and evaluations, to back the kind of humility and mutuality that I think Joel is getting at. It takes a certain kind of courage to be able to show up not as the expert but as the one who needs to listen and learn (and then contribute where possible). And to have done the background research and preparation necessary to facilitate an empowering development processes. It isn’t surprising that so-called south-south cooperation is appealing to developing countries because Brazil, India, China, South Africa and other emerging donors who have experienced first hand the subtle (and sometimes blatant) power plays that can occur in a development “partnership”, and so know how to promise to behave with greater respect. (OECD research says its a bit early to tell if they are walking the talk).

    In short, if we are to share knowledge and facilitate transformation processes with developing countries, we have some work to do within our own organisations to ensure that there is mutuality and an encouragement to good practice among all players.

  3. Sue Packham
    Sue Packham April 18, 2013 at 10:03 am

    All very interesting indeed. Maybe the proportion of money and knowledge will/needs to change over the next century, with more allocated to knowledge sharing getting more priority. And someone has noted, that too will likely as, if not more costly as direct grants. But it seems to me that money will always be needed to look into new vaccines and their distribution, for training teachers and medical people. And isn’t it needed initially to start up micro finance organisations for the provision of small loans for even the poorest people to set up an income generating small business? Don’t wealthy countries need to support multi-national organisations like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria with money to distribute to poor nations for life saving programs?

    As I’m in my seventies, I won’t be around to see how the balance changes, but as 19,000 children still die from preventable causes each day, let’s remain focused on the basic needs of the poor and target them prudently.

  4. Steven Schmidt
    Steven Schmidt April 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I think it is a mistake to suggest that GNP is an indicator of development. Especially in a market driven economy. It is an indicator of economic growth only. Even though a country’s GNP per capita is for example $3500, there remain many people who have income levels much below this, and many astronomically higher. There is still plenty of scope for development aid that is designed by outsiders and used properly to overcome poverty. The $4 per capita of development aid would be a much better indicator if it was compared to the headcount of those living in poverty or vulnerable to economic downturn. Then you can compare countries. And have you forgotten climate change and environmental degradation which will increase rapidly in the coming years. I think more detail is needed in this suggestive analysis. I agree that stronger partnerships and more “working down” is needed with aid funds, and I see Australia in a good position to do this.

  5. Priscilla Kare
    Priscilla Kare April 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    The experiences of Asia’s top 10 economies are driven by majority ordinary people whose creativity and skills bring in much income and allow them to take advantage of the tourism, internet and mass production of export goods and services (market). The economies are not driven by policies, and the good intentions of governments do not necessarily realise equitable distribution of resources, or aid money for that matter. Many people even in Asia are still poor today.

    Papua New Guinea will realise the potential of its people when market opportunities are available, transport, including internet services are cheaper and necessary infrastructures are in place to enhance that potential, Aid follows policies and achievement of the policies do not necessarily make aid successful for everyone. Aid money to date, if evaluated, will result in much of it been misused indirectly and did not necessarily impacted the beneficiaries who are understood to be a minority of people for the sake of donors good reporting purposes.

  6. Henry Sherrell
    Henry Sherrell April 11, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Great post. It’s a really interesting topic. With increased knowledge must come freer movements to build human capital. By opening up migration possibilities, developed countries like Australia could complement the move from developing nation to middle-income country.

    David Phillips has a new book, Development without Aid, that explores migration in particular (albeit with a focus on the poorest developing nations).

  7. Tess Newton Cain
    Tess Newton Cain April 11, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Thanks Joel for this post which spookily combines two of the things I have been reading and thinking about recently – the future of aid (I’ve just read Aid 2.0 by Sumner & Mallett – review forthcoming) and how to share knowledge to improve policy making. In terms of the changing face of aid, as someone described it to me recently the Pacific is the ‘hole in the doughnut’ when it comes to aid ‘theory’ and that is borne out by the work you’ve referenced here – the thinking is driven by and derived by the Africa experience and then extrapolated to Asia. This is (it seems to me) partly because the thinking is largely done by the DFID/ODI grouping and its satellites, who have long been recognised as thought leaders in this space and with good reason. And, as I have also been reminded recently, the ‘theory’ is and can be different when your aid is going a long way away rather than just next door. So it is likely to remain the case that there will be some Pacific exceptionalism going forward. Having said that there is certainly the need to address the changing development dynamics arising from the fact that PNG and Fiji are now aid donors in their own right, Timor-Leste, PNG (and possibly Solomon Islands in the future) are resource-rich which means that aid is becoming increasingly less significant in terms of contribution to the overall budget and there is increasing awareness of the importance of taxation both domestically and in terms of addressing international aspects of the policy coherence imperative.
    As for knowledge strategies…maybe next time!

    Looking forward to hearing from others on this

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