Opening governance, doing development differently

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By Alan Hudson — October 28, 2014.

Last week, I was pleased to be part of a two-day event on “Doing Development Differently,” organized by the Overseas Development Institute and the Building State Capability program at the Harvard Kennedy School. The aim of the event was to bring together various related conversations and initiatives about reshaping development policy and practice, to begin to craft a shared agenda and to chart a course for moving forward.

The discussion was very rich (Storify here; Duncan Green’s recap here), circling around and sharpening an approach to understanding and helping to solve development problems that has been laid out most clearly by Matt Andrews with his concept of Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (see also “Escaping capability traps through problem driven iterative adaption” by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock). If the movement has a mantra, it might be “Test, learn, iterate.” Or, in long form, develop common principles about how to support development, apply the principles differently in different contexts, learn about what works, revise the principles, and do it again.

The meeting was a little donor-centric for my liking, with a lingering feeling that development is something that is done to poor people and countries. That’s not a minor thing and actually runs counter to the whole emphasis of doing development differently. But overall it was a great meeting, with an amazing crowd of positive deviants keen to reshape the practice of development. Bundles of energy, very participatory (kudos to Marta Forest, Leni Wild and their ODI colleagues, and to Reboot – and all the participants – for making that happen), and with lots of sharing of specific stories of doing development differently.

My goal was to help make the connections between the open governance agenda and the “Doing Development Differently” agenda. There’s a lot of similarity between these movements; an emphasis on starting with specific problems in particular places, working with and supporting local partners to devise appropriate solutions to problems, and learning across contexts. Opening government really is a commitment to development.

The open governance agenda also has real momentum, as demonstrated by the recent high level event of the Open Government Partnership at the UN General Assembly (see here for video intro to OGP). There’s a lot of value to be had in making the connections. So next time, I’m hoping that more of key players in the open governance community – and in the social accountability space (I’m thinking of the Global Partnership for Social Accountability, in particular) will be invited.

For my part, I’ve resolved to make more of my actions focused on learning, so that rather than just doing things, I do things that enable me to learn about how to do things better next time. Investing in learning. I’m planning to apply this new mini-mantra in lots of areas; should be fun! I’m also planning to explore whether and how the post-2015 development agenda might support efforts to do development differently; it should. And conversely, as Duncan Green put it, how the doing development differently crowd can help to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are pursued and the principles applied, appropriately, with iterative learning, at country level.

Background documents for the meeting along with lots of great audio and video, are available. I’ll be keeping an eye on how discussions progress and continue to make the links between opening governance and doing development differently. Watch this space for another iteration.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Alan Hudson
Executive Director

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